When Lake Norman High quarterback Josh Ladowski was in middle school, Wildcats coach Rob McNeely watched him play a few downs and thought he might have something special.
Ladowski played multiple positions as a freshman and rushed 78 times for 312 yards and three touchdowns. But after the season, McNeely had his returning players participate in a game of flag football. Ladowski was effortlessly throwing the ball 50 yards in the air. McNeely turned to his offensive coordinator and said, “Man, that’s our next QB.”
In his 18-year career, McNeely hasn’t made too many decisions that were better.
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Ladowski, now a senior, has had one of the best careers in N.C. history.
Last week, he led Lake Norman to a win over West Charlotte, the first playoff victory in school history. Lake Norman (11-1) will host Ardrey Kell (9-3) Friday in a 4AA second-round game.
Ladowski has 7,063 career passing yards and 70 passing touchdowns. He’s got 5,104 career rushing yards and 68 rushing touchdowns. He ranks No. 6 in N.C. High School Athletic Association history in single-season total touchdowns (he has 60 this season) and fifth in career touchdowns (138).
His 12,167 career yards total offense ranks third in NCHSAA history behind Independence quarterback Chris Leak (16,590 from 1999-2002) and Burlington Cummings quarterback Ernest Tinnin (12,310 from 1990-93).
“I’ve been at this for 18 years,” McNeely said, “and it’s taken this long (to get a player as good as Ladowski). It’s so rare.”
Ladowski is listed at 5-foot-10, 188 pounds, and he may not be quite that tall, which may be why he doesn’t have any major college offers. But he has solidified himself as his school’s best football player. He is also a North Carolina baseball recruit.
“I’d say I’m better in baseball because I have a shot to go pro,” said Ladowski, who has talked with the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and Pittsburgh Pirates about the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft.
In high school football, Ladowski is as dangerous a weapon as there is in this state. He can run a 4.5-second 40-yard dash. He can squat 450 pounds and bench press 290. He can throw a football 65 yards in the air.
He burst on the scene last season, by passing for 3,207 yards and 30 touchdowns and rushing for 2,069 yards and 29 scores. His 5,276 total yards were the second most in NCHSAA history, behind Leak’s 5,494 yards in 2002. After the season, Ladowski was named all-state by the Associated Press.
This season, he’s accounted for as many as eight touchdowns in a single game. He’s completed 174-of-286 passes for 3,003 yards and 35 touchdowns. He has rushed 217 times for 1,459 yards and 25 scores. Lake Norman’s second-highest rusher is more than 1,000 yards behind Ladowski this season.
“He’s just the ultimate competitor,” McNeely said. “But he’s really worked on his craft. He’s not just an athlete that plays quarterback. He’s a quarterback. But it’s not all Josh. He’s got great receivers. Corey (Joyner) is putting up phenomenal numbers too (70 catches, 1,156 yards, 11 TDs). But it all starts up front with our offensive line. … It’s just a culmination of a lot of hard work.”
Ladowski said his statistical explosion was born of two things: Lake Norman adopting a spread offense when he switched to quarterback and his confidence growing.
“Freshman year, I just started playing,” he said. “It just happened for me. I got more confidence. In the Mooresville game, I made, like, three big runs and had a touchdown and things started clicking. My sophomore year, I had a pretty good year, but last year was one to remember. It was so fun playing on that team.”
So far his senior year hasn’t been bad, either. Lake Norman beat rival Mooresville to win the North Piedmont conference championship. The next week, Lake Norman topped West Charlotte to win its first playoff game.
Now the Wildcats are one win away from the N.C. 4AA quarterfinals.
Ladowski is just focused on making plays and winning games.
“I get the ball a lot,” he said. “But sometimes I do surprise myself when I make some plays. I’m like, ‘How did I do that?’ It’s so cool. But I’ve got a lot of guys around me, and it’s a team thing. Right now, we just want to go far in the playoffs.”