Notre Dame dropped recruiting ball on Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy

It has been said that one man’s trash can be another man’s treasure.

Perhaps that is the perfect way to describe Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy who was a Notre Dame recruit roughly a half-decade ago.

McCarthy originally played his high school football at Nazareth Academy in the Chicago suburbs (same school as Notre Dame great Julian Love) before spending his senior year at IMG Academy in Florida. He was right in Notre Dame’s back yard and seemed to love the school.

McCarthy made several reported trips to Notre Dame during his high school career as a recruit but never received a scholarship offer. Instead, Brian Kelly and Tommy Rees put their quarterback recruiting chips in the basket of Tyler Buchner in the 2021 class.

McCarthy wound up at Michigan and has his team playing for a national championship. He very well could enter the NFL draft and make a handsome amount of professional money.

If you can stomach it Notre Dame fans, below are a few quotes from McCarthy himself about the excitement of being pitched by Notre Dame back in the day and what might have been.

'Electric Feeling' at Notre Dame Stadium

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

“This was my second game. I was actually at the Georgia-Notre Dame game last year, so this was another cool experience,” said McCarthy. “Just feeling that electric feeling whenever I go to a Notre Dame game is really cool.”

McCarthy actually said this to Tom Loy of Irish Illustrated after visiting for Notre Dame’s home contest to start the 2018 season against — you guessed it — Michigan.  He clearly seemed sold on the game day environment of Notre Dame as a high school sophomore.

Favorite Part of That Notre Dame Visit


“Definitely the player walk,” said McCarthy. “It was cool seeing how many fans were there to see the Notre Dame players walk into the stadium, and seeing how many Michigan fans were there. When you’re at the Division 1 level, you’re a big-time player and I can’t wait to get to that point.”

The player walk under Kelly was cool. Heck, I remember randomly high-fiving David Robinson during it before the Michigan game in 2012.  I can only imagine how much more McCarthy would have liked the walk from mass to the stadium that happened both before and after Kelly, though.

Interacting with Tommy Rees During Recruiting Visit

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

“He came up to me in the recruiting tent,” said McCarthy of Rees. “He told me he’ll try and get out to a game this year. He said I was playing pretty good for the first two games.”

Big time yikes. This is the answer you give when you clearly don’t want to do something – something we’ve all done. Wife asks you to clean up the garage. … “I’ll try to get it done honey” means you can bet your bottom dollar that task isn’t getting done. That’s exactly how this comes off five years later, and it only stings more after seeing what McCarthy has gone on to do.

What a Notre Dame Offer Would Mean

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

“That would be a huge offer for my family,” said McCarthy. “They’re big on education first. When talking to them about it, it’s almost like they expect me to commit right away.”

I don’t really feel the need to add anything more to this one besides, “Ouch.”

Return Visit in December of 2018


“It was awesome,” McCarthy told Blue & Gold Illustrated. “I loved it a lot. I went into the visit loving the school, and I just love it even more. There’s nothing you can’t love about the school.”

There is nothing you can’t love about the school. Other than when they don’t offer a scholarship because it’s going to a young man who will ultimately start three games for their program.

On Seeing How Rees Coaches

Santiago Flores/South Bend Tribune via USA TODAY NETWORK
Santiago Flores/South Bend Tribune via USA TODAY NETWORK

“Definitely sitting in on the quarterback meeting and seeing how well coach Tom Rees coaches and how he does everything,” McCarthy stated. “Just seeing how coach Rees takes everything to the field along with coach Brian Kelly and coach Chip Long was really cool.”

This seems like a kid who was in love with Notre Dame at that point and wanted so badly to get a scholarship offer. Coach Tom Rees could have probably shown him anything and the young McCarthy would have been impressed. Yet, Rees led the way in Notre Dame fumbling this likely future first-round draft pick.

Optimistic Sounding in December of 2018


“It’s good news either way because it’s a blessing to even be recruited by Notre Dame,” McCarthy began. “A decision will be made in January I’m told. That would be huge for me.

“Notre Dame checks all the boxes my family and I want for the future. Knowing it’s close to home and how important family is to me, that would be big if they offered.”

McCarthy says all the right things but its clear from everything he said in the two pieces we dug up that there would be extreme disappointment if he didn’t end up a scholarship from Notre Dame.  As it turns out, January came around like he mentioned, and no offer came with it.

Notre Dame went with Tyler Buchner in the 2021 recruiting class and he is now a part of the Fighting Irish lacrosse program after spending 2022 with Tommy Rees at Alabama.


Fitting End for McCarthy and Rees


The world works in the strangest of ways. In McCarthy’s case, it has to make Michigan’s Rose Bowl win feel that much better. McCarthy ultimately was offered by the Wolverines, went there and has started the last two seasons as they reached the College Football Playoff both seasons. He helped deliver Michigan’s biggest win in decades as the Wolverines outlasted Alabama in overtime of the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day 2024.

It was an Alabama team that none other than Tommy Rees was calling plays for.

We’ve asked for a long time — how does Notre Dame close that gap at quarterback compared to the great programs?

Perhaps offering great high school quarterbacks scholarships would be a good place to start. At least with CJ Carr and Duece Knight in the next two recruiting classes that seems to be being righted.

But to watch what looking back seems like it was such a two-foot putt of a commitment for Notre Dame certainly stings when you know how things worked out for Irish quarterbacks in that time.

Related: Social Media Roasts Tommy Rees Following Rose Bowl

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Story originally appeared on Fighting Irish Wire