On the makeshift field at Manchester Meadows, Garrett Shrader stood above the rest.
At 6-foot-5, he’s hard to miss. The Charlotte Christian quarterback towers over the competition, his white Under Armour tee outlining his 190-pound frame. He was the top-rated signal-caller in Thursday’s Carolina Panthers Regional Championships – a 7-on-7 tournament in Rock Hill featuring 32 teams from North Carolina and South Carolina. At the moment, he is the highest-ranked quarterback from either state in the Class of 2019.
Shrader says he didn’t get his first college scholarship offer until this year. Now, he’s up to seven.
“It’s definitely appreciated,” he says.
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You can see the youthfulness in the smile of the three-star prospect born on this side of the century mark. But on the field, Shrader hardly plays like a 16-year-old.
He can throw it 50 yards on a line and split defenders like a running back. He’s just as comfortable directing receivers and changing pass protections as he is on a run-pass option.
He didn’t utilize his rushing skills until the end of middle school, but he swears he can sprint 40 yards in 4.5 seconds to complement his 38-inch vertical.
“Most people are surprised when they hear that,” he said.
They shouldn’t be. As a sophomore, Shrader guided the Knights’ up-tempo offense with 2,564 passing yards and 29 touchdowns to just four interceptions. He added 90 carries for 615 yards, and he carried Charlotte Christian to its fourth state championship appearance in five seasons.
Offensive coordinator Pete Metzelaars, a 16-year NFL veteran, has only coached Shrader for two seasons with the Knights. But he’s already enamored with what he calls a freakish combination of size, speed and intellect.
“He’s the stirrer that makes the drink go,” Metzelaars said.
Even in Thursday’s 7-on-7, where quarterbacks can’t run and have four seconds to throw, Shrader looked comfortable sprinkling in a healthy dose of checkdowns, comebacks and crossing patterns. He struggled in the first round of the tournament playoffs, when his team fell to 2-3, finishing 20th in pool play. But when the regular season starts, opposing defenses can only hope to have similar success.
Two years ago, Shrader was an incoming freshman just trying to navigate the North Carolina high school football circuit after spending his entire childhood in Denton, Texas. But in his first year at Charlotte Christian, the Knights were one victory shy of playing for their fourth straight title.
Then the offense was reinvented with a no-huddle look, and Shrader thrived. In the 2016 title game, Charlotte Christian’s failed two-point conversion thwarted a 15-point fourth-quarter comeback attempt against Charlotte Latin – Shrader contends he threw it a bit short – but the quarterback had already made his mark.
Louisville was the first to come knocking. Since then, three local schools have followed suit: East Carolina, South Carolina and Wake Forest. Missouri has also extended an offer, as have rivals Penn State and Pittsburgh. Shrader has visits pending to Ohio State and Penn State, and he knows he’ll have more on the way.
He still doesn’t consider himself a “national guy,” and he doesn’t aim to become one. But every camp he attends elevates his stock a little more, and he brings back tips to help tailor his fit in the Charlotte Christian offense.
Shrader is still growing within the scheme, which he’s only piloted for one season. With his 17th birthday just days away, he’s still growing physically, too. After two more years in the offense and in the weight room, how much higher can he climb?
“Oh gosh …” Metzelaars said. “The sky is really the limit.”
C Jackson Cowart on Twitter: @CJacksonCowart