Only a year ago, J.J. McCarthy was an inexperienced 5-foot-11, 160-pound freshman football player at Nazareth Academy. Now, he is a confident 6-2, 180-pound quarterback of an undefeated Roadrunners squad that has serious state title aspirations.

McCarthy’s previously smaller build never masked his talent in the eyes of those whose opinions matter most. In eighth grade he was offered college football scholarships from multiple power five Division I schools after competing at camps around the country. In particular, McCarthy’s impressive skill set caught the attention of Iowa State quarterbacks coach Jim Hofher.

Nazareth coach Tim Racki believed McCarthy was ready for varsity last season, but held him out in order to develop relationships with underclassmen and allow his body more time for growth.

Although McCarthy stayed down on the lower levels for most of 2017, he spent time with the varsity during the Roadrunners’ run to the Class 6A state championship game, which ended with a crushing 28-21 loss against Prairie Ridge.

“That was the biggest thing for me, being on multiple levels last year,” McCarthy said. “Rolling into this year, it’s almost like I had a head start. Come game one, I wasn’t nervous at all.”

McCarthy has been stellar thus far in 2018, which has led to even more interest from high-level college programs. He has scholarship offers from South Carolina, Indiana, Cincinnati, and Iowa State. McCarthy’s bigger frame coupled with several excellent varsity starts have drawn interest from Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and even his two favorite programs growing up—Notre Dame and Ohio State.

“The college interest is definitely a little surreal. I never thought this day would come where schools would want me to play for them,” McCarthy said. “But I’m always so focused and worried about the next week that it keeps my mind off that.”

Because of his talent, humility and coachability, McCarthy is a high school football coach’s dream player.

“J.J. makes coaches look good. It is very easy working with him,” Racki said. “He wants constructive feedback in order to get better and he listens very well. In terms of his communication, he has great skills with upperclassmen.”

 Reflecting his priorities, McCarthy couldn’t be interviewed for this story initially because of an upcoming chemistry exam he was concerned about.

While McCarthy has already produced results and stellar play on the field, Racki thinks his talented signal caller has plenty of room for growth.

“He’ll get better through experience,” Racki said. “He has been improving every game thus far. He points out what he can work on before we tell him.”

Under Racki, the Roadrunners have been to three state championship games. Last season’s runner-up finish left the Roadrunners’ current group of seniors determined to win state in 2018. McCarthy’s inspired play could be the x-factor that gets them over the hump.

Before the Benet game in Week 5, McCarthy was well aware of the challenges the Redwings could present. Then, he promptly went out and posted video game numbers with 416 yards passing and five touchdowns en route to a 45-7 victory.

 “Coach Racki often says to us after practice, ‘this would have been a good practice for any other high school team, but not for us,'” McCarthy said. “That mentality keeps us grounded and ready for each and every week.”

McCarthy operates behind a behemoth offensive line group. Elijah Moscinski and Matt Keeler—Nazareth’s starting tackles—are 6-5 and 6-6, respectively, and weigh near 300 pounds apiece. McCarthy regularly expresses his gratitude regarding the Roadrunners’ outstanding offensive line.

For a teenager being courted by major college football programs, McCarthy has done an admirable job keeping his focus on this season. Of course, it’s always nice to be wanted by college football powerhouse programs with tradition like Notre Dame and Ohio State.

“Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I get letters from these schools,” McCarthy said. “It’s all just really cool.”