NFL combine: Former Nazareth standout J.J. McCarthy ready for next step toward realizing NFL dream

McCarthy credits early lessons with Roadrunners to ongoing success

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy speaks during a press conference at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, Friday, March 1, 2024.

INDIANAPOLIS – J.J. McCarthy knew from a young age that he’d end up in this moment.

While he didn’t foresee himself specifically meeting with reporters Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine, McCarthy was confident he’d go from helping Nazareth win a state championship to fulfilling his dreams of playing in the NFL.

“I didn’t know when or where,” McCarthy said. “But it was going to be a stepping stone in my journey to ultimately everything I’ve been working for.”

McCarthy will now get a chance to take that last step toward his NFL dreams as one of the top quarterback prospects in the country. Many NFL draft experts expect McCarthy to be a first-round pick, potentially a top-10 selection depending on how the first few picks go.

He’s earned plenty of attention after winning wherever he’s gone. McCarthy led Nazareth, located in LaGrange Park, to back-to-back state championships in 2018 and 2019 as the starter, winning the Class 7A title in 2018, before transferring to IMG Academy in Florida for his senior year since the IHSA postponed the 2020 football season to the spring in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback J.J. McCarthy celebrate with the trophy after their win against Washington in the national championship game Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, in Houston.

McCarthy kept showing up in big games with the University of Michigan, leading the Wolverines to back-to-back College Football Playoff appearances and a national championship this past January.

While winning with the Roadrunners helped prepare McCarthy for big-time moments later in his career, it wasn’t the main lesson he took from his time in the LaGrange Park school. McCarthy credited the lessons he learned from Nazareth coach Tim Racki to helping get to this moment.

“Just everything that he’s instilled in me and my teammates is something that not only makes us great football players but greater men at the end of the day,” McCarthy said. “It starts with that foundation of having great intangibles.”

Some experts have questioned how well McCarthy can perform in the NFL after having a more limited throwing role in the Wolverine’s offense under former coach Jim Harbaugh. In his two years as a starter for Michigan the last two seasons, he threw for a combined 5,710 yards, 44 touchdowns, nine interceptions and completed 69% of his pass attempts.

Nazareth fans know all too well how dynamic McCarthy can be as a passer. As a sophomore he threw for 3,289 yards and completed 72% of his passes in 2018 and threw for another 2,820 yards, completing 63% of his passes as a junior.

McCarthy wasn’t worried about the thought that he couldn’t throw it as well as the other top quarterbacks in his draft class. He cared about the most important goal in his mind.

“Stats for me wasn’t the big thing,” McCarthy said. “All I cared about was being the best teammate I could be, being the best quarterback I could be, whatever’s asked of me. The only stats I cared about were W’s and we did pretty good in that category.”

Michigan running back Blake Corum echoed the sentiment when asked about his quarterback. While Michigan’s run-heavy offense may have taken away some opportunities from McCarthy, Corum thought he did a good job of leading the offense as its leader and putting it in positions to win.

“His ceiling is so high,” Corum said. “He didn’t even tap into his potential. He’s a hard worker, he’s going to be in the work that’s necessary no matter where he goes, they win. I’m excited to see what No. 9 does.”

McCarthy will still be kept in the dark of who his next team will be for another month before the NFL Draft at the end of April. He’s met with teams throughout the week, including the Chicago Bears who own the No. 1 and No. 9 picks in the upcoming draft, and said it would be a dream come true to play at Soldier Field either for or against the Bears.

Although he might not know what’s next for his future, McCarthy is ready for whatever’s next. He’s ready to show who he truly is and how he got there.

“I want them to understand that I truly love the game of football,” McCarthy said. “I truly love my teammates and want to do nothing other than win football games.”