Mike Brodowicz knew he was taking on an almost impossible job two years ago when he replaced legendary Charlotte Catholic football coach Jim Oddo.
For 41 years, Oddo set the standard at Catholic and across the state. He won 358 games, three state championships and finished as state runner-up three other times.
Brodowicz, who served as a Catholic assistant from 2002-2014, said the Charlotte Catholic head football coaching position was his dream job. He also said his first season was stressful.
“That whole first year, I really didn’t enjoy the journey of getting to the state championship game at all,” Brodowicz said. “I remember coming home to my wife (Lorie) and no matter who we’d beat I didn’t think it was enough. Finally, after our second round playoffs win, when we were 12-1, I think that was the first time that I came home and smiled and said “I think I’ve done enough. We’re still going to be playing and practicing on Thanksgiving.”’
Brodowicz’ son, Ben, who was on the Catholic junior varsity team in 2014, but started at cornerback for the Cougars last year, remembers how that first season wore on his father.
“He was pretty nervous and very anxious for most of that season, even after a big win, he would say ‘Oh, that is just the regular season, it doesn’t matter until we make a postseason run,’” Ben Brodowicz said. “I know he lost a lot of sleep thinking about how we were going to win, how he was going to help carry on the Catholic football tradition.”
Coach Brodowicz has set his own standard.
His 2014 team went to the 4A state championship game, where they lost to New Bern. Last season, Brodowicz led Charlotte Catholic to a 15-0 season, capping it with the school’s fourth state title. And he was named N.C. football Coach of the Year by USA Today.
The significance of a perfect season, which the Charlotte Catholic football team also accomplished in 2004 and 2005 (going 32-0 in that span) wasn’t lost on Brodowicz.
“More than 10 years ago when the 2004 and then 2005 Charlotte Catholic (football) teams went 16-0 in back-to-back seasons, I remember thinking about how rare of an accomplishment that was, and if it would ever happen again,” Brodowicz said. “For us to do it again last year (2015), I still shake my head and have a hard time believing we did that.”
The Cougars return 13 starters this season. The team will begin writing their own championship chapter in Charlotte Catholic history on Aug. 20 against Charlotte Christian at Memorial Stadium.
“From our first team meeting, coach Brodowicz told us that we are not going to play like we are state champions, we are playing to be state champions,” Catholic senior defensive end, Reid Brandt said. “Last year was last year.”
Catholic will still rely on the same offense – the Wing-T – that it has run for the last four-plus decades.
Brodowicz will have to replace his quarterback, John Walton, and leading rusher, Jaret Anderson.
Senior running backs, Jack Brigham (5-foot-9, 175) Angel Marrero (5-foot-9, 160, who runs a 4.3, 40-yard dash) and fullback, Wesley Alexander (6-foot-1, 205), who missed last year with a knee injury, will play key roles.
Meanwhile, senior quarterback, Brady Berger (6-foot-1, 175), who was the backup last year, will run the show. Guards, Nick Derrico (6-foot-2, 260) and Brian Macuga (6-foot-1, 233) will lead the way up front.
The Cougars have opened up the passing game – a bit – under Brodowicz. They now throw the ball about 15 times per game. Oddo’s teams threw the ball 5-7 times. Senior wide receiver, John Newman (6-foot-2, 190), will be Berger’s top target. He had 43 catches a year ago.
Meanwhile, the Cougar defense, which allowed fewere than 10 points per game last year, has plenty of experience. There are six seniors, starting with defensive ends, Reid Brandt (6-foot-2, 205), Trey Lagaly (6-foot-1, 226), and linebacker, Jim Hurney (5-foot-11, 180). There’s also defensive backs, Ian Baker (5-foot-10, 170), Ben Brodowicz (5-foot-11, 170) and Rob Dumser (6-foot, 172).
The coach says his staff is a major reason the tradition continues. The staff includes: Kevin Christmas (offensive coordinator), Frank Garcia (offensive line), Billy Hall (running backs), Marty Chuttey (defensive line), Kevin Glossner (assistant head coach) and Tucker Windle (linebackers).
Still Playing for Oddo
The players say they are playing for something much greater than themselves.
“Every time we put on the Charlotte Catholic football jersey, we think about the legacy that Coach Oddo created here, and we play for that legacy,” Brigham said. “But at the same time, we also are playing for coach Brodowicz. In two years, he’s done an incredible job. We always had confidence in him, but to go to two state championship games in a row and win it all last year. We plan on making it three in a row.”
Brodowicz says Oddo is still a part of everything they accomplish.
“Anything that we accomplish, we will always give a lot of the credit to Coach Oddo,” Brodowicz said, noting Oddo still attends most games. “We think about him every day, even when he is not there. We are always motivated and we are always defending the legacy he worked his butt to create here for 40 years.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.