In his junior year, Charlotte Catholic running back Jaret Anderson inherited the job of replacing Elijah Hood, arguably the best player in Charlotte Catholic history.
Before Hood went off to college at North Carolina, he led Catholic to three straight Western Regional championship berths, a state final appearance and broke nearly every Mecklenburg County rushing record.
But Anderson, who played on the junior varsity during Hood’s senior year in 2013, had a breakout season in 2014. He rushed for 2,067 yards and scored 27 touchdowns in leading the Cougars to a second state title berth in three seasons.
“I couldn’t wait for senior year,” Anderson said, pointing to this season.
But last spring, while doing broad jumps at the United States Performance Center (USPC) in south Charlotte where he trains, Anderson felt a pop in his knee. He tore his meniscus and needed surgery.
“Had the surgery in May,” he said. “I couldn’t run until late June.”
Anderson missed an important summer for football recruits, unable to attend camps on campus, and his doctors worried he might miss games his senior season. But Anderson poured himself into rehab at USPC, going every day but Sunday. Since he couldn’t do much with his legs, he focused on his upper body. After playing last season at 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds, Anderson is 10 pounds heavier, and his coach said he’s still capable of running 40 yards under 4.5 seconds.
“Everybody started commenting,” Anderson said of his physical change. “They would say, ‘Your neck is bigger,’ or ‘You look a lot thicker.’ It’s visibly paid off.”
Anderson’s first day back for football was Aug. 1, the start of practice. He struggled but worked his way back into shape for Catholic’s season opener against Charlotte Christian Aug. 21. He said he didn’t feel like himself until the Cougars’ third game, against Rocky River on Sept. 11.
But he has helped Catholic to one of its best starts in recent seasons. The Cougars are 6-0 and ranked No. 1 in the Observer’s Sweet 16 for the first time. The defense has allowed 3.3 points per game, and Anderson has rushed 104 times for 828 yards and 12 touchdowns. Catholic will play at South Mecklenburg on Friday, looking to extend a 40-game conference win streak that started in 2009.
On offense, Anderson is the Cougars’ unquestioned leader. He averages 148 yards per game total offense. No. 2 is senior quarterback John Walton at about 87.
“It took him awhile to get back into game shape,” Charlotte Catholic coach Mike Brodowicz said of Anderson. “But what carried him those first couple of games was the weight training. He got stronger and more physical, and now he’s got his speed and quickness back along with his strength.”
Brodowicz said Anderson, who carries a 3.84 grade-point average, has college offers from Army, Brown, Columbia, Davidson and Gardner-Webb. He has had interest from Air Force, Harvard, Navy, Princeton, Richmond and William & Mary.
“What hurt him was everybody wanted to get film on him this summer to see what he would do, and he missed the whole time,” Brodowicz said. “College workouts would’ve benefited him. Like Wake Forest wanted him up there, and if he goes and runs a 4.45 (40-yard dash), then he’s on his way.
“So he’s got a little chip on his shoulder, and he’s more determined than ever to show that what he did last year was not a fluke.”
That’s what Anderson said he plans to do for the season’s remaining games.
“It was frustrating to not do any camps and prove yourself in front of coaches who are watching you firsthand instead of on tape,” Anderson said. “So I figure I will just play as hard as I can and see what happens.
“Our team is good. Our defense is scary good, and our offense, we’re getting there. … Since last year, there was pressure because people thought we might not be as good without Hood, and we proved we were. Now we want to see if we can get back to the state finals and get the state ring this time.”