Cade McNamara hears your slander. Neither he, nor his teammates, are accepting it

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — On Thursday, Cade McNamara earned a very special distinction: he’s the first quarterback in the Jim Harbaugh era to be named a team captain outright.

While Shea Patterson was an alternate, it does speak volumes that Michigan has a signal caller get that type of respect from his teammates (the captaincy vote is via the players, not the coaches) in anticipation of the season. But if you listen to a vocal sect of the Michigan fan base, they’re banking on his fall camp competition, J.J. McCarthy, to be the starting quarterback. The national media also seems on board. But McNamara being named a team captain further shows that he has earned the trust and respect of his teammates — which is no small thing for a quarterback.

Patterson aside, there have been a lot of quarterbacks to start a game in the Jim Harbaugh era who have not earned this distinction — a list that includes Jake Rudock, Wilton Speight, John O’Korn, Brandon Peters, and Joe Milton. That’s not to say any of the above weren’t leaders, but McNamara brings a different element to this team, one you can’t quantify via statistics.

“Quarterback makes a lot of big decisions that impact the game and you always want the guy who’s making those decisions to be respected by the guys he’s making the decisions for,” fellow team captain, defensive tackle Mazi Smith said. “You always want to look into a quarterback and see somebody who embodies the team and can bring the team together when he needs to. And keep the team going.”

And he appears to be keeping the team going both on and off the field.

From Big Ten Network’s report that McNamara was can’t-miss in the fall practice they witnessed to begin voted a team captain, there’s a ton of evidence that the fourth-year quarterback has seized on his opportunity, regardless of the upstart McCarthy nipping at his heels. While there’s more to playing quarterback than simply making throws, though some fans comment that he needs to be better in that regard — despite having the higher completion percentage a year ago, even with a bigger sample size — it does appear that he’s doing just that in fall camp.

“I feel like the level I’m playing at is very high right now in terms of where I’ve been in my career,” McNamara said. “I have for sure gotten much better than I was this time last year or even at the end of the season last year. And I’ve recognized that and obviously, my teammates have as well.”

Though McNamara has improved his playing ability, he exudes leadership. Coming off a year where leadership helped propel the Wolverines from 2-4 in 2020 to 12-2, the Big Ten Championship and a College Football Playoff berth, given that Aidan Hutchinson, Josh Ross, and Andrew Vastardis — three of last year’s team captains — are now gone, the maize and blue need a presence to propel them all the same.

McNamara is that, and at the most important position.

What’s more, he’s had time on task. Senior Mike Sainristil recalls McNamara’s efforts to get him to flip to Michigan from Virginia Tech, working to build the class that is now in its fourth year. Also, given that just three years ago at this time, McNamara was fourth on the depth chart, that he finally got an opportunity the following year and ran with it, it was a moment that galvanized the team.

That Rutgers game, when McNamara helped lead a come-from-behind victory in triple overtime on the road cemented his status, and it’s something that no one who was on that 2020 team has forgotten.

“I feel like ever since I met Cade, he’s been a leader,” Sainristil said. “Even in just recruiting, like I said, I feel like he was one of the more vocal guys in our class. When we first came in, it was obviously harder because he was a freshman quarterback. He was behind Shea, Dylan, Joe — a good amount of guys where the vocal presence isn’t viewed as high.

“2020, when he got the opportunity to help change the Rutgers game around, his message in locker room was, ‘What happens if we can still win out?’ And I feel like from that point on, guys just viewed Cade very different. This is somebody who is our quarterback, this is somebody that at all times is viewed as probably the most important position on the field. He dictates a lot, he controls a lot. And I don’t think anyone here doesn’t trust Cade in anything. I feel like since that Cade’s really been a true leader.”


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McNamara might be the favorite in the locker room, but all it takes to see that he might not be with the fan base is scouring Twitter any time the official Michigan account or any media account (including ours) mentions him. Or, really anywhere on social media when Michigan is brought up.

The senior quarterback sees and hears everything, no matter how much he tries to block it out. Every time he’s appeared in the media since earning the starting quarterback job in 2021, he’s been bombarded with questions about his competition with McCarthy. No matter how stern-faced he may appear, he still answers the question and moves on. At least vocally.

But, on the field, when he’s actually battling with the former five-star, McNamara uses the doubt to propel him, and thusly propel his team.

“It’s fuel, I think being able to continue to deal with adversity is just something that makes people better and your ability to handle it will define you. And really not just for me, but for this team as well,” McNamara said. “When this team faces adversity this season, how we react will define us, and we’re well aware of that and we have really pushed that message. As the captains and other leaders on the team, we’ve pushed that message as well. How you deal with that adversity, that’s gonna be a defining moment for our team. So not just for me, but for this team. I think we’re gonna attack it.”

His evenness is something that his teammates appreciate.

Like Sainristil said, he’s long been a vocal proponent of the team, helping galvanize a sometimes fractured unit. When he took over in 2020 at Rutgers, the Wolverines were in danger of losing to what has long been thought of as the worst team in the conference, at least since 2015. It was on the ropes, and he helped guide it back.

Though that was the first time fans witnessed his moxie, it wasn’t anything the team hadn’t seen before. It turns out, that type of leadership can grow.

But he’s always had this fire in him, it’s just brighter now that he’s in the spotlight — whether people outside of Schembechler Hall like it or not.

“Just by coming up and being the same guy every day, competing and always trying to get that edge,” Smith said. “Cade is one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen and one of the biggest competitors and he’s been that way since he got here. Lately — now that he’s the starter, the eyes are on him, people just see it now. But he’s always been the way he is. You appreciate having a guy like that, that wants to win all the time.”


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Story originally appeared on Wolverines Wire