Gonzales: McNamara's switch to football turns out well for Michigan

  • Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara led the way last Saturday at the Wolverines beat Ohio State to earn a spot in this week's Big Ten Championship game.

    Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara led the way last Saturday at the Wolverines beat Ohio State to earn a spot in this week's Big Ten Championship game. Associated Press

Updated 12/2/2021 1:18 PM

Cade McNamara played varsity baseball as a high school freshman and might have followed in the footsteps of his father, who excelled at Fresno State with former Cubs player Brant Brown.

But after his freshman year, McNamara was ready to commit exclusively to football as a quarterback despite his father's pedigree as a college baseball player and coach.


The switch, accompanied by the full fatherly support, has helped McNamara blossom into the starting quarterback for Michigan's revived program that humbled perennial bully Ohio State last weekend.

"It's only about what they want," Gary McNamara, the father of three sons, said Tuesday. "Not what a parent wants."

McNamara, a junior, will attempt to secure a spot for the Wolverines in College Football Playoff when they play Iowa for the Big Ten Championship Saturday night.

"Cade has grown tremendously as a leader this year," center Andrew Vastardis said Monday during a conference call. "His preparation has always been one of his hallmarks. His film study, his practice and attention to detail always has been high.

"The team has responded to his voice."

In a roundabout way, maybe McNamara was destined to be a quarterback. Gary McNamara attended Serra High School in San Mateo, Calif, which later produced Super Bowl legend Tom Brady.

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Gary played basketball exclusively as a guard at Serra before trying baseball at a local junior college and playing well enough to transfer to Fresno State (earning first team All-Western Athletic Conference outfield honors) before pursuing a coaching career at local Reno high schools and at the University of Nevada.

Cade and his father had discussions about which sport he eventually would play on a full-time basis after his freshman year, but Gary sensed football would win out dating back to Cade's fifth grade season.

That set a trend, as Kyle McNamara is a redshirt freshman receiver at Western Kentucky and Jake McNamara, a quarterback at Page High School in Franklin, Tenn., who has orally committed to Colorado State.

"Actually, it's funny that all three chose football and will play college football," Gary McNamara said. "It's been a blessing in disguise because I can talk to them only about how to work, how to act, how to be a leader on a team. I don't know the x's and o's very much and chosen not to learn it at this point because it helps me be a better father.


"In baseball, I'm sure I'd be grinding on them all the time because that's where all my knowledge is."

Many Cubs fans wince when Brown's name is mentioned because of a dropped fly at Milwaukee in late September that nearly cost the Cubs a National League wild-card berth in 1998.

But Gary McNamara marvels at Brown's perseverance at Fresno State that he can share with his sons.

"He's a great guy who was in my wedding," Gary McNamara said. "He didn't play too much earlier in his career, but he took off during the (1991) College World Series and it carried over the next year when he was drafted in the third round.

"He was a great guy off the field, and his success with the Dodgers (as a co-hitting coach) has been awesome."

But in a sport where getting three hits in 10 at-bats is considered a success, the elder McNamara is happy his sons eschewed baseball.

"In baseball, you're always dealing with the failure," Gary McNamara said. "I think it's helped him in football. You throw an interception, you got to be able to shrug it off and lead your team down the field on the next drive for a touchdown."

As soon as Cade was all in for football, Gary provided full support by sending him to Southern California to train under quarterback guru Jordan Palmer and competing in summer tournaments when he could have been playing baseball.

The training paid off as Cade selected Michigan after de-committing from Notre Dame and leading the Wolverines on their renaissance.

"To finally get over the hump of beating Ohio State, means so much, not just to me but to the rest of these guys," Cade McNamara said Monday in a conference call. "(But) for now, we got to beat the Hawkeyes and bring home a Big Ten championship."


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