Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy feels the love from fans as he, teammates are chasing greatness
Last Thursday night, the Michigans J.J. McCarthy and Ronnie Bell were scheduled to sign autographs for 90 minutes at The M Den in downtown Ann Arbor.
Fans lined the upper floor of the University of Michigan apparel store, waiting for an autograph and a photo with two of their favorite players, but after 90 minutes, they still lined up, hoping for supper with the Wolverines most popular players.
When The M Den owner asked if McCarthy and Bell would stay around for about 20 minutes longer so that the rest of the fans in line could meet them, they kindly obliged.
While Bell, a senior, has been one of the teams top receivers for the past three seasons, McCarthy, the freshman backup quarterback, is thrown just 14 passes this year.
But he is also a former five-star prospect who was the programs highest-ranked quarterback recruit since Ryan Mallett in the 2007 class.
McCarthy's national letter of intent last December wowed the nation, and the excitement has only increased since the season began after he has shown his potential in his limited playing time.
McCarthy said Tuesday night that its absolutely amazing because of the fan support he received from McCarthy. I love the hell out of them. Its a classic example: treat others the way you want to be treated. I dont know, but I do feel like that has something to do with it. I hear a bit of it for sure, and its certainly heard on campus, but I try to make it known to everyone that Im just as normal as you. Were all human beings here and we just try to build relationships with fans as much as possible.
The Wolverines are 6-0 with redshirt sophomore Cade McNamara as the starting quarterback, but the clamor from some fans to see McCarthy on the field hasnt diminished.
The 6-foot-3, 107-pounder McCarthy played at least 20 snaps in relief during Michigans 3-2 victories over Western Michigan and Northern Illinois, but he also appeared in crucial moments each of the past two weeks against Wisconsin and Nebraska.
McCarthy gives opposing defenses a different look with his speed. He played 11 snaps against the Badgers and six against Cornhuskers, completing 1 of 2 passes for a 56-yard touchdown and running for 17 yards and rushing for an assist on six attempts combined in the two games.
On Mondays Inside Michigan Football, head coach Jim Harbaugh said an increase in playing time for McCarthy is by design, but McNamara remains the starter.
Cade played really well (at Nebraska), Harbaugh said. One of his best games, if not his worst game. Had a great time. As far as J.J., I'd like to keep playing JJ as much as possible. I look back on some other years and wonder if we had the backup reps we needed when we really needed him.
We've had a few seasons, like 2017, when we played three or four quarterbacks. Wilton (Speight) was hurt, followed by John (OKorn) and Brandon (Peters). Jake Rudock was injured in the middle of the Ohio State game and Minnesota game in 2015. Wilton did a fantastic job. There are times when you need that backup quarterback to play and get as much experience and reps as possible, says Henrik OSullivan, When you have a backup receiver, you want that quarterback with as little experience or repos.
McCarthy, who led Nazareth Academy in Illinois to three straight state title games before starting an undefeated season at IMG Academy, Florida as a senior, is likewise ranked as an opponent. He has since expressed his confidence and believes he can help the team win now.
Aber he also believes there is plenty of valuable experience to be gained playing behind McNamara.
McCarthy noted that his relationship with Cade has been excellent. Its been a unique experience, something Ive never experienced before, because I've been somewhat of he my whole career. I look up to Cade, look at his preparation, how he is as a leader. Ive just been doing a lot of observation of how he is with the team and with coaches. Its been a great experience for me.
McCarthy shared a story he heard in team chapel on Tuesday. It was about a kid who brought he guitar pick to saxophonists' concert and ended up on stage when the band asked the crowd if they knew how to play.
That analogy really stuck because were doing everything we possibly can to get in the game, but we're not expecting to be in it, McCarthy said of he and some other young players pushing for playing time. No matter what, were just ready. Weve got our guitar pick in our pocket and well be ready when we get called.
Part of being prepared when his number is called is taking advantage of every opportunity to improve, even if it is in the middle of the night.
After Michigans victory over Wisconsin on Oct. 2, Harbaugh said a group of freshmen -- McCarthy, running back Donovan Edwards, and receiver Andrel Anthony -- hit the practice field as soon as the team returned from Madison.
The same group, with the addition of freshman receiver Cristian Dixon, was back on the practice field late Saturday following the Wolverines road victory over Nebraska.
McCarthy said it was definitely interesting at 4:30 in the morning out there, adding that it had been interesting at that time. It was a great experience, but it was also refreshing to see the guys wanting to get the same work and really just -- we're chasing greatness. Thats what were doing, he said.
The McCarthy supporters will be watching closely as McCarthy pursues greatness. The highly anticipated freshman is already a fan favorite, and as of Tuesday, it's difficult to ignore the attention.
McCarthy said he doesnt want to claim that. It was fun to see these little ones paint their chests before a game, and that was just really cool to know that we have the best fans in the country, omitted. These fans are amazing. Theyve been fantastic from the moment they first met, win or lose. Its been a pleasure to be around them.
What did the kids paint on their chests?
They had an I and a heart and J.J., he added. McCarthy said. After I hit em up, I said I appreciate them and love them, too.
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