It's not every day that a high school football team has a freshman quarterback who already has an FBS scholarship offer -- and the attention of Power Five schools from across the Midwest -- on the roster. It's even more rare when that same high school football coach decides to keep his hot shot same freshman gunslinger, or youngslinger if you will, on the bench instead of in the starting lineup.
"It definitely wasn't an easy decision," Nazareth Academy head coach Tim Racki said when asked about why then-freshman quarterback J.J. McCarthy sat on the sidelines last season. "But I had to go with my gut, and my gut told me not to throw him (McCarthy) into the fire. Fortunately, J.J.'s parents are awesome people who trusted me and supported my decision last year."
McCarthy (6-foot-2, 180 pounds), who is holding verbal scholarship offers from South Carolina, Iowa State, Cincinnati and Indiana, paid his dues last year for the IHSA 6A state runner-up Roadrunners. He has since taken full advantage of his opportunity. After six games, he has thrown for 1,623 yards and 21 touchdowns with no interceptions. He has only played in 14 quarters so far in 2018.
"I've never had a D-1 quarterback before and now I know what one looks like," Racki added. "At times I forget he's just a sophomore when I watch him play. The football just pops out of his hand. His throws are like a laser beam and he can just do everything you want and need from any quarterback. J.J. also had a big growth spurt since last season and fortunately it's all coming together and working out."
Yet McCarthy isn't the only sophomore quarterback making some noise at the varsity level this season.
Antioch sophomore Athan Kaliakmanis (6-foot-3, 185 pounds), who already has verbal scholarship offers from Iowa, Iowa State, Syracuse, Virginia Tech and Central Michigan, started last season as a freshman on the varsity team at Carmel. He decided to transfer back to his home school district last spring along with his brother WR Dino Kaliakmanis. The Sequoits (6-0) are rolling and the duo leads an offense that is averaging nearly 39 points per game.
Earlier this year I watched East St. Louis sophomore QB Tyler Macon (6-foot-0, 180 pounds) lead the Flyers to a triple-OT win over Missouri power Trinity Catholic in front of 8,000-plus fans. Macon has been a huge boost to an already loaded Flyers roster stacked with underclassmen talent.
Naperville Central sophomore Sam Jackson (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) saw playing time under center last fall at Bolingbrook and transferred to Naperville Central this past spring. Jackson is starting and making an impact at wide receiver for the Redhawks this season and is the heir apparent to Western Michigan commit senior QB Payton Thorne starting next season.
Machesney Park Harlem sophomore QB James Cooper Jr. (6-foot-0, 195 pounds) has the Huskies to a 5-1 record. DeKalb sophomore QB Trenton Kyler (5-foot-10, 160 pounds) has produced a similar 5-1 record with the Barbs. Providence Catholic (5-1) was getting a nice season from sophomore QB Kevin Conway (6-foot-2, 180 pounds) before suffering a season-ending injury. St. Laurence sophomore QB Darius Wilson (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) has shown real flashes of promise. There are better days to come for the Vikings-- their roster is stacked with underclassmen talent this fall.
Maybe the biggest eye-opening performance this past week came from a freshman. Springfield’s Rashad Rochelle (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) led the Senators (4-2) to a stunning 49-41 upset win over state power Sacred Heart-Griffin (4-2); Springfield defeated the Cyclones for the first time since 1999.
Needless to say, the rise of the “Youngslingers” is upon us in the Land of Lincoln.