Moments after Charlotte Catholic beat Greenville Rose 27-20 to win the N.C. 4A football championship last December, Cougars star senior running back Jaret Anderson looked toward Angel Marrero.
Anderson, who scored the game-winning touchdown with 50 seconds left and was named championship MVP, had a simple message for his then-junior teammate.
“Next year,” Anderson told him, “it’s on you.”
Anderson ran for 4,142 yards and 55 touchdowns in two seasons, leading the Cougars to two state championship appearances and the school’s first state title since 2005. He replaced Elijah Hood, perhaps the best player in the school’s history. In three seasons, Hood ran for 8,981 yards and 147 touchdowns.
Now, Anderson was handing the baton to Marrero, a 5-foot-9, 155-pound speedster with a 3.3 grade-point average, and who said he’s received recruiting interest from Charlotte, Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest.
“We called him up (from junior varsity) two years ago as a 10th-grader,” Catholic coach Mike Brodowicz said of Marrero. “He possesses great speed. His camp (40-yard dash) times have been between 4.4 and 4.3 (seconds). Anytime he touches the ball, he has a chance to go the distance.
“What he’s worked on is running inside. He’s going to have to get in there and break some tackles. If he can do that, he’ll be the next in the line of backs (at Catholic).”
Last season, Marrero ran 108 times for 562 yards and four touchdowns. He caught 20 passes for 243 yards and he had 742 return yards. This season, he’ll be the featured back running behind a big offensive line, which includes 6-3, 265-pound senior Nick Derrico, who has scholarship offers from Davidson and Columbia.
Catholic will work in a new quarterback and three new starting linebackers, so Marrero and the other backs will be expected to produce early. Brodowicz believes his senior will be ready.
“The kids love him,” Brodowicz said. “They know we’re going to run the football. They know we hang our hat on being able to run the football.
“It’s a tough battle for us and a great challenge, but we have a shot to make a little noise in the playoffs, I think.”
In two seasons, Brodowicz has gone 29-2 and led the Cougars to back-to-back N.C. 4A state finals appearances. This season, Catholic returns 25 lettermen and 13 starters. Brodowicz said he doesn’t have any players on his roster who’ve committed to Division I colleges, but there’s plenty of depth.
“I have 15 D3 (Division III) players,” he said. “I’ve got the best depth I’ve had since I’ve been here, without guys playing both sides of the ball. We’ve got six running backs who can get it done. We’ve got five corners and six safeties. We’ll send wave after wave after you.”
Marrero said he wants to be a team leader, much like Hood, now at North Carolina, and Anderson, who’s at William & Mary, were before him.
“It’s a big step,” he said. “But I think I’m ready for it. I’m going to try to do the best I can. Our coaches expect a lot of me this year, I think. I expect to keep the tradition alive and carry my team the way the last few running backs have.”
Marrero said winning at Catholic is personal for him.
“As a team we’re really close and we all play as a team together,” he said. “Playing here means everything to me. I feel I’ve grown up with my coaches and they’ve taught me a lot and made me the man I am today.
“This is who I want to play for, and I want to win another state for them.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
Observer Sweet 16: Charlotte Catholic Cougars
The Observer continues with previews of teams in its annual preseason Sweet 16 high school football preseason poll. The teams will be revealed in alphabetical order. The poll, with numerical order, will be released following the previews.
Head coach: Mike Brodowicz (3rd year, 29-2 overall)
2015 record: 15-0 (7-0, SoMeck8)
Key returning starters: Reid Brandt, Sr., DE (6-2, 210); Angel Marrero, III, Sr., RB (5-9, 160); John Newman, Sr., WR (6-2, 188); Ben Brodowicz, Sr., CB (5-11, 165); Jim Hurney, Sr., LB (6-0, 180); Jack Brigham, Sr., RB (5-9, 175); Rob Dumser, Sr., FS (6-0, 172); Connor Demaine, Sr., K/P (6-1, 200).
Key newcomers: Wesley Alexander, Sr., FB (6-1, 205); Brady Berger, Sr., QB (6-1, 170); Brian Macuga, Sr., OG (6-1, 233); Jimmy Abate, Sr., TE (6-2, 205); Matt Beltrondo, Sr., LB (6-0, 190).
Returning starters: 13
Returning lettermen: 25
Outlook: Charlotte Catholic coach Mike Brodowicz has set a high standard in his two seasons as coach with a 29-2 record, including an undefeated season and 4A state title in 2015. With 13 returning starters, including loaded offensive and defensive lines, the Cougars will look to repeat as state champions.