The last time Garrett Shrader played a high school football game he could barely throw.
Charlotte Christian’s all-state quarterback injured his shoulder in a 52-14 conference championship win over Providence Day a few days before Halloween last year. The next week, when Charlotte Christian beat Ardren Christ School 52-12 in the state semifinals, Shrader played and the Knights called a deep throw on the first play of the game.
“He threw it 8 yards,” Knights coach Jason Estep said. “It was one of those things. He’s a tough kid. You’re not going to pull him out of the game unless (his shoulder’s) dad-gum sticking out of there. So we were very limited and no one really knew that.”
In the two weeks of practice after the Providence Day win, before the semifinals and state championship, Shrader didn’t throw in practice. He would come in for handoffs and the Knights’ backup handled the throws.
In the games, including a 47-21 win over Providence Day in the state final, Estep’s play book shrunk considerably. There were many plays he couldn’t call because Shrader could hardly throw the football.
“The one week,” Shrader said, “I could barely throw it 20 yards. It was pathetic. The last three weeks, I barely practiced at all.”
Shrader, who has committed to play in college at Mississippi State, had shoulder surgery five days before Christmas and he’s rehabbed aggressively ever since.
“I feel like 60 (percent),” he said last week, “but the ball comes out good and I’m still getting used to the feel.”
Shrader was in Starkville, Miss., recently with other recruits. Estep said Shrader’s arm strength and accuracy impressed college coaches there. This high school season, Estep said Shrader is ready to help the Knights chase a fifth state championship in seven years.
“We’ve got more skill than we’ve ever had,” Estep said. “All our skill guys are back except (receiver) Terrell (Brown, who graduated). Offensively, we’re two to three deep at receiver. We’re as fast as we’ve ever been, but we have to replace four offensive linemen. All four (newcomers) are from an undefeated (junior varsity) team. I don’t know how they’ll grow up when we play Charlotte Catholic (Aug. 17), but we’ll find out.”
And while Christian works out whatever kinks it has on offense, Estep’s defense returns eight starters from a team that allowed only one team to score more than 19 points last season.
“Our defense is bigger, better, stronger,” Shrader said. “Our receiving corps is just as good if not stronger. Our backfield’s good. Our offensive line is piecing it together right now, but we’ve got a bunch of young guys who want to be good and we absolutely have the talent there to be good.”
And the Knights return the conference player of the year, too. Shrader threw for 2,302 yards and 24 touchdowns as a junior, then chose Mississippi State over South Carolina, West Virginia and Penn State.
He said playing in the South and in the SEC were big factors in his decision. His high school coach Mississippi State is getting a special player.
“More than any other kid I’ve coached,” Estep said, “his football IQ is off the charts. He can literally run the offense like a coach. He sees things a lot of kids can’t see. Mississippi State is getting a kid, from a football intelligence standpoint, who is going to be above where a lot of kids are. So he projects well and will only get better. He’s in a similar offense that those guys already run. So it’s a seamless fit.”
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.
CHARLOTTE CHRISTIAN KNIGHTS
Coach: Jason Estep (12th year as Charlotte Christian head coach; 98-31 overall).
2017 record: 10-1 (3-0 in the CISAA conference).
2018 conference: Big South 4A
Top players: Garrett Shrader, Sr., QB (6-5, 200); Ricky Kofoed, Sr., TE (6-4, 220); Josh Eboboko, Sr., Athlete (6-0, 185); J.T. Killen, Sr., LB (6-3, 230); Jeremiah Gray, Sr., DB (6-2, 210); Obi Egbuna, Sr., DB (6-0, 180); Ben Williams, Sr., RB/DB (5-11, 185); Sam Henderson, Sr., OL (6-6, 275).
Outlook: The Knights are 20-3 the past two years with a state runner-up finish in 2016 and a state championship in 2017. Charlotte Christian returns 12 starters from the 2017 champions, incuding eight on defense.