It’s not surprising to hear Danny McCarthy say that he wouldn’t trade his senior year for anything. McCarthy was the best player on arguably one of the best high school
football teams in the state over the past two seasons. His exploits on
the gridiron, on both sides of the football this past year were more
than enough to award him the official title of the ONN/Ohio High Player
of the Year.
It’s not surprising to hear Danny McCarthy say that he wouldn’t trade his senior year for anything.
McCarthy was the best player on arguably one of the best high school football teams in the state over the past two seasons. His exploits on the gridiron, on both sides of the football this past year were more than enough to award him the official title of the ONN/Ohio High Player of the Year.
Statistics alone might not say it but they certainly contributed to why he was named the winner of this award.
On offense, McCarthy rushed for 1,219 yards on 154 carries and scored 15 touchdowns. He completed 18 of his 37 pass attempts for 425 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions. And on defense, McCarthy recorded 90 total stops that included nine tackles for a loss of which two were quarterback sacks. He picked off three enemy aerials of which one he returned one for a score, forced two fumbles and recovered one. McCarthy also returned two kicks for scores that had him personally account for 23 touchdowns.
McCarthy was more or less the quarterback for the Cardinals on both sides of the ball for the past two years and the intangibles, as well as the tangibles, that he brought to the playing field every week were impressive as well. At 6-1 and about 200 pounds, McCarthy had the size, speed and toughness that made Mooney’s offense click on all cylinders all season long. And on defense he was solid enough to clean up anything was left over after Brandon Beachum, Michael Zordich, Taylor Hill and Johnny Simon had a chance at it.
But the one thing that made McCarthy really special was his durability.
During Mooney’s last two runs at a state championship, McCarthy answered the bell every week for Cardinal Mooney. He was tough as nails whether he was under center on offense, at safety in the secondary on defense or returning kicks on special teams.
And then it happened. He was injured.
And because of the way that he played the game, with reckless abandon, he put himself out for the remainder of the season when he was injured while making a jarring tackle in a regional semifinal game against St. Vincent-St. Mary on Nov. 10.
He even played the rest of the game against the Irish, on offense only, after he sustained the injury. That’s right: McCarthy suffered a serious, season-ending spine injury but he still played on offense for the remainder of the game.
And almost two full weeks after the disappointing state final loss to Coldwater, McCarthy, the only player that Mooney could ill afford to lose in their quest to win back-to-back state championships for the first-time ever in the illustrious history of their school, still had a bit of stiffness in his neck. But he was doing great and he was in great spirits.
“Obviously it didn’t end the way we wanted it to but I wouldn’t take it back, this season that we’ve gone through, for anything,” McCarthy said.
“With the players that I played with and the coaches that I’ve been coached by, it’s been the greatest time of my life and I really enjoyed the experience.”
Yes that statement was made by the same Danny McCarthy whose season prematurely came to an end in Week 12 while he was making a big play for the Cardinals on the defensive side of the ball from his safety position.
The same Danny McCarthy who stood on the sideline and watched helplessly as his teammates lost to Coldwater 28-27 in the Division IV state championship game.
The same Danny McCarthy who is now faced with many weeks of rehabilitation after he’s cleared by doctors to begin getting himself ready for his freshman season at Notre Dame.
The injury, looking on the bright side of it, however serious in nature it actually is, has not been deemed career-ending. But it’s had a major impact on McCarthy nonetheless.
Admittedly, McCarthy, still thinks about the St. Vincent-St Mary game.
“You wish, an inch or two another way, it would have gone differently but everyone has got to go through adversity,” McCarthy said. “It’s something that unfortunately happened to me but my team responded great to it and they really picked it up and did a great job throughout the rest of the season.”
McCarthy said he allows himself, every once in a while, to relive the actual play that put an end to his season and changed the fortune of the rest of his Cardinal teammates. He was making a tackle on a receiver who made a catch down the field when the injury occurred. Some people who were at the game have said it was one of the best hits they’ve ever seen on a football field.
“I try to (relive it) sometimes but it’s just a tough thing,” McCarthy said. “I got a chance to get a good hit in and unfortunately it turned out not the way we wished.”
McCarthy was the safety on the other side of the field from an Irish receiver running a slant pattern.
“I just took off straight for him,” McCarthy said. “I looked back at the quarterback and saw him throwing it and I had a clear shot on (the intended receiver) and I took it. It was a big play, but unfortunately it didn’t turn out in our favor.”
He knew he was injured immediately.
“I got up and I hadn’t felt anything like that before,” McCarthy said. “Deep down I thought that could be my last game and I just wanted to take it as far as I could with it.”
So he kept on playing. But only on offense. McCarthy was potentially risking paralysis if he sustained one more hit in the wrong place.
“As long as I could still play, I wanted to get back in there and be with my teammates,” he said. “The coaches knew that I was a little banged up and they didn’t let me go back in on defense. Thankfully, nothing else happed and it will all be all right.”
McCarthy was concerned for his safety but he kept on playing.
“I was (concerned) but I wasn’t thinking about it too much during the game,” he said. “Obviously it was painful but I just wanted to keep playing and see how far I could (go) with it. And unfortunately it was just until the end of that game.”
He thought he had some kind of neck or back injury, but he didn’t know for sure which.
“I had a headache and I had a lot of pain in the spine,” McCarthy said. “I didn’t know it would be as serious as it was but I knew that there was definitely something wrong.”
Officially, McCarthy sustained a herniated disc.
“Whether I get surgery or it heals on its own, either way, I’ll be good to go in about six months,” he said. “I’m not too educated on the whole spine injury but, as the doctors told me, all of the fluid leaked out of the disc so that was a problem.”
McCarty was actually feeling much better one day short of five weeks past the day he sustained the injury than he felt right after he was initially hurt.
“Yeah I’m feeling all right now,” he said. “I’ve got to make some decisions here within the next couple of weeks on whether I’m going to get surgery or try to let it heal on its own but either way I’m thankful that nothing else worse happened and everything should be all right in about six months.”
The actual prognosis if McCarthy should opt for the surgery is a positive one.
“They said it’s a common surgery that’s done and many NFL players have had it,” he said. “Once you’re all healed and have gone through rehab, it’s something that you won’t even notice.”
The mental scars from missing out on the rest of the season this past year, however, will probably last longer than any scars he’ll end up with from the surgery if decides to go that route.
“Obviously, it was very difficult for me,” McCarthy said. “My best friends were out there and I wish I was out there playing with them. I wish I could help as much as I could but I had to take a different point of view from it and just try to encourage them and coach them up as much as I could on the sideline.”
McCarthy remained a team leader throughout the entire painful ordeal.
“It was very tough but I was proud of the guys,” he said. “I think in each of those last three games, they played their hearts out and they really did a great job and there’s no regrets about it.”
He even dressed in full gear for the state championship contest even though everyone inside of Paul Brown Stadium in Massillon knew he wasn’t going to play in the game.
“Putting on that Mooney uniform meant everything to me,” McCarthy said. “Mooney just means so much tradition and everything and I just wanted to do that one last time with the guys and run out and be a part of it that way.”
He won’t say whether or not he thinks Mooney would have won a third state championship in four years if he was actually healthy playing for the Cardinals on both sides of the ball.
“I don’t know. I could have helped out but I can’t answer that,” McCarthy said. “It’s something I wish I could have had the chance to help out but I didn’t.”
McCarthy, who would without a doubt trade in the player of the year selection to have won another state championship for his school, shares the credit with his teammates and coaches for him winning such a prestigious award.
“It’s definitely an honor,” he said. “Ohio is one of the best football states in the country and there are so many great players here and it’s an honor to be recognized among them but I can’t take all the credit for the award. The coaches that have coached me have really developed me and I feel that they can (coach) at any level. They’re just a great coaching staff and they’re great teachers and great people. And also my teammates that I played with really made me better. I played with so many great guys and we’re all going to do really well in the future.”
Over the past two seasons, McCarthy was 26-0 as the starting quarterback on a team that went to the state finals in both of those years.
“I love to compete and that was the position that really let me use my talents,” McCarthy said. “The coaches really were able to help me through that. That was a transition that I had to make and I’m thankful that it turned out well.”
McCarthy was definitely a running threat at quarterback but he could also hurt a defense with the pass when they would least expect it.
“Naturally I was a running back throughout my whole career and in my sophomore year,” he said. “And when I changed over to quarterback, the coaches, Coach (John) D’Apolito and Coach (P. J.) Fecko, did a great job developing me into a quarterback. With our offense, the run is very effective and we’d use what the teams gave us to our advantage. We had some great athletes outside to throw to and when we needed to we did a great job with that.”
You had to pick your poison when you played against Mooney. Having Zordich and Beachum in the same backfield would give fits to any defensive coordinator they would face.
“It’s an experience that I’ll never forget,” McCarthy said. “Those guys are awesome. I think that’s the thing that opened up everything. You never knew which guy was going to get the ball and whoever did would do a great job with it. I think that really helped our offense out.”
And one of the “great athletes” that McCarthy could kill you deep going down the field with, Timmy Marlowe, was the player that took over for him at quarterback when his season came to an end.
“I was so proud of Timmy. I feel he’s very underrated. He’s one of the greatest athletes I’ve ever been around,” McCarthy said. “When the injury happened, we had a talk and I told him this was his team and he was going to do a great job with it and he did. He really did. He’s such a competitor and he’s very talented and he did a great job leading the team the way he did.”
It was no longer his team but McCarthy was proud to hand the reins over to Marlowe in his absence.
“It was tough but Timmy and I have been best friends since I was 6 years old and I was glad that he was able to step in for me,” McCarthy said. “I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
And on defense, McCarthy was a better player than most people gave him credit for.
“I loved playing defense, I loved being on both sides of the ball,” McCarthy said. “It was great because you could help the team out in every way you can by playing on defense and special teams and on offense. It’s just something that I loved doing. I never wanted to come off the field. And now as I go on to college, (defense) is something that I’ll focus on more and hopefully keep getting better at.”
He really enjoyed contributing to all three facets of the game.
“Any way that you can make plays is what makes it fun,” McCarthy said. “Defense obviously doesn’t get as much credit but it’s something that I love playing and it was great to be coached by Coach (Mike) Zordich and Coach (Ron) Stoops. Those guys were great and they really developed my skills on defense and they really helped me out a lot.”
McCarthy will play defense when gets to Notre Dame.
“Mainly defense is where they want me to play,” he said. “They’ve talked about some punt returns and things like that but they like me at safety and I feel that I’m a good fit there and I’ll have to continue to develop myself at that position.”
He’ll get the chance to play with his brother Kyle in the secondary. Kyle, a backup safety for the Irish, led Mooney to the state title at quarterback and cornerback in 2004.
“He’s been a great inspiration to me and has helped me through so much,” McCarthy said. “It will be fun. I don’t know if I’ll be able to be on the field with him at the same time or not but it will be great to be with him there.”
Despite the way his season ended at Mooney, he’s already looking forward to his future.
“I’m very excited,” McCarthy said. “It’s tough leaving Mooney. It’s given me the greatest memories of my life and it’s (a place) that I’ll never forget. But now it’s time to open a new chapter in my career and my life at Notre Dame and I’m definitely excited about it.”
McCarthy still has big hopes and dreams that he wants to accomplish.
“I hope that everything works out with my health and that I’m able to get back into it and hopefully someday start at Notre Dame and win a national championship,” McCarthy said. “I just want to get back to another championship game and set the record straight.”
He wouldn’t trade his future for anything, either.