Charlotte Catholic football coach Mike Brodowicz said that senior defensive lineman Kevin Coss was “a pleasant surprise” last season.
Coss was moved up to varsity as a sophomore and was a backup. Then, before his junior year began, he broke his foot in a scrimmage. Coss missed four regular-season dates, then returned to the lineup and quickly became a dominant player.
In just 12 games, Coss compiled 15 sacks, a school-record for a defensive lineman, to go with nine sacks for a loss, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
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The sack total was the seventh-highest in North Carolina last season. Brodowicz said Coss’ technique and strength — he can squat nearly 500 pounds — helped him along the way.
This season, Brodowicz said Coss is one of as many as 18 starters — counting two-way players — returning for a Cougars team that finished 16-0 and won the school’s fifth state championship last season.
Catholic last repeated as state champion in 2004 and ‘05. It won the ‘04 2AA state title and won the 3AA championship in 2005.
With Coss and the other returning starters, Catholic will begin the 2018 season as a big favorite to win the school’s sixth state title.
“We knew (Coss) was coming on,” Brodowicz said. “We thought he had the ability, but 15 sacks is the most we’ve ever had at that position. But he’s a technician. He’s not big. He’s 6-4, 235, but not one of those ‘Oh gosh, look at that guy’ type guys.
“He knows his moves, his leverage and he’s a very smart football player.”
Coss, who has scholarship offers from Notre Dame College in Ohio and Gardner-Webb, thinks his team is primed for a special season. Offensive lineman Billy Hambrook (6-3, 270) has committed to Villanova. Another offensive lineman, Luke Gagnon (6-4, 250), has an offer from Marist. Running back Michael Neel (5-10, 175) has offers from Davidson, Dayton and Gardner-Webb.
On defense, cornerback Brian Jacobs (5-9, 160) has an offer from Davidson. And Coss feels the Cougars’ defensive front — one of the big reasons Catholic allowed just 9.6 points per game last season — is the best in North Carolina.
That front includes Coss, Navy recruit Ari Rodriguez (6-0, 285) and Richmond recruit Jack King (6-2, 260).
“I think we’re in a great position,” Coss said. “Me and Ari and most of the guys have played together since sixth grade. We’ve had that bond a long time and it helps on the field. I know there’s been a lot of great Catholic teams, but I think we can hold our own.”
Brodowicz thinks so, too.
“We have 18 starters back from a 16-0 team,” he said. “We want to be talked about like Mallard Creek and the Independence teams of the past. ...They didn’t duck (from expectations). They embraced them. What I want to be is in that mix. ... Of course, the kids have to back that up and it puts on more pressure, but I hate guys who say, ‘We’re not very good,’ and you’ve got three Division I players out there going to Notre Dame, Carolina and Clemson.
“So would it be a disappointment if we don’t win state this year? It’s a disappointment every year.”
Editor’s Note: The Observer is previewing all 16 teams in its preseason Sweet 16 poll. The order will be revealed before the season kicks off Aug. 15.
Head coach: Mike Brodowicz (58-4, fifth year)
Key Players: Ari Rodriguez, Sr., NT (6-0, 285); Brian Jacobs, Sr., SS (5-9, 160); Kevin Coss, Sr., DE (6-2, 240); Billy Hambrook, Sr., OL (6-3, 270); Malik McGowan, Jr., OL (6-4, 325); Luke Gagnon, Sr., OL (6-4, 250); Michael Neel, Sr., RB (5-10, 175); Lamagea McDowell, Jr., RB (6-1, 220); Garrett McKernan, Jr., TE/WR (6-3, 200); Billy Brewer, Jr., LB (5-10, 200); Ty Foley, Jr., LB (6-0, 190); Nick King, Sr., DE (6-2, 260).
The skinny: With as many as 18 starters back, counting two-way players, the Cougars are a favorite to repeat as N.C. 3A state champs. Since 2004, Catholic has reached eight state finals, winning four. The Cougars have five state championships overall.