Nazareth quarterback JJ McCarthy has garnered headlines for the past year now and he’s a household name among high school football fans. It’s going to get bigger than that. McCarthy is the first player in several years who is likely to tempt casual fans into attending a high school football game.
Roadrunners defensive end Ryan Keeler knows exactly why his Michigan recruit teammate is poised for stardom.
“We had a scrimmage on Saturday and he threw a few balls 60 yards down field and hit the receiver perfectly in stride,” Keeler said. “It was crazy, but that is our quarterback. It is good to have him.”
McCarthy is such a next-level talent that three receivers transferred to Nazareth from other schools (one from Indiana), even though the Roadrunners had good experience back at receiver.
Nazareth coach Tim Racki says the defense is a bit ahead of the offense early on and defensive tackle CJ West, who has several college offers, agrees.
“Oh man the defense is going to be lethal,” West said. “We have all these returning players with experience.”
It’s the first time the LaGrange Park school has been ranked No. 1 in the preseason, but Racki has led Nazareth to a ton of recent postseason success. The Roadrunners won the Class 6A title in 2014, the Class 5A title in 2015. They finished second in Class 6A in 2017 and won Class 7A last season.
“It’s great recognition for the school,” Racki said. “We are humbled by it, honored by it. This is nice for people to talk about and debate. What I like about having so many experienced guys is they know the real ranking is in November, the one that matters.”
McCarthy has a stable of talented receivers and promising senior Derrick Strongs at running back. Keeler, West and Marcus Griffin lead the defense.
It may take Ramblers coach John Holecek a few weeks to get his inexperienced defense up to speed but the offensive line, running game and talented junior quarterback Perrion McClinton provide a solid foundation.
3. Lincoln-Way East
The Griffins always reload. There is a question at quarterback, but Michigan recruit AJ Henning is healthy and will provide options all over the offense. The defensive line is strong and the team is hungry after falling short last season.
4. Maine South
Expect junior quarterback Luke Leongas to make an immediate impact. As usual the Hawks have moved some players around to different positions on both sides of the ball and have more experience than it appears. Week 1 at Glenbard West should prove a lot either way.
Linebacker/running back Quinn Urwiler is a force on both sides of the ball, the state’s most underrated star. A lot will be expected of some new faces who face a major test against visiting East St. Louis on Saturday.
The Bulldogs have 15 starters back from a team that finished 12-1 and outscored opponents 495-119. Iowa-bound running back Leshon Williams averaged 9.7 yards a carry last season. Senior Javon Robinson takes over at quarterback.
The Broncos have played for the state title eight times in 10 years and the stable is loaded again. Seven starters return on defense and the offense is in good hands with quarterback Deontay Bell and a talented group of receivers led by Nate Muersch.
8. Naperville Central
Quarterback Sam Jackson is expected to be one of the standout attractions in the western suburbs. The Minnesota recruit has several talented receivers to target, including Marist transfer Jadon Thompson, an Illinois recruit. The defense should be very good but the schedule is a meat grinder.
Corderro Williams, Ronald Haggins and Kenyan Butler are all three-year starters on the defensive line. George Robinson, Jason Shavers and Jalen Jones are three-year starters on the offensive line. The Wolverines may be the area’s strongest team in the trenches. Senior Jacquez Woodland will take over at quarterback.
Dominick Jones, one of the state’s most experienced quarterbacks, will lead an explosive offense. The linebackers and secondary should be rock solid.
Highly-touted lineman Dominic Bass transferred but the Wildcats return a load of talent that gained valuable experience last season. Safety Ronald Pledger, a Western Michigan recruit, and lineman Demerick Morris, a Temple recruit, lead the charge.
12. Brother Rice
The defense should be strong with six returning starters and the addition of Denver Warren, a defensive tackle who transferred from West Aurora. There will be a ton of new faces on offense but junior running back Willie Shaw could be a star.
13. St. Charles North
Thirteen starters are back from the best season in the school history. Senior quarterback Kyler Brown and Nick DeMarco lead the offense.
14. Mount Carmel
The Caravan will play games on campus this season. Kenenna Odeluga, an absolute monster last season as a sophomore, returns at linebacker and running back. Second-year coach Jordan Lynch’s younger brother Justin will take over at quarterback. This is a young but talented group.
This could be one of the best defenses in the area. Five starters return including defensive tackle Willis Singleton Jr., an Iowa State recruit, and linebacker Juan Delacruz.
16. Glenbard West
Linebacker Greyson Metz leads an experienced defense for one of the state’s standout programs. The Hilltoppers host Maine South, a team that has dominated them the last two years, in the season opener on Saturday.
Experience on both sides of the ball with 13 starters back, including quarterback Tommy Fitzpatrick and defensive end Lukas Van Ness, an Iowa recruit.
18. Prairie Ridge
Playing the underclassmen last season will pay off now. Sixteen starters return, including quarterback Connor Lydon. The Wolves are one of the area’s dependably good teams.
19. Oak Park
Junior quarterback Jaden McGill is poised for a breakout season. Defensive line is the biggest question mark.
The Indians return 16 starters from the team that lost to Loyola in the first round of the playoffs last season.
Standout quarterback Trayvon Rudolph gives the Warriors a major threat but a lot must be replaced on defense.
Aaron Vaughn was one of the area’s eye-opening playmakers last season. The sophomore running back is one of 16 starters back for the Celtics, including offensive lineman Jake Renfro, a Cincinnati recruit.
23. Lake Zurich
It’s a strange mix of talent and questions with the Bears. Ron Planz is the new coach. Players will need to step up on both lines but there is an excellent foundation with quarterback Jack Moses, linebacker Bryan Sanborn and tight end Hunter Welcing.
Fullback Blake Skol, who scored 20 touchdowns last season, leads an always-potent option attack.
There are holes to fill and a very difficult schedule to deal with but the RedHawks have been one of the area’s most dependable programs recently. Keep an eye on Dontrell Jackson Jr., a sophomore quarterback with an Illinois offer.