The hopes and dreams of a fan base are once again attached to a player who’s yet to arrive at Michigan.

For some, that pressure would be insurmountable. For some, the very idea of stepping onto a field with 100,o00-plus screaming and yelling spectators would be too much to handle.

Expectations are high — almost too high.

Here we go again.

Michigan fans think this kid walks on water; he was sent from above to beat Ohio State, win Big Ten championships and hoist national title trophies.

It’s not like one single player can change the fortune of a program — let alone one who’s never played a snap in college, right?

But that’s the scenario 5-star 2021 QB recruit JJ McCarthy is entering with the Wolverines. That’s the life he’s living these days.

The weight of the world has been placed upon his shoulders. But the 6-1, 205-pound IMG Academy superstar wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It kind of showed how big and passionate the fan base was. Right away, when I first committed, my social media just blew up from it – and I was like ‘wow.’ It was more of a reassurance thing for me, because I want to walk into a program where it’s going to be a die-hard, passionate fan base,” McCarthy said of the sky-high expectations.

“Who wouldn’t want to walk into that situation? Any person who’s striving to be and striving to do great things is going to have that (pressure) come with them – it’s inevitable. So I took that upon me at such an early age and I accepted it. I mean, this is what I wished for. You have to be able to control and have … steady focus on what the main objective is, and that’s winning games for the University of Michigan and just going in there and doing whatever I can.”

It’s easy to see why UM views McCarthy as a trajectory-altering prospect. It’s easy to see why coach Jim Harbaugh and staff view McCarthy as the ideal field general. McCarthy carries himself like a leader. He speaks like a leader. He studies those who have reached the pinnacle of their respective professions.

Typically, it’s unwise to hitch the future of a program to one player. But not every player is McCarthy, who has been the anchor of Michigan’s No. 10-ranked 2021 recruiting class. In this case, it might actually be the smart move to get on the McCarthy bandwagon. Not many players possess his natural talent and leadership abilities.

He has the football IQ, the ability to control a huddle, and the ideal athleticism and mental traits necessary to be a star in college.


“I believe I was just kind of born with it, just with the sports I’ve played and the position and the experiences that I’ve went through,” McCarthy said. “Playing quarterback – you are – you’re supposed to be the leader, and it’s the job you take when you say you’re going to be playing quarterback. When I made the decision to play the position that I love, I was signing up for the role that was needed to win games; the role Michael Jordan played. Kobe. Tom Brady. Russell Wilson. Pretty much every leader out there. I would consistently and constantly study them and study their mindsets …”

Transferring from Nazareth Academy in Illinois to IMG in Florida expedited the maturation process, McCarthy said. While with the No. 1 high school program in the country, the highly touted QB learned what it truly means to be the foundation of a team.

“I want to be the guy that everyone can count on, you know what I mean? I want to be the guy who is always consistently going to be working his butt off and always consistently in the film room,” he said.  “I want to be that guy, because that’s just naturally who I am.”

The stage is set for McCarthy, the No. 22 player of 2021, per 247Sports. He’s Michigan’s highest-ranked prospect of the incoming class and is one of the highest-rated QBs the school has ever recruited.

Photo courtesy of JJ McCarthy

If he’s not the guy, then there may never be one for Harbaugh in Ann Arbor.

But yeah, about that — Harbaugh in Ann Arbor.

That’s a hot topic right now.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 3 or 4 years, you know that it’s Harbaugh Rumor Season. It comes along this time of year, just like clockwork. Will Harbaugh leave for the NFL? Has he run his course in Ann Arbor? All of that ties into recruiting, as it’s commonplace for the social media crowd to stir up rumors of players de-committing should a certain coach leave a team.

That’s not the case for McCarthy. Not in the least.

“I know one thing: I always base my opinions and judgments based off what I truly know,” he said. “But I know that Jim Harbaugh is a phenomenal coach and I want to be coached by him for all my years of football. Right now, the only thing that I know is just as much as everyone else does (regarding departure rumors).

“But I choose to look on the neutral side of everything and understand what’s going on right now – instead of always jumping to the next thing: ‘Who’s going to replace this if this happens,’ or ‘who’s going to do this?’ That’s going to come if it does come – and right now, it’s not. I’m only worried about the present moment right now. And right now, he’s my head coach and I can’t wait to play for him. That’s how I’m feeling right now.”

Words from a leader who pledged to a program, not just a coach. He laughed, curling his nose, and quickly put to rest any chatter of him doing otherwise.

“100 percent, yeah! 100 percent. I love every single one of those coaches on the staff right now. But the main reason why I committed to Michigan was because of the opportunities that the university provides me,” McCarthy continued. “And just the tremendous attributes of the football program and of the education – it’s just everything that I want to be a part of. No matter who’s in there, I’m staying there and I’ll have the same attitude going in.”

That’s exactly why UM fans are in love with McCarthy. He says all the right things. He portrays the ideal image for a team that desperately needs a player of his caliber to take hold and guide the Wolverines toward national prominence. And believe it or not, Michigan’s 2-4 season has done nothing to make McCarthy reconsider his decision. Truthfully, the struggles have only lit a fire within McCarthy.

“I’m extremely excited. If you give me two teams to go to – one that was complacent coming off a great year, or one who’s licking their chops to get back on the field and make a statement, I’ll take that team,” he said with a confident laugh and smile. “I don’t care what the record is, or what the track record was from the past years. I’m watching the games knowing that I’m not there yet and I can’t make an impact …

“It’s almost making me more excited. It’s making other recruits excited too. When we’re watching the Michigan game, we’re just like ‘wow, what a frickin’ opportunity we have in front of us to come in there and help make a change and help turn this program around. I’m really, really excited to get there and just be able to get working and be a part of that team.”

Any great leader has experienced great failure. It’s a rite of passage, really. Getting to the top is difficult if you’ve never seen the bottom.

McCarthy has been there. While most would never want to sink to those levels, he’s actually thankful for the humbling experience.

“It was a year ago, exactly, a couple days ago. I lost the (Illinois) state championship my junior year – and it was an embarrassing loss. Right after that, I was in extreme disappointment. But at the end of it, where I am now, I realized that was the best thing that ever happened to me – easily,” McCarthy said of the 37-13 loss to Mount Carmel in the 2019 7A championship bout. “Because the work ethic was kind of exposed after it … and the tenacity that I went with into every workout and every football situation since then has been just pure, trying to exceed excellence every single day.”

McCarthy is a student of the game — not just the game of football, but the game of life.

“Like Will Smith says, ‘Failure is only produced in your mind (based on) what you think is success and you compare it to it. When you hit that failure point, it’s actually the greatest teacher of everything that you could possibly go through in your life,” he said. “When you hit that failure point, it’s like alright, ‘I’m that much closer to getting to my goal.’ ”

If that’s not enough to convince you that McCarthy is well beyond his years, maturity-wise, nothing will. If his leadership on the field doesn’t make you a believer … well, you probably need to take another look. He’s coming from the nation’s top high school program, IMG, and is widely regarded as one of the all-time great preps in the state of Illinois — where he played for 3 years prior to landing in Florida.

He might not walk on water.

Maybe he wasn’t sent from above.

His commitment to Michigan probably wasn’t divine intervention, either — as much as UM fans would like to believe that to be true.

But watch some film, and you’ll see he’s the real deal. Read some articles, and you’ll see that he talks the talk. All of that would be enough for most to go all-in on McCarthy. But if you really need a reason to justify all the hype, just watch the interview below. It made a skeptical sports writer change his mind, and that never happens.

McCarthy is what Michigan needs, and it’s never been more evident than it is now.