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High school football notebook: Two new commitments, JJ McCarthy update

Prairie Ridge’s Carter Evans and Willowbrook’s Enrique Cruz recently made college decisions.

Prairie Ridge’s Carter Evans (33) has committed to Eastern Michigan, where he’ll be reunited with his brother Samson, the Sun-Times Player of the Year in 2017.
Prairie Ridge’s Carter Evans (33) has committed to Eastern Michigan, where he’ll be reunited with his brother Samson, the Sun-Times Player of the Year in 2017.

Carter Evans says when he went to visit Eastern Michigan, the “entire program felt like a family.”

That was especially true for one of the Eagles in particular.

Evans, a Prairie Ridge senior who committed to Eastern on Monday, will be reunited with his brother Samson, the Sun-Times Player of the Year in 2017. Samson Evans, who quarterbacked the Wolves to back-to-back state titles in 2016 and ‘17, has transferred to Eastern after spending two seasons at Iowa (one as a redshirt).

But Carter Evans’ interest in the Mid-American Conference school predates his brother’s move.

“Eastern has been recruiting me hard even before Samson committed there,” said Carter Evans, who made an unofficial visit this summer after the COVID-19 lockdown eased.

After meeting some players and seeing the campus, he was sold. “They were one of my top schools before,” Carter Evans said. “(Samson transferring) just made the whole situation even better.”

Carter Evans is the second high-profile player in the Class of 2021 to pick a MAC school while also being sought after by Power Five programs. Ranked 26th in Illinois in the composite ratings, he had offers from Syracuse and Virginia, as well as five Ivy League members. Brother Rice running back Willie Shaw, who is 23rd among Illinois seniors in the 247Sports composite rankings, is a Toledo recruit.

“I definitely see a lot of good players committing to MAC schools,” Carter Evans said.

Though the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder is listed as a tight end by the various recruiting websites, he’ll be moving to the other side of the ball in college.

“I committed as a defensive end,” he said. “I came to a decision I wanted to play defense at the next level.”

Before that, Carter Evans will be trying to reach the state finals for the third time in his high school career. He started as a freshman on the 2017 state championship team. But he had to watch last year’s Class 6A final loss to East St. Louis from the sidelines because of a broken left fibula suffered in a playoff win over Grayslake North.

“I plan on playing in the spring,” he said. “I could speak for my teammates — we’re going to be really excited to get out there again.”

Willowbrook’s Enrique Cruz commits

Enrique Cruz’s first football memories aren’t good.

The Willowbrook senior’s debut came as a fifth grader, when he was moved up to play against eighth graders. “I got creamed,” he said. “I hated football after that.”

Cruz didn’t try the sport again till his freshman year. “My mom kinda forced me into it,” he said jokingly.

After playing on the lower levels for two seasons, the 6-6, 265-pounder moved to the varsity last fall and had a breakout year. Ranked 13th among the state’s seniors in 247Sports’ composite rankings, Cruz committed to Syracuse on Monday.

The Orange were the first to offer Cruz, whose other offers included Indiana, Mississippi State, Arizona and Arizona State.

He visited the campus with his family this summer and loved what he saw.

“It’s all a blessing, it’s amazing,” he said. “Last year, I was just trying to start. Then we made our (recruiting) film and they made me an offer.”

Cruz is Syracuse’s second local commit in the Class of 2021, joining Glenbard West offensive guard Wes Hoeh.

JJ McCarthy debuts for IMG

JJ McCarthy, who was the state’s No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2021 before transferring from Nazareth to IMG Academy in Florida over the summer, made his season debut on Sept. 4.

The Michigan-bound quarterback passed for 333 yards and five touchdowns as the nation’s top-ranked prep team opened with a 49-13 win over Venice, Fla.

But he wasn’t satisfied.

“The performance was not something up to our expectation,” McCarthy said. “We needed to put more points on the board.”

He’s more happy with his overall situation at IMG.

“It was everything I wanted,” McCarthy said. “From the workload to the culture, it was literally a bridge between high school and college.”

Though Nazareth’s roster had plenty of Division I prospects, McCarthy’s new program resembles a national all-star team. Practicing with and playing alongside that kind of talent is a player’s dream, he said.

“It’s kind of like the analogy of having a shark in an aquarium,” McCarthy said. “It doesn’t really grow that much. (Put it) in the ocean, it’s growing every single day.”

McCarthy remains close with his former Nazareth teammates, several of whom also transferred out of state in order to play this fall. While he regrets not having a chance to make one more run at a state title in Illinois, he remains focused on the future.

“There’s two ways you can look at the whole situation,” McCarthy said. “You can go, ‘Boo hoo, what happened?’” (or say), ‘What’s the solution to achieve my end goal?’

“I think everything is thrown at me for a reason.”