Spartan Avenue interviewed 2013 kicking prospect JJ McGrath (Lutheran High North, Macomb, Mich.) last weekend to get a feel about where he would like to attend school next season. He is considered one of the most elite kickers in the nation by several recruiting services, and is generally ranked as one of the top one or two best kickers by respectable kicker clinics and camps.
McGrath has drawn interest on the recruiting trail from Air Force, Alabama, Ball State, Cal, Central Michigan, Ferris State, Florida, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Northwood, Missouri, USF and Western Kentucky, among others.
He emphasized to me the importance of getting a scholarship from a school, but as we all know, only a small handful of kickers and punters are fortunate enough to receive such an offer. If he is unable to garner a scholarship from an elite program, he stated that he will be looking for the best fit for him, regarding the school he attends, seeing as he will be spending his own money on his education.
He believes that going to school near his hometown is not that big of a deal and would cherish the opportunity to move away from home to a school down south. However, Michigan State appears to be his favorite football program at this point in the recruiting process.
McGrath’s top four includes Michigan State, Alabama, Michigan and LSU, somewhat in that order. After talking with him, it is obvious that Michigan State and Alabama are his two favorite schools and it will be hard for other universities to sway his opinion
He has visited Michigan State three times so far this season, and touts that the Spartans have pursued him the hardest on the recruiting trail.
McGrath, who lives a little over an hour away from Spartan Stadium, has made it to the Boise State, Notre Dame and Eastern Michigan football games in East Lansing. He plans on attending a few more Michigan State football games this season, but because of his schedule, he is unsure when he’ll make the trips. Last season he attended three games.
Based on our conversation, it is clear that McGrath has a very strong relationship with Michigan State’s coaches and he is also very close with kicker Dan Conroy and punter Mike Sadler.
“I have a pretty strong relationship with the coaches,” McGrath told me. “I’m really close with running backs coach Brad Salem. I’ve gone on a couple of visits, like to spring practices, with 2013 Michigan State verbal commitment Jon Reschke because I’m really good friends with him. Reschke and I will go down and hang out in East Lansing, and a couple of times we sat in the office with head coach Mark Dantonio.”
McGrath said he was also really close with special teams coach Mike Tressel and offensive line coach Mark Staten.
He has known most of the coaches since his sophomore year in high school, not to mention his relationship with Sadler is unmatched. McGrath cites numerous times where he has leaned on Sadler for advice with school, life and in the kicking game.
Alabama seems like the only school that will be able to steal McGrath from the Spartans. When McGrath visited Alabama, he loved the atmosphere around the university and the opportunities the school has for him as far as student organizations and meeting people go. He is also very close with a few of the players on the Alabama football team, so moving away from Michigan to Tuscaloosa wouldn’t be too troubling for McGrath.
If I was a betting man, I would assume that Michigan is out of the running for McGrath’s kicking services. He attended Michigan’s camp over the summer and kicked for the coaches, who were quickly impressed by his leg. He was also able to sit down with head coach Brady Hoke to discuss his future and the opportunities that Michigan’ special teams could provide him with. Michigan has offered him preferred walk-on status, but I hardly doubt he will consider taking their offer, even after taking a visit to the school this fall for the Air Force game. McGrath places high value in personal relationships with his teammates and of the general atmosphere of the school, and he cited that he has never met any of Michigan’s kickers or punters,—Will Hagerup, Brendan Gibbons and Matt Wile—nor does the university offer some of the on campus things that appeal to him like he has found at Michigan State and Alabama.
Although LSU is in his top four, McGrath talked as if he had the least amount of communication with the coaches and players in Baton Rouge, compared to his recruiting experiences with his other top three schools. He was able to attend a camp at LSU this past summer and really impressed the coaches; however, LSU offered another kicker, Auburn verbal commitment Daniel Carlson, and have since backed off on recruiting McGrath. I don’t believe head coach Les Miles will be offering any other kickers a scholarship in this recruiting class and it is doubtful that McGrath walks on to the Tigers football program.
Lutheran High North, McGrath’s high school team, is currently 5-1 and he has nailed kicks from 57, 54, 50, 45 and 34 yards out. He is five for six on field goal attempts on the year, as his lone miss was from 60 yards out. As far as punting goes, he is averaging 46 yards per punt with only 3 of 20 punts that weren’t downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
His career long field goal is from 63 yards out, which he kicked in practice.
McGrath would be a tremendous get for the Spartans. Michigan State no longer needs to impress McGrath, as he has been a Spartans fan his whole life, but MSU must continue to treat him like part of the family. It appears that it’s going to really come down to being between Michigan State and Alabama for his services.