CHARLOTTE, NC (The Charlotte Observer) - (Langston Wertz Jr., The Charlotte Observer) -- In the past five high school football seasons, Charlotte Catholic's record is 66-9. Second-year coach Mike Brodowicz said he believes the Cougars can maintain that level of success this fall.
Catholic, a perennial state power, begins the season No. 5 in the Observer's preseason Sweet 16 poll. The Cougars, who return 14 starters, have reached the state final twice in the past three seasons.
"Defensively," Brodowicz said, "this could be one of the best defenses we've had here. The big key for us is the offensive line. We lost some key guys and a two-year starter, Nick Bruno, has decided to concentrate on his baseball career.
"But if the offensive line comes together - and I have faith that (line coach Frank) Garcia will have those guys ready to go -then we've got some good skills guys back."
Bruno, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound all-So. Meck 8 4A lineman, has committed to play college baseball for North Carolina. Without him, Catholic still returns seven starters on offense, including senior running back Jaret Anderson, who ran for more than 2,000 yards last season. He is a preseason 4A all-state pick by ncpreps.com.
Senior quarterback John Walton also returns after throwing for 1,201 yards and 11 touchdowns. Catholic will also add Angel Marrero, a running back/receiver who has been electronically timed in the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds.
"With John back and being a senior, we're so far ahead of the game in the passing attack," Brodowicz said. "Kids understand route concepts, and with John throwing the ball I'm excited about it.
"This year, you're going to see some new things. We'll be able to spread the field. Before we spread it, but it was spread to run up the middle. Now it's spread and trying to do something."
On defense, Catholic returns seven starters, led by 6-4, 225-pound senior linebacker Xander Gagnon, a Duke recruit who had 132 tackles and three interceptions last season.
"We've got a lot of experience back," Brodowicz said.
Catholic will begin the season Aug. 21 at Charlotte Christian but won't play at home until Sept. 11 against Rocky River. For many fans, that will be the first look at the school's multimillion dollar stadium renovation, which includes new lighting, new concession stands, an air-conditioned press box, additional seating and a 560-space parking deck behind the field.
Brodowicz said he hopes fans get to enjoy the new field well into the season, hoping for the type of long-playoff run that's become tradition.
"We've got 1,350 (students) vs. South Meck down the street with 3,000," Brodowicz said. "But our expectation is to get back (to a state final). If we can stay injury free and get a few breaks, we have a shot and we can compete with anybody.