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QB J.J. McCarthy’s path to Michigan, outlook for 2021 season

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The QB of the future for Michigan.

Syndication: The Tennessean Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean via Imagn Content Services, LLC

To whom much is given, much is tested — this logic applies to true freshman quarterback J.J. McCarthy.

The expectations are high for McCarthy, the widespread thought is he’ll see the field sooner than later during his first season in Ann Arbor.

McCarthy will be entering the season as the backup behind Cade McNamara, but there’s a lot of time between now and then for J.J. to close the gap between the two of them.

The story so far

McCarthy split his high school year between Nazareth Academy in Illinois and IMG Academy in Florida. The five-star McCarthy was ranked as the No. 24 prospect overall nationally in the class of 2021 and No. 2 pro-style QB.

McCarthy committed back in May of 2019 and has been maize and blue through and through longer than that. McCarthy received offers from Ohio State, Wisconsin, Texas, and over 30 other schools but it was always Michigan for McCarthy.

McCarthy turned heads during his high school career, amassing a 36-2 record as a starter, and winning the 2020 National Championship with IMG, going 8-0, and throwing for 16 TDs and no interceptions his senior campaign. In all, McCarthy had 7,905 career yards passing with 94 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh recently said that “J.J. was terrific as a mid-year freshman (in spring practices). Got himself all the way up to No. 2.” Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said McCarthy’s “done a really good job of learning the offense, just grasping everything. He’s had his freshman moments, but he’s also had big-time moments that displayed his five-star ability and his skill set. He’s a kid with tremendous talent, but it’s about catching him up.”

New quarterbacks coach Matt Weiss finds McCarthy to be as advertised, and mature beyond his years in how he goes about his preparation. “His maturity is far beyond his years. Early in the spring, I was asking about his routine, how he gets ready for practice, how he gets ready for games,” Weiss said. “As an 18-year old, you’re expecting not much to be there, and he plays through his routine of how he clears his mind, how he does his shoulder exercises, and I’m sitting here thinking, ‘Man, can I get a copy of that?’ He’s been impressive in a lot of ways. I think, just for him, it’s a question of when not if.”

When not if.

Outlook moving forward

The long-term outlook is J.J. McCarthy will be the starting QB for the University of Michigan, but it remains to be seen if he’ll rack up starts in 2021. Part of that has to do with his continued progress, McNamara’s level of production or lack thereof, and then the injury bug hitting him or McNamara.

McCarthy has as high of a ceiling as there’s been at the quarterback position during the Harbaugh era, and in the end, it might not even be close. Michigan QBs always get hyped up whether it’s Wilton Speight, John O’Korn, Shea Patterson, Dylan McCaffrey, or Joe Milton. However, maybe this time past won’t be prologue and McCarthy will be able to take Michigan to heights not reached by Michigan in decades.

McCarthy is a confident player, a natural-born leader, someone who has a swagger that can’t be beaten down. He believes not only in himself but his ability to make those around him better. McCarthy’s confidence is evident while watching his high school film. He can make as impressive as they come throws on the run, his arm strength has some serious pop with accuracy attached to it. He’ll be dual-threat enough and will have the ability to keep defenses guessing and aware of his scrambling prowess.

McCarthy will see the field in 2021, and perhaps he’ll get in games earlier than anticipated if Michigan has substantial leads during their non-conference schedule to start the first month of the season. He needs time on task, and while the coaching staff might be strategic and not thrust him into the starting role before he’s ready, Harbaugh is a firm believer of time on task and live in-game reps to build a QBs meddle.

The outlook for J.J. McCarthy is bright. His career at Michigan is just getting started.