Vance head track and field coach Jupiter Wilson is leaving the school to become the head football coach at Hickory High after this year.
Wilson, 29, has learned a lot about himself in his four years at at Vance. He will be missed at the school he is leaving and where he had his first bit of coaching success, leading the Cougars to last season's state track and field title and a conference title this year.
"It was a very tough decision for me, but it was something that I very much look forward to. I have always wanted to be a head coach, and now I have my chance," Wilson said.
"I told the kids that in life you get a few chances to do what's best for yourself and your family and you better take the chance when it comes. This is my chance, and I will miss my kids, but at the same time I am excited to go back to Hickory."
Wilson was an honor student, an All-USA Today selection in football and a three-year starter on the basketball team for Hickory, graduating in 1999. He went on to play offensive line at UNC Chapel Hill from 2000 to 2003 and later in the arena football league.
He will be missed at Vance.
"Coaches comment all of the time about how we carry ourselves at our meet," said senior Jamil Ray. "That all goes to coach Wilson. He has taught us the right way to be and he demands a lot of respect."
Wilson started coaching when Ray and other members of the senior class were freshman.
A lot has changed since Wilson first walked on campus as a 24-year-old.
"I learned how to be a coach at Vance. At first I didn't know if I should be their buddy or their coach. I have learned how to walk that line," Wilson said. "Track is such an individual sport, and you have to manage egos a little bit.
"I don't know as much about track as I do football, but I am learning and learning how to deal with my team better. It has helped me because I am coaching girls, boys and managing egos. I have learned a lot right here on this track."
Sophomore Erin Jenkins is sad to see Wilson go but understands the opportunity.
"Coach is like the big papa bear. He gets on us some, but he does it to help us. In the moment we may not see it, but when you think about what he said or why he did it, he is just trying to help us," Jenkins said.
Wilson will leave after the year, but will always remember his first coaching job with the Cougars.
"I have learned a lot here and will always have a place in my heart for Vance. It is a special place and has lots of great memories," Wilson said.