By Robert Tomlinson
ANN ARBOR — No matter what their roles were, whether they were big or small, there are only so many people that can lay claim to being part of a national championship college football team.
With this year’s Michigan Wolverines squad, which won the College Football Playoff National Championship on Jan. 8 over Washington, a local name can be officially added to that list.
Marcellus native Cordell Jones-McNally was a freshman walk-on kicker/punter for the Wolverines during the 2023-24 season, traveling with the team for every game during their historic season. While he did not get any playing time during the season on what was a deep Wolverines squad, he said in an interview last month that the experience was an exciting one.
“It feels amazing, it’s crazy. I never thought this would ever happen in my life,” Jones-McNally said. “It was a lot of fun being with the team all the time, then practicing in a new environment where it’s warm, then go out, beat Alabama, beat Washington, it felt amazing.”
The 5-foot-8, 175-pound kicker/punter joined the Wolverines this year as a preferred walk-on after being recruited by other Division I schools. In his senior season at Marcellus in 2022, he was 3-for-6 on field goals from 28, 29, and 30 yards, with one of his attempts blocked and a 60-yard attempt that just missed, hit on 30 of 35 extra points, and had 36 touchbacks in the kicking game. He was also named the Southwest 10’s Eight-Man All-Conference punter and kicker, and was an all-state specialist by the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association.
As someone who has only been playing football since their sophomore year of high school, Jones-McNally said he never thought he would play college football, let alone football at all.
“I didn’t start football until sophomore year, and then to go from Marcellus playing eight-man football to coming to Michigan and winning the national championship is crazy,” Jones-McNally said.
While he was lower on the depth chart, Jones-McNally said that didn’t stop him from working hard every day to make an impression on the team’s coaches. He worked extensively with special teams analyst J.B. Brown (who was recently promoted to special teams coordinator) and learned plenty from the more senior players on the roster, including starting kicker James Turner and starting punter Tommy Doman.
“I learned a lot from JT and Tommy this year. JT was a mentor to me and Adam [Samaha], the other freshman kicker. He taught us a lot, just fundamental things,” Jones-McNally said. “Not to overdo it, not to over-kick, and go in with a plan to each day. When you go to practice, don’t go out there and run through the motions, go out there with a goal in mind and have something to accomplish.”
He also described the team as a whole as a “tightly-knit” group.
“It’s a great culture we have between us all,” Jones-McNally said.
Jones-McNally praised the coaching staff for their hard work every day, and noted what it was like to be around now-former head coach Jim Harbaugh.
“This staff is so amazing; I love every single one of the guys on the staff. They’re all great, they bring great energy to each day and motivate us. They know what they’re talking about,” Jones-McNally said. “[Jim Harbaugh]’s the greatest guy. You never see him in a bad mood. He brings an enthusiasm unknown to mankind every day, he’s great, I love him.”
Being on the team and being on the sideline for some of the biggest moments of the season, Jones-McNally said, was “surreal.” He noted in particular the interception to seal the win against Ohio State at home and the fourth-down stop in overtime against Alabama in the Rose Bowl as two of his favorite moments of the year that he’ll remember.
“The whole team rushed the field, jumping up and down, it was awesome,” Jones-McNally said of those particular moments.
Jones-McNally’s parents were even able to attend all the home games and the College Football Playoff games, something he said his family loved to attend.
“They loved it; my dad is the biggest Michigan fan ever, and he loved it,” Jones-McNally said.
Overall, Jones-McNally summed up his first season in college football as being one where he had “a lot of dedication, a lot of hard work,” and that in the end, “it was all worth it.”
“You just come in every day and work as hard as you can to try to improve yourself. That’s what everyone’s doing here. Just working as hard as we can for everybody, for the whole team, and not just for themselves.,” Jones-McNally said.
Looking ahead, Jones-McNally said he still doesn’t have a college major planned out, but said he has enjoyed classes so far at the university. Despite Harbaugh’s departure for the Los Angeles Chargers in the NFL, Jones-McNally embraced the mantra of the slogan, “Those Who Stay Will Be Champions,” and is planning on sticking with the team into next year.
“Oh yeah, I’ll be back, no doubt. I like this place too much, I’m not leaving,” Jones-McNally said. “I want to get a chance to play, get a chance to prove myself, but I also want the team to succeed, so whatever I can do to help.”
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or email@example.com.