J.J. McCarthy: From La Grange Park to the NFL Draft

La Grange Park is a western suburb of Chicago. Population 13,000. And, it's the place that molded J.J. McCarthy –  both the person and the player.

"First time I saw a 7th grade quarterback calling audibles in a youth game. That was pretty unique," Nazareth Head Coach Tim Racki said.

McCarthy's personal quarterback coach, Greg Holcomb added, "I remember seeing him and watching him throw and thinking this kid is pretty advanced for his age. A little bit undersized, skinny, but he could spin it."

No one knows McCarthy the football player better than Racki and Holcomb.

"I did talk about hey you're probably the best 7th grader I've ever seen. So your potential and where you go and all of that is dependent on you," Holcomb remembered. "He's a tireless worker, never not done work, not wanted to, always been extra. If he wanted to do something special, he was going to do it."

Racki added, "J.J. showed up every Sunday morning in the season at 6 a.m. with the coaching staff. He would have a notebook on the opponent. He had a whiteboard in his basement with personnel and past game he broke down from Friday. He's that detailed. He'd help with the offensive game planning since he was a starter."

At Nazareth, the Roadrunners had a 36-2 record under McCarthy and a state title in 2018. He went on to IMG Academy and then Michigan where his legacy only grew.

But as J.J. McCarthy became a star quarterback, he remained true to himself. Ask anyone, what's even more impressive than a state title, national championship and impending draft pick, it's J.J. the person.

"Humble, kind, polite," Holcomb said. "It's almost obnoxious, and it's genuine."

Racki added, "He just checks all the boxes. He really does."

While he's been described as the ultimate teammate and winner, he's won over the most impressionable group by giving his time back to kids.

Eighth-grader Harry Keenan said, "I went to Naz one day because my mom used to work there. I went to the lunch room and he called me over and I sat at the table with him and his football teammates."

Jackson Flickinger added, "He's a big inspiration of mine. Been looking up to him since 4th grade. Shows if you're from anywhere, do your thing."

Declan Flynn remembered the time he got one of McCarthy's towels.

"We were all in a big crowd. He throws it up and I get it out of the air. It was amazing, I wore it basically every football game," Flynn said.

Giving his time to kids was something McCarthy prioritized.

"It was very obvious his freshman year after his first start. He played a tremendous game. After the game, I talked to the team, talked to the press, turn around and see J.J. signing programs. I look further, we were in the endzone, it was at the 50-yard line," Racki said. "In my head, I gotta save him. I said, 'I can get you out of here.' He stopped me and said, 'coach, absolutely not. Every kid in this line is going to get what they want.' I gave him a hug and said, 'that doesn't surprise me kid.'"

Whether it be watching youth football games or giving a pep talk for Holcomb and his son Sam, an up-and-coming quarterback himself, J.J.'s always given his time.

"He's given me great advice along the way. He knows I'm on the same path as him and he even said I am way better than him when he was my age. Something special to hear from a quarterback about to get drafted in the top 5," Holcomb said.

Their relationship touched Greg Holcomb.

"That's going to get me emotional," he said. "That's who he is with kids in general. He loves kids. I think he's a kid at heart. He hasn't lost any of that. He remembers what it's like to have idols. Older guys he is right now. I think he cherishes that."

So when he shouted out his hometown, minutes after winning a national championship, it touched the kids of La Grange Park and sent them a message.

"Showed that kids from Illinois can make it to that stage. Anyone can make it to win a national championship," Declan Flynn said.

Eighth-grader Harry Keenan added, "It's so rare to go to the NFL and pro and for him to say that and to know that kids from wherever can go to the NFL."

"Everybody wants to brag about him. Absolutely. And we should. We should be proud of the kid from Chicagoland area that's going to be a top 5 pick in the NFL Draft. That doesn't happen a lot."