Cade McNamara experienced an outpouring of support on social media in the hours following the former Michigan quarterback’s commitment to Iowa, including from some of his future teammates.
Wind back the clock to 2015, and it was not as pleasant of a reaction when he won the starting quarterback job at Damonte Ranch High School in Reno, Nev., as a freshman over an upperclassman coming off an all-conference season.
It split the locker room.
“The worst (split) I’ve ever had as an athlete or as a head coach of other sports and football,” said Shawn Dupris, the former head football coach at Damonte Ranch. “He fought through it and battled hard and obviously won the locker room because he was the better quarterback.”
Eight years later — with a stop at Michigan where he led a team to the College Football Playoff in between — the person who united the 2015 Damonte Ranch Mustangs will have the challenge of leading an Iowa offense in 2023 that struggled mightily in 2022.
“What Iowa is going to get is a guy that is going to step in right away and demand excellence and demand a lot from his teammates,” Dupris said.
McNamara’s leadership was evident at Michigan. His teammates voted him as a captain even though his starting role was in question amid the rise of former five-star recruit J.J. McCarthy. It was the first time a Michigan quarterback was voted as a captain during Jim Harbaugh’s tenure there.
When McCarthy eventually won the job, McNamara had a rare combination of roles for any team, let alone a Harbaugh team — backup quarterback and team captain.
Leadership, Dupris said, “was always his biggest attribute other than his work ethic.”
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McNamara’s first physical task as Iowa’s presumed QB1 will be continuing to recover from last month’s knee injury.
“Turns out I have been dealing with a serious injury since the middle of last season,” McNamara wrote in an Instagram post showing him in a wheelchair in a hospital. “Then after suffering another serious knee injury this season, my goal was to get back on the field as soon as possible. Sadly I was unable to heal properly.”
The doctor who conducted the procedure, Neal ElAttrache, is the head physician for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Regardless of whether he is ready in the spring to run a quarterback bootleg, his leadership could be useful much sooner in a recruiting capacity in the transfer portal.
The level of talent at wide receiver and offensive line in 2023 will be key factors in how much success McNamara has while wearing black and gold.
If Iowa does not bring in an influx of talent, expecting McNamara to replicate his Michigan numbers — 63.1 percent completion rate, 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions since 2020 — with significantly less support around him than at Michigan is not realistic.
Five offensive players have left via the transfer portal since the end of the season, with running back Gavin Williams and wide receiver Arland Bruce IV being the latest. Quarterback Alex Padilla and offensive lineman Josh Volk’s departures should not impact McNamara, though, considering Padilla’s position and Volk’s lack of playing time.
Iowa’s wide receiver position already was thin in 2022, and the departures of Keagan Johnson and Bruce via the transfer portal make it even thinner.
Depending on whether Nico Ragaini uses his COVID-19 year, Iowa could potentially have as many true freshmen under scholarship at wide receiver (three) as it has returning scholarship players.
Schematic adjustments also will be necessary after the Brian Ferentz-coached unit ranked 130th out of 131 teams in yards per game and was tied for 123rd in points per game in 2022. That is outside of McNamara’s control, though.
As for McNamara taking the starting role from an upperclassman in Reno in 2015, Dupris no longer has to field any complaints about it, and it’s not just because he moved.
“More of a pat on the back,” Dupris said.
The 2021 Big Ten title and College Football Playoff appearance might have helped.