CHARLOTTE – The Charlotte Catholic football program has had a run of dominance like perhaps no other school in the state, regardless of clout or classification. Their current streak may even run nationwide, although it’s hard to track similar performances in other states.
Still, the Cougars have now reached their 10th consecutive Final Four, a major accomplishment in any sport and on any level.
“For me, all of the credit goes to coach (Jim) Oddo,” said Catholic coach Mike Brodowicz, who entered the season with a sterling 73-5 record, which equates to a .936 win percentage. “He did it for 40-plus years, and I was fortunate to work with him for 10 years. I saw what it took to get to this level and the hard work that needs to be done. It’s exciting, but it never gets old. There is some pressure to do it, but we’ve been doing it so long that’s just who we are. These kids come up through our middle school program and grow up watching these kids play. They come to our summer camps, and now they’re playing for us. It’s a great community with what we do.”
Even so, this season something seemed off. Maybe not to the players, the coaches or the Catholic faithful, but after the Cougars began the season with a 2-3 record, hardly the start for Brodowicz and his glitzy win%age, people started to write them off.
But, upon closer examination, those games were just preparing the Cougars for their inevitable march to the Final Four as they look to claim their third straight 3-A title.
They lost 7-0 on the road to Our Lady of Good Counsel, who is ranked 17th in Maxpreps.com’s Xcellent 25 national rankings. The following week, they lost 7-0 to Archbishop Rummel, who is 12-0 and ranked 23rd in the nation. Then came the 45-0 loss to unbeaten Weddington, the Cougars first conference loss in a decade.
It seemed the sky was falling as Catholic dropped out of local media polls, but in actuality, everything was just starting to come together.
“I didn’t know they were going to be that good, but people who don’t know football don’t know how good Rummel is and how good Good Counsel is, the type of programs they have and the amount of Division I players they have,” Brodowicz said. “Those are like Mallard Creek, Myers Park-type teams and we had a chance to win both. When we lost three games I heard we’re down this year, we lost coach Garcia and I heard everything. But we needed time to figure it out.”
The Cougars graduated most of their offensive line, lost last season’s leading rusher Lamagea McDowell to an unexpected midseason transfer and changed quarterbacks in-season to sophomore Harrison Bennett.
But then Catholic started to figure things out with the same tried and true approach that has led to so much of Brodowicz’s success.
“One thing is I knew from the start we had a championship defense,” he said. “I knew that, but we were struggling in our offense, but early on in the season our offense is always going to struggle. It takes a little while. We’re not used to losing games so it shook our confidence a little bit. But I had to remind them that, ‘Hey, guys our goal isn’t to be undefeated, our goal is to win this conference and win a state championship.’ After we lost to Weddington, we knew we had to go a different route, but that’s worked out.”
And like usual, here we are.
The Cougars have worked it out and now have a chance to play Kings Mountain for a shot to return to their third finals, something that looks promising with the Cougars at home and riding an eight-game win streak.
Catholic beat Kings Mountain 30-7 in last year’s Final Four, but will have to contain quarterback Ethan Reid (2,703 passing yards and 36 TDs), running backs Rashaard Brooks and Ricayln Mack (over 2,000 rushing yards and 24 combined TDs) and highly recruited receiver Kobe Paysour (1,073 and 14 TDs) and his running mate Quentin Davidson (910 receiving yards and 13 TDs).
“Football is the ultimate team game,” Brodowicz said. “You may have the best quarterback in the world, but if you don’t have five linemen to protect him, he can’t throw when he’s on his back. If we give them different looks so he looks and be physical and get some hands on him, then we’ll be OK. Of course, we have to tackle. Their athletes are going to get the ball, but we can’t give them a 10-yard dig route and let them turn it into something big.”
A win gives the Cougars a shot at their third straight title and the ninth in school history.
Either way, what this group of guys has accomplished is impressive, adding to a legacy that is unlike any other.
“You know how hard it is to do what it is we’re doing?” Brodowicz said. “They talk about Mallard Creek as being a dynasty, but they couldn’t get out of the second round. I have a lot of respect for coach (Mike) Palmieri, but it’s hard. Look at Myers Park with how many Division I players they have and they couldn’t get there. Scott (Chadwick) is a good football coach, but it goes to show you have to have a lot of luck and a lot of talent. All of those teams are well-coached and work tremendously hard. I mean, it’s hard to do it once, but we’ve done it at four different levels. We’ve done it at 2A, 3-A, 3-AA and 4-A, and we’ve done it for 10 years now.
“This season it took us a while to figure it out, but we did and we’ve been playing some pretty good football since. I’m excited for Friday, but I’d say get there early. It’s going to be a madhouse.”