Charlotte Catholic will kick off the 2014 high school football season Saturday night at Providence Day, and the Cougars will look a whole lot different than they have in recent years.
Elijah Hood, the face of the team the past three seasons, is gone. Hood, a consensus high school All-American, graduated last December to enroll early at North Carolina. Hood finished his career as Mecklenburg County’s all-time leader in career rushing (8,981 yards) and career touchdowns (147).
Also gone is coach Jim Oddo, who built the dynasty. Oddo coached at Charlotte Catholic from 1973-2013. He won 358 games and three state championships.
In to replace Hood are a collection of six players who will carry the ball in Catholic’s Wing-T running offense. And new coach Mike Brodowicz believes that two of them, junior Jarett Anderson and senior Jake Priester, will be the Cougars’ big playmakers this season.
Brodowicz said Anderson (5-foot-11, 175 pounds) and Priester (5-8, 155) have plenty of speed and explosive ability. Priester has a scholarship to play lacrosse at Mercer, and Brodowicz said playing high-level lacrosse has given Priester quick feet and elusiveness. .
“We’ll have carries by committee,” Brodowicz said. “It’s more traditionally what Charlotte Catholic has been than in the last three years. We’ve got a bunch of young kids that havedifferent qualities that can help us, but are unique in their ways of how they carry the ball. Jarett and Jake are two playmakers who make things happen on their own.”
And both players know they have big shoes to fill trying to be the big threat guys after Hood did it better than anybody in school history.
“It’s not easy,” Priester said. “Elijah left some big footsteps. It’ll have to be a team effort, and that will make us so much more versatile. You can’t just prepare for Hood. You have to prepare for a whole team now.”
Still, Priester admits to being nervous going into Week 1.
“There’s always a bit of nerves being a running back at Catholic,” he said. “I really feel like this school is ready to take the next step. A week after the (2013) season ended, everyone was in the weight room preparing for next year. We don’t want to be ‘The Team After Hood.’ We want to be our own team.”
Anderson was on junior varsity last season and is a little new to the Catholic varsity experience, but he’s been fielding questions about being Hood’s replacement all summer – at the mall, the movies, church – anywhere people knew who he was and where he played.
“I get a little tired of being asked that,” Anderson said. “But I guess you’ll have to see this season. To be brutally honest, we’ve got a great (offensive) line and a lot of returning starters (14 of 22). I don’t have a doubt we’ll win states this year. I have a lot of trust in my teammates.”
Charlotte Catholic has had 14 straight winning seasons, and while Anderson isconfident this will be No. 15, Brodowicz said he feels pressure to keep the program going.
“It hits me every day, man,” he said. “I wake up and it’s the first thought that goes through my head. The nerves are kicking in and the uncertainty that the buck stops with me now. So I spend every day not only trying to replace such a successful coach, but a very successful program he’s built at Charlotte Catholic.”
And now that he has the job, Brodowicz has installed some wrinkles into the offense and defense. Catholic players say practices are more uptempo now. Catholic will spread the field and pass more. Most important, Brodowicz feels he has a collection of backs, led by Priester and Anderson, who can run the ball well, win, and keep the tradition going.
Still, Brodowicz admits to being nervous going into Week 1.
“I’d be kidding if I said there wasn’t any pressure to keep it going,” he said. “At all of my job interviews, I kept saying ‘It’s about protecting tradition.’ I say that now and I get a little sick on my stomach from nerves, and go ‘Holy cow, that’s on my head now.’”
Wertz: 704-612-9716; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
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