Kyle McNamara's arduous path to stardom leads to the Michigan football team

Kyle McNamara
Kyle McNamara has committed to Michigan. (Lipscomb Academy)

When Kyle McNamara was a seventh-grader, he was a minimum-snap player.

Per Sierra Youth Football League rules, each player on the roster had to log at least four snaps in the first half and four more in the second half. So that’s all McNamara got as his older brother, Cade, was the team's star quarterback. Despite those meager beginnings, the younger McNamara is about to join Cade at Michigan, a perennial Top 25 team and one of the sport’s true bluebloods.

After visiting Michigan’s campus last weekend, Kyle McNamara committed to the Wolverines, who signed his brother last season. McNamara, a 5-foot-9, 183-pound wide receiver, will be a preferred walk-on his first season before being shifted to scholarship, his father, Gary, said.

While Cade was a four-star recruit and could have played for basically any program in the nation, Kyle’s path to Ann Arbor was much more difficult as a two-star prospect whose height was always measured against him.

“A tremendous amount of pride obviously,” Gary said of his sons joining forces. “It’s a little surreal. I don’t think it’s hit us on the Kyle piece. Obviously, it speaks volumes to what they think of Cade, and that’s great, too, because you don’t know what’s going on when your son is away at college. It’s kind of the tale of two different routes. With Cade, we never worried about it because we knew he was going somewhere. With Kyle, he was a minimum-play player in seventh grade. He never really played.”

The McNamaras – there is a third brother, Jake, who is finishing his sophomore season of high school – grew up in Reno, where Cade and Kyle starred at Damonte Ranch High. But the family moved to Nashville last summer after Cade graduated, in part so Kyle and Jake could get enhanced recruiting interest. In Tennessee, the younger sons played for Lipscomb Academy in 2019, which was under the direction of first-year coach Trent Dilfer, the former NFL quarterback who worked with Cade during the Elite 11 competition.

“This whole thing started when I sent Dilfer a text and said, ‘Hey, congrats on the high school coaching job,’ because I saw it on Twitter,” Gary McNamara recalled. “I said, ‘How did you end up in Nashville?’ because he had been living in Austin, Texas. That created a conversation and I just said, ‘This may sound crazy, but we might be looking at another school.’ Cade was offered by schools in Southern California in three of his four years at Damonte. He never took them. We’re a family of five, not a family of one. But I came out here last year in February and fell in love with it and we decided to do it.”

McNamara said Kyle’s recruitment was damaged because of a turf toe he suffered last offseason, which limited the numbers of college camps he could attend. He also suffered a grade two AC joint separation in his shoulder and played most of the 2019 campaign with a broken collarbone, according to Gary. Still, McNamara caught 68 passes for 1,118 yards and scored 14 touchdowns, including two on returns.

In one game, McNamara re-injured his shoulder and couldn’t lift his arm high enough to catch the ball but asked to remain in the game so he could draw double-teams as a decoy.

“That kind of created the legend of Kyle,” Gary said. “Kyle is more famous at Lipscomb than Cade ever was at Damonte.”

Prior to committing to Michigan, McNamara considered schools like Memphis, Middle Tennessee State, Central Michigan, Washington State and UNLV, which appeared to be his likely landing spot until the Wolverines entered the fray. McNamara skipped the early signing period in search of a Power 5 offer.

“Honestly, if you would have called me two weeks ago I would have said, ‘He’s probably going to go to UNLV,’” McNamara said. “That didn’t end up evolving because as soon as Michigan came in everything came to a screeching halt. He was waiting for a Power 5, but he didn’t expect Michigan. As soon as Michigan came calling, it got really real really quick.”

Gary McNamara said Kyle’s journey to Michigan has been even more fulfilling than Cade’s because his middle son has had to overcome a lot. At 5-9, not many thought Kyle would become a Division I football player, let alone at a Power 5 school like Michigan, which routinely pulls in top-10 recruiting classes.

“He remembers teachers and he remembers coaches who told him he wasn’t big enough to play football and he should play another sport,” McNamara said. “He has his list of people so to speak. His route was so much harder and he still put up the numbers, but it was, ‘Too short, too slow, whatever you want to say.’ So the fact it all comes full circle and they end up in the same place with two completely different journeys, it’s almost as if Kyle’s journey is so much more enjoyable than Cade’s because Cade’s was expected whereas Kyle’s wasn’t.”

Kyle McNamara blossomed into an all-state player in two states (Nevada and Tennessee), a quick ascension for a guy who just a few years ago was largely a bench-warmer for his youth teams.

“He literally played the minimum his entire seventh-grade year, and I was on that coaching staff, so he wasn’t getting screwed,” Gary said. “He was just starting to play football and wanted to be on the same team as Cade, so he played up with the eighth-grade team as a seventh grader and he played four plays a half. And all of a sudden, two-and-a-half-years after that he’s first-team all-state Nevada. We’re all super, super proud of all three of them obviously, but Kyle had the toughest route.”

Next up is Jake McNamara, a quarterback who will be a high school junior in 2020. Whether he lands an FBS scholarship is still to be determined, but Gary couldn’t be more pleased to have two Michigan men.

“If I knew this was going to end up happening, we probably would have moved to Michigan,” Gary joked.

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.

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