When Mike Brodowicz was named football coach at Charlotte Catholic in May, he admitted being nervous about taking over at a school where he’d been an assistant for 11 seasons.
Brodowicz was following one of the best coaches in N.C. history, Jim Oddo, who started at Catholic in 1973 and won 358 games and three state championships. Oddo left after 14 straight winning seasons and four straight trips to the N.C. Western Regional championship game.
In his final four seasons, Oddo’s teams were 52-7.
“To say that (I was nervous), that would be an understatement,” Brodowicz said Wednesday afternoon before practice.
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In his first season, Brodowicz has changed some things about Catholic’s program but has maintained its run-first identity – and its winning ways. The Cougars are 13-1, with a loss to N.C. 4AA semifinalist Mallard Creek, and will play the Vance Cougars at home Friday night at 7:30 in the N.C. 4A Western Regional championship game. Catholic will try to reach its seventh state championship game and its first since 2012.
“I think he’s done a fantastic job,” Catholic athletics director Kevin Christmas said of Brodowicz. “I think he’s kept the tradition, but he’s also been able to establish some of his own ideas. That’s very difficult. He’s done a good job of balancing both. I mean, I thought we’d do OK this season but not to the extent of the season we’re having now. That’s a tribute to our kids. The kids have worked hard.”
Catholic averages nearly 39 points per game, the fourth-best in school history, and while the Cougars still run the ball primarily, Catholic passes more. The Cougars have rushed for 4,307 yards, averaging 7.5 yards per carry on 572 attempts. But they’ve also thrown 138 times for 1,140 yards.
One of Catholic’s biggest wins came on Halloween, when the Cougars beat Ardrey Kell 38-34 on a 21-yard pass from John Walton to Ryan Miller with 8 seconds left. Ardrey Kell scored to lead with 42 seconds left and Catholic used three passes to drive 57 yards for the game-winning score.
“We still have had a big-play aspect after losing Elijah,” Brodowicz said of former All-American running back Elijah Hood, now a freshman at North Carolina. “Especially with Ryan Miller and Jaret Anderson. When we’ve been very successful here is when we don’t have to go on a long 7-minute drive to score, but when we can get those big plays. Those two guys have allowed us to have that big-play capability.”
Anderson, a junior who is playing on varsity for the first time, has rushed 231 times for 1,897 yards and 23 touchdowns. Miller, a converted quarterback, has rushed 88 times for 719 yards and 12 touchdowns. Miller has caught 29 passes for 611 yards and seven touchdowns.
As the weeks passed and the wins accumulated, Brodowicz said he began thinking his team could make a deep run in the playoffs. Catholic arrives in Friday’s state semifinal on a 10-game win streak. It has beaten three playoff opponents by a combined score of 135-19.
But Brodowicz said he doesn’t expect that to continue in his first regional final as a head coach.
“Anybody that knows football knows that (Vance) is not an underdog,” Brodowicz said. “I know (Vance) coach (Aaron) Brand is playing that up. They’re as good as any team we’ve played. Their three losses are to Richmond County, Mallard Creek and Hough – solid teams that play big 4AA football. They’re used to that. They’re a talented team.”
Brodowicz said he believes Friday’s game is evenly matched.
“You can’t give either one of those offenses a short field,” he said. “Both defenses are playing well, but momentum comes with turnovers. I think whoever has the fewest turnovers will have more points on the board and win that football game.”
Prep Insiders Video
See Observer staff writers Corey Inscoe and Langston Wertz Jr. break down all of Fridays Observer-area regional finals with Vance coach Aaron Brand, who makes a bold prediction about the 2015 season. View the video at charlotteobserver.com/preps