Nazareth’s J.J. McCarthy passes the ball against Cardinal Ritter in La Grange Park Aug. 31.
Nazareth’s J.J. McCarthy passes the ball against Cardinal Ritter in La Grange Park Aug. 31. — Mike Mantucca for Shaw Media

The status of fall football in Illinois is very unclear because of the coronavirus – and, because of it, one of the state's biggest stars is moving on.

Quarterback J.J. McCarthy, who will be a senior this fall, announced on Twitter Monday afternoon that he is leaving Nazareth to transfer to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

McCarthy, a five-star recruit and Michigan commit, was the No. 1-ranked player in Illinois' class of 2021 and the 15th-ranked recruit nationally. He led Nazareth to the Class 7A state championship as a sophomore in 2018, and second place in Class 7A last fall.

"Due to the uncertainty of fall sports in the state of Illinois, I will be finishing my education at IMG Academy beginning the summer of 2020," McCarthy announced in a tweet. "I want to thank Nazareth Academy for the past three years. Those state championships will never match the friendship and relationships I've made with my teammates, coaches, teachers and classmates over those three years."

McCarthy as a junior completed 62.4% of his passes in throwing for 2,704 yards and 33 touchdowns. He was expected to lead an offense returning wide receiver Tyler Morris, one of the top recruits in the Class of 2022, and recent Syracuse commit Landon Morris.

The IHSA last month canceled spring sports championships in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The status of football season and other fall sports is uncertain.

"Naz will always be my family," McCarthy said in the tweet. "[Nazareth] coach [Tim] Racki, you are more to me than just a coach. You are my mentor and friend for life. You set the example for what great coaches should be."

It's a tough day for Racki, who has known McCarthy and his family since J.J. was in fifth grade. Racki's son, Jake, is the same age as J.J. Racki has long known J.J.'s dad Jim, who coached youth football.

"It's really sad because I do have such a close relationship with not only J.J. but his family. They are really awesome people," Racki said. "I've known them since youth league football, we hit it off, me and his dad are cut from the same cloth. They're a great family. They love Nazareth and Nazareth loves them. But with the uncertainty of football in Illinois you have to do what is best for your kid. He's just such a great kid. He's so coachable, checks off all the boxes, his leadership. He's a special kid. I'm going to miss him dearly."

Racki said he hadn't really known McCarthy's plans, particularly during the recent quarantine. Racki also couldn't guarantee that McCarthy is the last player to take the jump to play in another state.

"If you're talking about school here, maybe having e-learning in the fall, how are they going to say go there and tackle somebody?" Racki said. "I'm sure they are thinking about that. I've been nervously waiting. I can't wrap my head around not coaching, going into my 23rd year as a head coach, 29 total as a coach. This will be my first June not coaching camp in 29 years.

"Personally I've been in denial looking about the possibility of no football. There's a lot of talented players around the state, not just at Nazareth. People are thinking about [leaving]. I don't know where this will all lead."