There’s a lot of hype surrounding 16-year-old quarterback J.J. McCarthy, considering the Nazareth Academy signal caller was only 14 when he received his first college football scholarship from Iowa State University.
Since then, McCarthy has become not only more well-known but a better player.
Now a junior at Nazareth, he has received over 30 scholarship offers from Power 5 schools all over the country and led the Roadrunners to a 2018 state title victory – playing in that game with a broken thumb during Nazareth’s 31-10 rout of St. Charles North in the Class 7A championship game.
Now, he’s committed to play football for coach Jim Harbaugh at the University of Michigan.
A lot has changed since McCarthy was a 5-foot-11, 14-year-old who didn’t even know what a 5-star recruit was.
McCarthy now stands 6-2 and weighs 180 pounds. He is ranked the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the nation, the top recruit in Illinois and has drawn comparisons to NFL legend Drew Brees by 247Sports.
While that may be a lofty comparison, when you look at the stats, it’s not hard to see why.
Last year, McCarthy passed for 3,448 yards, 39 touchdowns and just four interceptions while completing 77 percent of his passes. Brees threw for 3,992 yards and 32 touchdowns on 74 percent passing for the New Orleans Saints in 2018.
That’s a lot of praise for a kid with one year of high school varsity football experience, and using high school football to make NFL projections is about as effective as studying the Pythagorean theorem for your next U.S. history exam.
McCarthy acknowledges that, too.
“It’s really nice getting compared to a future hall of famer like that,” he said. “And I obviously want to be as good as Brees. But it means nothing until I prove it.”
Since McCarthy can’t put up Brees-like numbers during the offseason, he’s trying to prove it other ways via his leadership, improvement and work ethic.
“J.J. makes coaches look good. It is very easy working with him,” Nazareth coach Tim 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 his teammates.”
The Roadrunners recently took a trip to Illinois Wesleyan University so the players could spend some time together and practice. That’s where the chemistry really took off.
“We do things differently,” McCarthy said. “It’s really just a big family environment. There are no cliques, no special groups.
“We all hang out together. It makes it easy when you have transfer guys like we do. They just become part of the family.”
Under Racki’s guidance, the Roadrunners have won three state titles plus a runner-up finish the past five years.
While he’s chosen Michigan as his next stop, McCarthy is a big Ohio State fan. Well, at least he used to be.
In a May interview with The Athletic, McCarthy said he felt the Buckeyes, the team he grew up rooting for, lied to him in the recruiting process, and that he looks forward to “kill[ing] them” when he gets to Ann Arbor.
“I don’t want to talk about the past,” McCarthy said.
Now, McCarthy is focused on the future; specifically, his next two years as the starting quarterback at Nazareth. He wants to win three state championships with the Roadrunners and help them earn an 8A designation, the highest class ranking in the Illinois High School Association.
“Our schedule is loaded this year,” McCarthy said. “We’re going to be going up against monsters every week. It’s going to be fun. I’m just going to take it week-by-week. And if everything goes right, we’ll finish it up with a championship.”