May 22, 2024
Features | Friday Night Drive


Ex-Nazareth star J.J. McCarthy ready to get started at Michigan after making most of season at IMG

J.J. McCarthy is ready to embark on a long football career that hopefully ends with his name among the all-time greats to play the game.

McCarthy, a five-star recruit and ranked 22nd in his class by 247Sports, is a rare elite pro-style quarterback from the Chicago area.

His journey starts next semester in Ann Arbor, at the University of Michigan, where he’s expected to be the savior at quarterback for the floundering Wolverines’ program. McCarthy is planning to enroll early at Michigan, excited to get a jump start on his college dreams.

But for now, McCarthy is a typical teenager, stuck in between gearing up for college and enjoying these precious final few weeks with his family in LaGrange Park.

Many things have changed – personally and on the local football landscape – since McCarthy transferred from Nazareth to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., for his senior season.

The McCarthy plan is starting to finally take shape after a nearly six-month period living in Florida, playing with some of the top football players – on his team and the opposition – in the country. McCarthy, a cerebral player, is motivated to make his long-awaited mark at Michigan.

“I can’t wait, to get in there and be around the guys and coaches at Michigan,” McCarthy said. “It will be so much fun, to get in that atmosphere early is awesome.”

He’s grown an inch to stand at 6-foot-3, but working toward gaining back the 25 pounds he lost from his first few months at IMG. McCarthy said he’s currently up to 190 pounds, but hopeful to reach 205 in the coming months.

He kept a journal to record his thoughts and to reflect on his journey and goals.

“After every practice, it looked like I came out of a swimming pool,” McCarthy said. “I was drenched. My conditioning went up a huge amount while there. Everything is lean and cut right now, but I’m physically trying to get back up there. I’m now trying to add on that extra meat. I’m still building up my strength, but mentally I’m the strongest I’ve ever been.

“It was hard being away from home, everyone goes through it when they go to college. I had to grow up very fast, but it helped me tremendously. Being able to be with my guys, just going through some stuff. We had a tight knit brotherhood because we all come from so many parts of the country. It was awesome to be around so many different characters. Being on my own was really cool, to be in my own thoughts.”

Nazareth coach Tim Racki said he’s noticed a physical and mental change when he recently met up with McCarthy.

“He looked great, I couldn’t believe it,” Racki said. “He took that step maturity and leadership wise. He read a lot of leadership and motivational books. He implemented a lot of breathing techniques. I’m so proud of him. I could tell he took that next step.”

McCarthy, the No. 2 rated pro-style quarterback in the Class of 2021, lived up to all the massive hype by guiding IMG to the No. 1 ranking in the country. He made national headlines when he announced in late May that he was leaving Nazareth due to the uncertainty over football in Illinois.

McCarthy said he cherished his brief, but memorable experience at IMG. He empathized with his Nazareth teammates forced to make a difficult decision, whether to transfer or play the waiting game for the start of football in Illinois.

“It was definitely a big change in environment, for sure, a very good step I had to take prior to going to Michigan,” McCarthy said. “It was such a blessing to be able to play even one game. Every time I hang out with my (Nazareth) friends and talk to them, something was missing from their soul. Football is our lives. When you are a football player and dedicated to it, you are literally giving up your entire life on a sliver of chance you make it.

“The fact some of them had to go their senior year without it is such a shame. It’s a time where the game hasn’t become a job yet, it’s straight fun with your buddies you grew up.”

Playing under the spotlight for IMG allowed McCarthy to test himself against some of the best players in the nation, even in daily practices. He passed for 1,440 yards and 16 touchdowns and did not throw a single interception in 157 attempts, which McCarthy said was one of his biggest personal accomplishments in his seven games for IMG.

McCarthy, who was named to the National High School Quarterback of the Year Award Watch list, closed out his three-year varsity career – two of the seasons at Nazareth – with a 33-2 record as a starter and threw for 50 touchdowns with only eight interceptions.

“I’m most proud of the national championship we won, but also probably zero interceptions,” he said. “I was trying to accomplish it because when you have no turnovers, you are way more likely to win football games and my mental aspect of the game grew.”