Besides working out, North Carolina’s four-star signee Jay-Jay McCargo’s focus the past three months has been rehabbing a non-football injury discovered by chance.
“During my official visit, North Carolina [medical staff] asked if there was anything at all – anything,” McCargo said. “So, I told them about issues I was having with my hand. They looked at it and said, ‘You should really get this looked at by a surgeon.’ I was like, ‘I didn’t know it was that bad.’”
Well before McCargo played football for Arlington (Va.) Bishop O’Connell High School – when he was about 10 or 11 years old – McCargo jumped off a bed and hit the ground awkwardly. The crash unknowingly broke a knuckle and tore a ligament in his hand.
“Not knowing what I had truly done, I didn’t go to the doctor – I just kind of taped it for a couple of days,” McCargo said. “It kind of hurt, but I just rolled with it. So, it healed wrong, it was weaker, it was really unstable, and I couldn’t bend it. I couldn’t really grab anything.”
On Feb. 20, McCargo had surgery on the hand.
“Basically, they took a tendon out of my arm and then they made a new ligament, so it’s a lot more stable,” McCargo said. “I can grab now [and] the hand is a lot stronger. It should help a lot dealing with bigger guys in college.”
Although the hand isn’t 100-percent, the ailment hasn’t held McCargo back this offseason.
“I can do literally everything,” McCargo said. “But, I still need a protected brace over it. I’m not really cleared for heavy lifts yet, like cleans and stuff. But I can bench now.”
McCargo is projected to be cleared to work without the brace by the end of July.
Meanwhile, McCargo has been working out at Perfect Performance with three other Power 5 signees (representing Duke, Iowa, and Virginia) under the guidance of Leonard Stephens. The group follows the strength and conditioning packets assembled by their respective college staffs, in addition to doing position work on the field.
McCargo has dropped 20-25 pounds since his UNC official visit (after his senior seasoned end, he took some time off and thus packed on the pounds). He now holds 300 to 305 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. He hopes to trim five more pounds before reporting to UNC.
“I’ve been running a lot, so I’m definitely in a lot better shape,” McCargo said. “And I feel good about my speed and footwork, too.”
Since signing with UNC, McCargo has taken a pair of visits to Chapel Hill – first for a medical checkup after his hand surgery and later for the spring game. The spring game turned into a 2016 signee get-together.
“The best way to describe [the signees’] relationship is close,” McCargo said. “I’ve been lucky to get to know these guys for the last year, year and a half. We’re actually starting to have a really good bond as a whole as a class.
“Even a guy who came in late, Patrice [Rene], he goes to school 10 minutes away from me. So, I’ve been hanging out with him up here. Kyree Campbell, I’m probably going to room with him and Tyler Pritchett.”
McCargo, who has been cleared by UNC admissions and the NCAA Eligibility Center, will move into his dorm on June 14. He plans to major in secondary education and history. After his football career ends, he wants to become a history teacher and coach football.
“It’s really crazy,” McCargo said. “I’m starting to do things for the last time. A little bit of nostalgia is starting to set in. I’m taking my last week of classes.
“But, I’m really looking forward to new challenges athletically and academically. And that’s the reason I picked UNC.”
UNC red-shirted its entire 2015 offensive line class. A similar fate is likely for McCargo.
“[Offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic] has talked about me probably red-shirting, but that was a while back,” McCargo said. “He hasn’t told me I’m definitely going to.
“But he called me probably a couple of weeks ago and said I’d be moving to center now, so that I could practice snapping. And they have Lucas Crowley and Tommy Hatton, so I’ll probably be the third center. So, I’ll probably red-shirt.”
Since his high school jersey number (No. 72) is occupied by Mason Veal, McCargo will wear No. 55 during his UNC career.
“I’m probably going to be playing interior in college, so I just thought [No. 55] would look good on me,” McCargo said.