With a simple tweet of "GO BLUE!" this morning, Macomb (MI) Lutheran North kicker/punter JJ McGrath announced his intention to accept a preferred walk-on spot in Michigan's 2013 class, choosing the Wolverines over LSU and Southern Miss. While McGrath won't be on scholarship to start his career, he'll have the chance to earn one when Brendan Gibbons's eligibility expires after the 2013 season.
McGrath isn't ranked on any of the four recruiting services, but he does earn a 4.5-star rating—on the border between Division I and Division II prospect—from Chris Sailer Kicking. They rank him as the #33 punter and #57 kicker in the 2013 class and give this evaluation:
JJ is a big time talent. He is a big, tall, strong athlete that shows outstanding potential. His best ball is as good as any 2013 punting prospect. As he works on his consistency, the sky is the limit. I expect big things from JJ. Also a very capable kicker and kickoff specialist. Could be a top national combo prospect with hard work. One to keep a very close eye on. Nice prospect.
Listed at 6'2", 210 pounds, McGrath has plenty of size to put a solid boot behind the ball. He certainly showed off plenty of leg in his senior season, per 247's Todd Worly ($):
“I have three field goals of 57, 54 and 34 yards, all (kickoffs have been) touchbacks but one, a punting average of 45 yards and 100% on PAT’s,” McGrath said. The 57-yarder was a game-winner.
That was in October—by the end of the year, McGrath had connected on 8-of-11 field goals and all 26 of his extra point attempts with a punting average of 42 yards and touchbacks on 29 of 34 kickoffs. His head coach at Lutheran North talked to MLive in October about how much of an asset McGrath's leg was to his team:
["]The field position that he adds is number one,” Ryan Wesley said. “The scoring that he adds is number two. Being able to tell an opponent that their [sic] going to be starting on the 20 yard line, no questions about it, that is a great thing to be able to do.”
On the rare occasion McGrath doesn't boot a touchback, he's apparently not afraid to finish the job himself:
In fact, McGrath has had just one kickoff returned against him all season. As competitive as he is, McGrath was not afraid to make his opponent think twice about returning one of his kicks.
“The kid actually made it to me and I jacked him pretty hard,” McGrath said. “I was pretty angry that it didn’t go in (the end zone). I was pretty ticked off so I ran up and hit him pretty hard.”
With his leg strength, McGrath should at the very least be able to contribute as a kickoff specialist. If he can maintain accuracy on the thinner college goalposts, he'll also be in the running for starting placekicker—perhaps after Gibbons graduates, or more likely when Matt Wile is gone after 2014.
McGrath didn't receive any scholarship offers, but he reported interest as a preferred walk-on from Alabama, LSU, Michigan State, and Southern Miss, among others.
From the 247 article linked above, McGrath's junior stats:
McGrath was named First Team All-State as a junior, converting 8-of-12 field goals with a long of 53 yards. All of his misses came from beyond 50 yards. 22 out of his 27 kickoffs resulted in touchbacks, and he also averaged 44.6 yards per punt, with a long of 68 yards.
In his final two high school seasons, McGrath was a combined 16-for-23 on field goals and 42-for-42 on extra points while averaging 43.5 yards per punt and booting 51 of his 61 kickoffs for touchbacks.
Lengthy senior highlights:
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
McGrath should redshirt next season with Gibbons and Wile returning. With Gibbons and Will Hagerup (if he's even back next year) gone after 2013, we'll see if the coaches want Wile to handle kicking, punting, and kickoffs; if not, McGrath could compete with Kenny Allen for the punter job or Wile for starting placekicker, and he could also handle kickoffs if called upon. When Wile is gone after 2014, McGrath should have every chance to take over at kicker.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Since McGrath is a preferred walk-on, his commitment doesn't change the 2013 scholarship numbers; there are still a couple spots left with Michigan waiting on VA RB Derrick Green and TX TE Durham Smythe.