J.J. McCarthy

Edgy Tim: Illinois Player of the Year candidates (so far)

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NBC Sports Chicago

Edgy Tim: Illinois Player of the Year candidates (so far)

We have played six weeks on the high school football schedule. It's still a bit early, but who are the early candidates for IHSA Football Player of the Year? With a month-plus of football under our belts, it's time to start identifying which names are deserving of a mention heading into Week 7 games. 

(I also discussed this on camera at NBC Sports Chicago's studios Wednesday afternoon)

So where to begin? Let's start outside of Chicagoland. 

East St Louis (6-0) and head coach Darren Sunkett has a roster loaded with talent. It includes over a dozen names drawing serious recruiting attention and scholarship offers this fall. But in my mind, junior QB Tyler Macon (1,856 yards passing) is the leading candidate for the Flyers so far in 2019. Macon, who a season ago was more of a game manager with potential and physical tools, has transformed into a more of a mature, patient quarterback with a tremendous arm and touch. 

The Springfield area always has talent. Start with Class 6A's top-ranked Glenwood Titans (6-0) and its multi-sport, multi-year starting QB Luke Lehnen. This senior has led the Titans to a perfect record so far this season; he has the Chatham community feeling like it's 1998 all over again (Glenwood won its only IHSA state football title that season). Not to be outdone, nearby Rochester (6-0) knows all about winning. Senior QB Clay Bruno (1,688 yards passing 21 TDs) has been on fire so far in 2019. Glenwood hosts Rochester on Oct. 25. Springfield sophomore QB Rashad Rochelle has been a huge presence in big games. This includes last week's 54-42 win over Sacred Heart-Griffin. 

Also don't overlook a handful of other standout performers in Central Illinois including Peoria (5-1) senior QB Gabe Hernandez and Normal West (5-1) senior QB Carson Camp, who is commited to South Dakota.

Getting closer to the Windy City, the Chicagoland area has several worthy names to watch. 

Lincoln-Way East (6-0) is the state's top ranked 8A team. The Griffins have received a huge season from senior A.J. Henning (Michigan). Henning has played wide receiver, running back and also has played at quarterback. He has been an big impact, big play performer for coach Rob Zvonar and company. 

Several quarterbacks are also in the discussion. Nazareth Academy (6-0) junior QB JJ McCarthy (Michigan) is the state's top quarterback prospect and one of a handful of Roadrunners worthy of consideration. Neuqua Valley (5-1) has also relied on senior QB Mark Gronowski (South Dakota State). His overall game has reached new heights; his overall recruiting profile continues to grow as well. Hersey's (6-0) offense is averaging almost 50 points per game. Senior QB Jordan Hansen will remind you a bit of another Jordan --as in former Mount Carmel/NIU star and current Mount Carmel head coach QB Jordan Lynch-- with Hansen's identical ability to be a punishing runner and very impressive passer, much like Lynch in his playing days. 

Has anyone meant as much to his team and his school community as Willowbrook (5-1) senior QB/S Sam Tumilty? Tumilty continues to post big numbers week in and week out. He never leaves the field and keeps leading the Warriors football program to a new level of respect. 

How about some smaller enrollment names to consider? Take Coal City senior RB Dan Jezik. He's been a huge factor in getting the Coalers to new heights in Class 4A. How about IC Catholic Prep's senior QB/S Danny Cronin? St. Francis (5-1) and head coach Bob McMillen has the Spartans on a roll. No one has been as valuable as junior QB Tommy Rittenhouse. He's paid dividends --with his arms and feet-- for the Spartans so far this fall. 

However, the Player of the Year honor is always much more than just a quarterback-only award. 

Mount Carmel junior RB/LB Kenenna Odeluga is a quiet, low-key type of kid off the field. He is the Caravan's main threat in the run game on offense while also being an impact player on defense-- a unit that's allowed just 55 points in 2019. Chicago's southern suburbs has one of the Midwest's most sought-after running backs in Hillcrest (6-0) junior Mar'Kiese Irving. Irving keeps impressing everyone who has seen him in person this season. He already has several Power Five scholarship offers under his belt. In the western suburbs, Glenbard West (6-0) is always about the defense. Senior LB Greyson Metz has played as well as any non-offensive players in Chicagoland so far this season. 

Yet what separates some names over others? 

One of my favorite memories so far from this season features Batavia senior RB/LB Quinn Urwiler. After the Bulldogs' opening week loss to East St. Louis, I noticed several Flyer coaches and players seeking out Urwiler after the handshake line. So I asked Flyers' four star-ranked senior S Antonio Johnson why he walked over out of his way to talk to Urwiler. 

"That kid can ball," Johnson said. "We went at him hard and he never backed down. He gave us everything he had and I respect his game for sure."

2 Days to Kickoff: Nazareth Academy

2 Days to Kickoff: Nazareth Academy

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 5, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 30.

School: Nazareth Academy

Head coach: Tim Racki

Assistant coaches: Casey Moran, Joe Reynolds, Rudy Luna, Brody Budmayr, Jeff Tumpane, Joe Battaglia, Steve Gray, Andy Miller and Larry White

How they fared in 2018: 13-1 (6-1 East Suburban Catholic Conference). Nazareth made the 2018 7A state playoff field and defeated Andrew, Hersey, Simeon and Batavia. They advanced to the state title game and defeated St. Charles North 31-10.

2019 regular season schedule:

Aug. 31 vs Cardinal Ritter (MO)
Sept. 6 vs Curie
Sept. 13 vs Fenwick
Sept. 20 @ St. Laurence
Sept. 27 vs Leo
Oct. 4 vs De La Salle
Oct. 11 @ Marist
Oct. 18 @ Notre Dame
Oct. 26 @ Benet Academy

[MORE: 73 Days to Kickoff - Fenwick] 

Biggest storyline: It's a pretty simple one-- Can Nazareth Academy win back-to-back Class 7A state titles?

Names to watch this season: QB J.J. McCarthy (Jr., Michigan) LB Marcus Griffin (Sr.) and WR Tyler Morris (Soph.)

Biggest holes to fill: The Roadrunners will need to replace all five starting offensive linemen from a season ago.
 
EDGY's Early Take: The Roadrunners are seeking a repeat of last year's Class 7A championship. Not a bad feat for a program that has been "success factored" by the IHSA for the past two seasons. They have an actual enrollment of 772 and a miltiplied enrollment of 1274, which is much closer to what you would find at a 5A school. Head coach Tim Racki's offense will be spearheaded by junior four star-ranked  QB J.J. McCarthy (Michigan), who has a stable full of talented receivers and backs led by junior RB Derrick Strongs, sophomore WR Tyler Morris and incoming transfer junior WR Landon Morris (6-foot-6, 205 pounds). Morris is another intriguing D-1 talent to watch this season. The defense has experience back. They're led by senior DT C.J. West, senior LB Riley Theobald and senior LB Marcus Griffin. Junior DE Ryan Keeler (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) had multiple Power Five scholarship offers this summer. If the Roadrunners can find the right pieces along the offensive line, they have a great shot to hoist a first place trophy Thanksgiving weekend in DeKalb.  
 

Edgy Tim: Recruiting news and notes

Edgy Tim: Recruiting news and notes

Nazareth Academy sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy (6-foot-2, 180 pounds) is holding 30 FBS level scholarship offers-- a very impressive total for an underclassman. And his recruiting process continues to skyrocket. Has McCarthy's recruiting process started to becoming overwhelming? 

"I wouldn't say it's been overwhelming but it can be busy at times," McCarthy said. "I try treat everyone well and also treat everyone the same so I try to make sure to spend time talking to as many coaches as I can."

McCarthy is also looking to get out to visit more schools this spring and early summer. 

"I'm set to visit Michigan on May 11. I'm also going to try to get back and visit both Ohio State and Northwestern this spring."

McCarthy is also eyeing a timeframe for giving a school his verbal commitment.

"I feel like this summer will be a good time to make my college decision. I want to be able to commit and then have time to try and help recruit more kids to come play for the school that I chose. I also want to be able to just focus on my upcoming junior season and school without having to deal with recruiting at all."

Northern Illinois head coach Thomas Hammock is hitting the spring recruiting trail hard; the Huskies approach is going beyond the Class of 2020 this spring. So far this week, NIU has extended verbal scholarship offers to Providence Catholic sophomore tight end Jameson Geers (6-foot-5, 225 pounds) along with Prairie Ridge sophomore athlete Carter Evans (6-foot-4, 220 pounds).
 
"Getting my first offer from NIU last Saturday was a huge surprise," Jameson Geers said. "They made an in-school visit a few weeks ago and watched one of our workouts. But outside of that I didn't really have much contact with the NIU coaches until Saturday. I decided to go to the spring game and that's when Coach Tony (Sorrentino) offered me a scholarship."

Carter Evans, who is the younger brother of both the former NIU and Purdue OL Shane Evans, and current Iowa running back and former IHSA Player of the Year Samson Evans,  also was a bit surprised to add his first offer from the NIU Huskies.
 
"It was a nice surprise," according to Evans. "I'm excited that NIU has a new coaching staff, they seem like a good group of coaches. I'm looking forward to get to know them. I also really like their facilities."

IC Catholic Prep junior QB Danny Cronin (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) was able to add his first scholarship offer last Saturday. It came from Eastern Illinois University after he visited the Charleston campus during spring practice. Cronin played for Fenwick last fall before transferring to IC for the spring semester.

"I've known the coaches at Eastern Illinois for a while now including going back to last year when I was still at Fenwick and they were at Northwestern'" Cronin said. "I loved it at EIU. I just love the coaches and they just have a great group. EIU likes me as a quarterback but they also offered me as more of an athlete because they said they just want me to be a part of the team. The coaches also said they will take a hard look at me at quarterback but that they feel I could also play either linebacker or even as a super back for them. Getting my first offer from EIU is pretty special and you'll always remember the first school who offered you."