Matt Holm is an old-school guy, the type to avoid social media. He’d rather be locked away watching film in his capacity as defensive coordinator at Batavia High School.
So when his team was set to play J.J. McCarthy and Nazareth Academy two years ago, he didn’t know who McCarthy was.
“There was a little bit of a mystique, you know,” Holm said. “Oh my god, we’re playing J.J. It was coming from coaches, it was coming from players.
“And I’m like — no disrespect intended here cause I greatly respect the kid — my answer to that was, ‘Who the hell is J.J.? What do you mean?’ Until I started watching film.”
McCarthy led Nazareth to 47 points and a win in the state semifinals. He lived up to the hype. Not just in that game, but across Illinois.
Now at IMG Academy in Florida, McCarthy is Michigan’s highest-rated quarterback commit since Ryan Mallett in 2007. Along with Mallett and Chad Henne in 2004, he’s one of three five-stars the Wolverines have had at the position during the recruiting services era.
The Daily spoke with four coaches who faced McCarthy both as a sophomore and as a junior, before his move to IMG this year. Here’s what they had to say.
Matt Mishler, Rolling Meadows head coach: Well I tried to wipe that out of my brain, that game, but I’ll do the best I can.
Pat New, Benet head coach, in response to an emailed interview request: He threw for about 450 (yards), what else is there to talk about?
Dennis Piron, Batavia head coach: He went through this warm-up drill where he would throw every throw he might throw in a game to both sides. Started at about the 30-40 (yard line). It was a nice drill to watch. Very precise and fun. There was not a single incomplete pass in the entire 15-minute drill.
Holm: He is warming up and he rolls out and jumps in the air and does a 360 and throws the ball … right on top of the pylon on the back of the end zone for one of his kids. And as he stops, he kind of carries his momentum towards us on the sideline and he winks at me.
Piron: As a sophomore, was the best quarterback we’d seen in years and as a junior, continued getting better, bigger, stronger, faster so that just only added to his ability level.
New: We have a Division I defensive end who was bringing pressure. And as J.J.’s getting hit, he’s kinda falling backwards and he threw it. And I swear it went like 50 yards in the air. Hit the receiver in stride for a 70-yard touchdown.
It was, pshh. I’ve been coaching a lot of years. It was the best play I’ve ever seen a quarterback make.
Mishler: He was incredibly accurate. That’s the one thing I’ll take away. And he obviously has a very strong arm.
Piron: They’d go anywhere from a little power football on you to 3 by 1s and 2 by 2s. I don’t think they did a lot of five wides, but they could. So they were multiple. They were all over the place. He was in (shotgun), he was under center, he could do both. He could kinda do everything.
Holm: Every once in a while the football gods decide they’re gonna put a little lightning in somebody’s arm and they’re gonna put little wings on their feet and the understanding of what’s happening on the field and being able to make quick decisions.
Mishler: He made some really impressive throws on the run and just deep balls in general. Like I said, he’s just so accurate he didn’t miss.
New: A lot of high school quarterbacks that are looking at the pass rush and they’re looking at the line — and they’re not focused on what’s going on downfield. My impression of him is he can see what’s happening downfield and make decisions as the rush is coming at him.
Mishler: I did think some of the teams that got pressure on him, he didn’t always handle great. … It was really the only chance you had of him being inaccurate is to get him on the run.
Holm: It’s easy to say, you get pressure on a quarterback that’s how you defend him. Well that’s true for — that’s not a rocket science statement. That’s true for any quarterback you face. He doesn’t allow that.
New: He’s way more elusive than people realize. We had problems tackling. He can run around back there pretty well.
Mishler: We got pressure on him early and he was — we couldn’t get him down and then he was throwing strikes. So that didn’t really hold true in our game.
Piron: He could escape and because he could make throws with arm strength, he could throw throws against the grain. He could throw — stop and pop and whip a ball 60 yards down the field to a receiver sitting there. If you didn’t get him and he escaped, you were looking at a touchdown usually.
Holm: What we tell our boys every time we talk about or we were getting ready for (him) is, “Guys, we’re gonna do what we can but this is a guy you’re gonna be seeing on Sundays.”
New: Probably, maybe (reminds you of) a Russell Wilson a little bit. He’s got really good feet. I know that’s a good compliment, cause Russell Wilson’s really good.
Mishler: Honestly I think of the (Joe) Burrow kid out of LSU. I think that’s probably — that’s obviously really high praise. They’re kinda built similarly.
Holm: You can name all kinds of guys, I guess, that have that football IQ. You could name a whole bunch of guys that have the stand in the pocket ability and you could name a whole bunch of guys that are athletic and mobile, but putting them all together, that’s a tough thing.
Piron: I can’t think of anybody as polished as him with the arm strength and the ability and the skillset he had. He could call one or two plays at the line, he had audible abilities and that as a junior. He did everything.
Holm: This is my 30th year of coaching, so it’s not like we haven’t faced good quarterbacks, but he’s something special.
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