While there may not be as much college football this season, that does give ESPN the opportunity to broadcast more high school games. As the premier high school football team in the country, IMG Academy will be showcased frequently throughout the season.
This is fortunate for Michigan fans given that two Wolverine commits play for the squad, including the jewel of the class, five-star quarterback JJ McCarthy.
In total, I counted 14 players with Michigan offers on the field Friday night when IMG Academy faced off against Venice to start the season - all on the Ascenders. Given there were so many potential prospects to watch, I only focused on a handful. Obviously I watched McCarthy and four-star center Greg Crippen closely. I also scouted offensive lineman Tyler Booker and defensive tackle Dominick James, both four-stars who are legitimate targets in the 2022 class.
Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of focus on McCarthy and he lived up to the expectations. His final line was 23 for 37 with 333 yards and five touchdowns, earning him player of the game on the broadcast in the 49-13 victory.
IMG’s gameplan actually didn’t ask much of McCarthy, with a bunch of bubble screens to the outside and traditional screens to running backs called throughout the game. But when McCarthy was allowed to go downfield, he let it rip.
His best throw of the day was a touchdown pass to tight end Jake Renda, a three-star who flipped from Michigan State to Pitt earlier in the cycle. McCarthy calmly side-steps pressure in the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield, sets his feet and throws a strike between three converging defenders to Renda, who does the rest.
This calm under pressure and touch on his passes also occurred on another touchdown pass later in the game. This time, McCarthy had to escape the pocket from two defenders getting around the edge. Without time to set his feet, he launches a bullet to the back of the end zone high enough where only his receiver could come down with it.
Maintaining touch on his passes while on the move was a theme throughout the night. McCarthy was asked to roll-out to his left often and throw on the run. He also showed exceptional timing on underneath routes like slants and curls, which bodes well for an RPO offense.
On this pass, McCarthy anticipates his receiver, five-star Jacorey Books, will find a soft spot in the zone after he makes his curl.
Sometimes he got too comfortable in his rhythm though, as evidenced by a dangerous throw on a skinny post that almost turned into a pick six. On this play, McCarthy failed to read the safety waiting to break on the ball and would’ve had to chase him down the field if he hadn’t dropped the ball.
Those mistakes were few and far between and McCarthy showed why he was one of the top quarterbacks in the country with his performance.
Helping to protect him up front were Crippen and Booker. Crippen was everything you want from your senior center, steady and reliable. I was down on Crippen’s footwork in my scouting report on him when he committed, but I think he’s improved in those areas.
He is consistent in keeping his feet driving when making contact and plays with great pad level and hand placement to establish control over defenders.
That was basically Crippen the entire game: stay low, good targeting with his hands, and some decent push downfield.
He didn’t have to do much in pass pro, rarely if ever taking on a rusher one-on-one. He did have a couple of low snaps that rolled to McCarthy, which is concerning considering how long Crippen has been playing center. Those should be basically automatic at this point.
Booker was an interesting player to watch. He started out at right tackle for most of the first half, then moved to right guard in the third quarter and then sat out the fourth. A top-100 player in 2022, Booker is listed at 6-foot-4, 290 pounds. I don’t think he has the length to stick at tackle in the long term, and was much more impressed with him when he slid inside.
His lack of length was apparent in pass protection, where Booker struggled to stay in front of defensive ends as they ran the hoop to the quarterback.
Here, Booker has pretty good timing on his punch, but isn’t able to lock out the defender. He can’t keep up with his feet as the end bends around the edge, and ends up getting called for holding.
Booker also had a tendency to lunge at defenders when trying to engage them in his kick-step. This took him off balance and sapped all of his power.
But when Booker moved inside, his strength was much more evident. He was particularly devastating when doubling guys with Crippen, which is to be expected. On this play, he fires out low and stuns the defensive tackle to allow Crippen to take over, then gets his hands on a linebacker and seals him off to create a big hole for the running back.
Booker needs some more refinement before he unlocks his potential, but these reps at guard will help his development since I think that’s where he will end up in college.
Finally, we move to the defensive side of the ball where four-star defensive tackle Dominick James was a constant presence in Venice’s backfield.
He notched a few tackles for loss by using great recognition and following a pulling guard to the ball. This awareness also put him in position to recover a fumble early in the game. James lines up across from the left guard, sticks to his hip when he pulls, and is right in front of the quarterback when he drops the ball trying to hand it off to the running backs.
James shows good burst when he wants to, but has to play with a more consistent motor. He also has to work on refining his pass rush moves more. He showed a push-pull and rip move a couple of times, but would use them late or abandon it halfway through.
On this play, James halfheartedly rips through the left guard, but still gets through relatively easily. But he over pursues and is past the quarterback when he is ready to throw. James just kind of stops when he sees he’s too far downfield instead of trying to affect the throw.
If James can put on more weight, I think he’d be great to stick in the middle of the defensive line to eat up space and take on multiple blocks. He has good agility and could provide some push if he works on his technique more.
There will be plenty more opportunities to watch IMG Academy during the season, including two weeks from now when they face off against Junior Colson and Ravenwood Academy. It will be interesting to track the players’ development, so expect more scouting down the line.