Garrett Shrader’s life has changed in 12 months.
This time last season, when he led Charlotte Christian to the 2016 N.C. Independent Schools Division I state championship game as a sophomore quarterback, he didn’t have any scholarship offers and was wondering what his future would hold.
On Friday, he’ll again lead the Knights to the state finals, at home against rival Providence Day, but the question now is about where will he play in college.
Shrader, who turned 17 in August, has picked up 13 college scholarship offers this year, from schools like Alabama, Louisville and Penn State. He’s become a top 10 recruit nationally at his position, a dual threat quarterback. College coaches continued to be intrigued by his size (Shrader is 6-4 1/2, 200 pounds without shoes; about 6-6 with them on) and his athleticism (Shrader can run a 4.5-second 40 yard dash and has a 38-inch vertical leap).
“At first,” he said, “just talking to any college coach would be the world. That’s how it was starting out. Then, you start getting offers and it’s like, ‘Where do you want to go?’”
And then you end up in Nick Saban’s office, at Alabama, one of the heavyweights of college football.
“You see him on TV and you see him in press conferences and everybody quotes him,” Shrader said. “Just being in his office is unreal.”
Growing up in Denton, TX, Shrader had no idea that football could lead him to the Crimson Tide. By eighth grade, he was living in Union County and attending Weddington Middle School, when he and his family took a visit to Charlotte Christian. Shrader said he fell in love with the coaching, the campus and his future teammates. His future coach fell in love, too.
Provided with a middle school highlight tape, Knights coach Jason Estep said he saw his team’s future in Shrader -- and later decided to take a big chance. He started Shrader as a freshman, on a state powerhouse that was trying to win its fourth straight state championship.
“You look at middle school film,” Estep said, ‘and you go, ‘It’s middle school. The kid hasn’t hit puberty yet. But you could just tell that he had that ‘it.’ He got banged up in a scrimmage against Providence, but he started those last seven or eight games, and you could just tell.
“People were out there saying it was not a good call (to start a freshman) with the success we had, but I still feel like it was the right call for our program. And for him.”
As a freshman, Shrader led the Knights to the state semifinals. Last year, he threw for 2,564 yards and 29 touchdowns -- and he ran 90 times for 615 more yards -- and led the Knights to the championship game. Christian missed on a 2-point conversion that would’ve won the game. Shrader said he threw the potential championship-winning pass a little short.
But it’s served as motivation for his junior season.
It began with a mistake-filled loss at unbeaten 3A power Charlotte Catholic, but in Week 2, Christian got into an offensive shootout at Myrtle Beach. Christian rallied for a 54-51 win against a team then ranked No. 5 in the MaxPreps 4A public school poll. Shrader threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Kofoed on fourth-and-9 with 22 seconds left for the win.
Shrader finished with 288 yards passing and three touchdowns, completing 25-of-35 attempts. He ran 15 times for 181 yards and four touchdowns. He caught a pass for 30.
Since then, Charlotte Christian hasn’t really come close to losing.
“The things he was doing on the field at Myrtle Beach,” Estep said, “he was checking out of plays and getting guys in the right spots. You’re just like, ‘Let this kid go.’ That was that game. From then on, it’s been boom, boom, boom, boom, and we’ve been rolling.”
In 10 games this season, Shrader has thrown for 2,061 yards and 23 touchdowns, completing 140-of-207 passes. He’s thrown six interceptions this year and 10 in the past two combined. Named the private schools’ conference player of the year this week, Shrader has also rushed for 679 yards and nine scores.
Now, there’s one game left.
“We’re believers that if we do what we’re supposed to do,” Shrader said, “we’ll definitely be able to come out with a win.”
Shrader said there’s a chance he could commit to college by February, to try to begin to lure other recruits to whatever school he chooses. He said there’s also a chance he could graduate early, in December of 2018, to get a jump on college, learning the system and learning his new campus.
But for right now, he’s focused on winning a title this year -- and next year -- and leaving a legacy. On his neck, he wears a chain with two dog tags attached. One reads: “Throw Me To The Wolves And I’ll Come Back Leading The Pack.”
“That’s me,” he said. “I want to be known as a winner, and a competitor, the guy who can get it done. A freak athlete.”
Right now, he’s working on all three.
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr