J.J. McCarthy grew up in Illinois but was a fan of the scarlet and gray. In his estimation, he would follow that path, but with Ohio State targeting Kyle McCord, someone McCarthy knew well, both Michigan football and OSU ended up with the quarterbacks they wanted — even if that’s not what the Wolverines junior QB had envisioned before he ended up in Ann Arbor.
“I grew up first being an Ohio State fan. I won’t lie — I did,” McCarthy said. “But God had different plans for me and showed me the way and I’m very blessed and appreciative to be here.”
It worked out well for McCarthy, at least thus far. In his first year as a starter, in his second year with the program, he went into Columbus, a place Michigan hadn’t won in 20 years, and led the Wolverines to a 45-23 victory.
Though only completing 50% of his passes, McCarthy threw for 263 yards and three touchdowns, while running six times for 26 yards and another score.
Now that he’s gotten a real taste beyond running twice and completing one pass in the 2021 iteration of The Game, McCarthy feels like it will give him something of an advantage over McCord, who has yet to see action against his rival to the north.
“Huge — I think experience is one of the greatest edges you can have as a player,” McCarthy said. “And just going into last year that first drive just all those emotions that were creeping in, it was something I’ve never felt before. So now it’s predictable, therefore manageable, and I’ll know how to handle my emotions and get them down to where they need to be. And yeah, just say it does a lot for me, that’s for sure.”
That said, McCord is hoping to follow in McCarthy’s footsteps, outdueling the established leader of the other team in his first time playing in the rivalry. McCarthy says he hasn’t talked to his rival friend during the season, but is looking forward to playing against him now that the two will be going up against each other.
The 2021 classmates got to know each other well on the camp circuit, and McCarthy knows from having seen McCord play all these years that he will present challenges to the Michigan defense.
“Kyle is my guy, ever since growing up and going all the satellite camps and all these Rivals, 247, all that, we were always there together,” McCarthy said. “And we just kind of meshed, had two alike personalities. And just, it’s gonna be really cool, it’s gonna be really surreal to see him out there in this environment, this game, and just going out there and wish him safety and make sure he stays healthy.
“But he’s gonna give our defense a little bit of some trouble at times, and we got to respond and be able to attack them in any way possible.”
Who will come out on top? We’ll find out on Saturday with kickoff starting at noon EST.