SPARTANBURG, SC - The Watauga High football team capped off another marvelous season under head coach Ryan Habich by sending another player to the Shrine Bowl.
This time around it was senior Anderson Castle, who put up unbelievable numbers in a 13-win season. And Castle, who is arguably the best player to come out of WHS since the legendary Eric Breitenstein (2004-07), amassed more than 3,400 yards offensively this fall, and he accounted for 49 touchdowns.
And those numbers landed WHS into the 3AA Western Finals for the first time since 2007 (Breitenstein's senior year). Castle is also the second WHS player to appear in the Shrine Bowl in three years (Appalachian State University offensive lineman Josh Headlee played in the 2017 game).
"He's the best player I've ever coached," Habich said, during an interview on WATA Radio. "He is so coachable, and he just makes great decisions. I may be bias when I say this, but in my opinion, he's the best option quarterback in the southeastern United States."
And the numbers don't lie. What a career Castle had during his run as WHS' starting quarterback. The Pioneers were 36-6 during that stretch with a pair of Northwestern Conference championships (the school's first outright title since 1980 in 2018, and they repeated as champions this fall giving them consecutive titles for the first time since 1972-73), and a team many feared to face in the state playoffs.
"Castle is just outstanding," said twop-time state championship coach Andy Capone of Matthews-Weddington during his pregame interview with WATA Radio. "He always makes the right reads. He's just a great athlete. Believe me, we know all about him, and what he's capable of doing."
"He's definitely the guy we look up to in the huddle," said senior teammate Jaiden Bond. "He's our leader. He's a competitive guy, and like the rest of us, he hates to lose."
And Castle, who showed us he was human when he fumbled against South Caldwell resulting in a TD for the Spartans, made up for that play in a big way. He finished the game with 224 yards offensively with a TD pass and two rushing TDs in a 56-12 win. For the year, WHS averaged 48.5 points a game and 383 yards on the ground. Castle averaged 148 yards a game.
But what makes Castle real dangerous is his versatilty. Put him anywhere on the field, and it's a sure guarantee he will raise some eyebrows. And he did just that during the Shrine Bowl Combine, where he played slot receiver, wide receiver and he even saw time at quarterback. He also raised his stock to play football at the next level.
"He really impressed a lot of people at wide receiver," Habich said. "But that's Anderson. He went both ways for us in the state playoffs. He's a solid football player, and he's great leader for our team. And, like the rest of our players, he remains humble."
Like fetching water for his teammates at practice (and he continued to do it even after he was selected to play in the Shrine Bowl).
Offense, defense, special teams, you name it, Castle got the job done. He led the team in scoring (36 TD, 224 points), rushing (with 2.223 yards), passing (1,190 yards, and he completed 64 perent of his passes) TD passes (13), and in punting average (yes, believe it or not, WHS did punt the football this year, 14 times to be exact) with a 37-yard average. Defensively, he made 53 tackles, with 25 solo stops, he defended nine passes, he recovered a fumble, and he also caused a fumble.
And on Saturday at the Shrine Bowl, he had two carries, and he also caught a pass during his time on the field.
"The thing that amazes me about him is that he never makes mistakes reading the option," said St. Stephens coach Wayne Hicks, during his pregame interview on WATA Radio. "First of all, coach Habich has done a great job with his team. They are so well coached, and disciplined. And they have good football players, but Castle is the guy that makes them go. He's their driving force, and he's a special player."
Special indeed. And the next step is yet to come for Castle, but when it does, the WHS senior will be more than ready for it.
"I really want to play college football," Castle said during a pregame interview on WATA Radio. "And coach Habich has a lot to do with it. I knew coming in he was a demanding coach. I remember him being tough on my older brother (Hamilton, who was WHS' starting quarterback in 2016), so I knew I was next. I was ready for it. But he made me a better player, and he's made us a better football team. I'm thankful to be playing for him.,"
And the High Country wants to say thank you to Anderson Castle ,and his teammates, for their great run the last three years. It was something special, just like Anderson Castle.