For years, the Michigan and Ohio State rivalry has been one of the most intense in any sport. Much of the history of these two elite programs is intertwined, highlighted by the days of legendary coaches Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler and the “Ten Year War.”
Now, the rival programs have commitments from 2021 Rivals100 quarterbacks Kyle McCord (Ohio State) and J.J. McCarthy (Michigan). The curveball here is that the future rivals have forged a unique friendship, getting to know each other through the recruiting process and on the camp circuit.
“It was probably May or June before our freshman year and we were two of the young quarterbacks to get offers and be put on the national scene,” McCord said. “We started talking over Twitter and Snapchat, and our relationship kind of grew. It’s nice to know somebody that is going through the same kind of recruitment and media attention. J.J. is somebody I can talk to and relate to.”
There is a mutual respect the two share for each other, but the bigger picture of potentially becoming starting quarterbacks for Michigan and Ohio State and not despising each other is not lost on McCarthy or McCord.
“He’s an awesome guy," McCarthy said of McCord. "We wanted to develop a relationship and have a good friendship, not just be enemies like everyone thinks we are. We pull for each other.”
That friendship and mutual trust helped McCord and McCarthy navigate the complicated recruiting process.
“We just talked about schools and what he likes from different coaches,” McCord said. “We also talked about where he was thinking of going and where I was thinking. We talked a lot about schools that we shouldn’t visit. There were a few schools that he went to that he told me wasn’t worth my time, so that helped me a lot.”
McCarthy remembers similar conversations.
“We were talking about schools and what our values were for each school,” he said. “It helped us go through every school and figure out which one was the right one. There was a school where it just didn’t feel at home for me and he had a school that he knew didn’t feel like home for him, so we would talk about things like that.”
Parents are almost always heavily involved in the recruiting process, and it is no surprise that recruits' parents talk to each other every so often. That is true of their fathers, Jim McCarthy and Derek McCord.
The fathers see in their sons a mutually beneficial friendship and relationship that can span years. A second relationship also blossomed that neither expected.
“Both kids are really amazing and so is Derek, Kyle‘s dad,” Jim McCarthy said. “Both kids have the same goals and people with the same goals attract one another. They’ve built a really nice friendship amongst each other, and I don’t see their friendship ever dying. I think it will grow more from here. Hopefully, one day they’ll compete on Thanksgiving weekend.
“It’s nice to have someone to talk to that’s kind of going through the same path that your son has gone through,” Jim said of Derek McCord. “Getting to have a conversation with him (Derek), you get the feeling that you’ve been living the same lives. We can bounce stuff off each other going forward and it’s a relationship that I think will carry on well beyond our sons’ college careers.”
Derek McCord, a former Rutgers quarterback, took every opportunity to get familiar with the recruiting process. He knew getting to know the McCarthys would provide plenty of benefits as the friendship between the families developed.
“Jim and I have been talking for the last couple months as we’re going through the same things,” Derek McCord said. “As we were going through the process we were talking about what both of us were looking for in a school. We talked about what questions each other were asking and what boxes some schools checked. I knew Jim and I would hit it off when we met this week in Atlanta. It was great to meet him in person, and he seems like a really great guy. He’s really down-to-earth and wants the best for his kid, just like I do.”
The friendships between these two generations in the McCarthy and McCord families flies in the face of the growing tensions in the Michigan and Ohio State rivalry, but this isn’t uncharted territory.
“I ran into Jim Harbaugh at the PGA Championship on Long Island,” Derek McCord said. “I ended up speaking with him and his dad for a little while and they even brought up the fact that Woody and Bo were good friends and talked a lot except for the week that they played each other. It’s a bitter rivalry, but J.J. and Kyle built a friendship before they picked Michigan and Ohio State, so that friendship will be a long-time friendship.
“They’re going to want to do everything they can to lead their teams to victory out on that field,” he said. “They’re good friends and come the time when they meet on the field they’re going to want to beat the other guy.”
The rivalry will rage on but that won’t stop the two players and their fathers from wishing each other success … but not too much success.
— Josh Helmholdt (@JoshHelmholdt) June 25, 2019