When all-conference outside linebacker Anthony Butler sat down with his Vance teammates for an initial team meeting with Aaron Brand last spring, he didn’t know much about his new head football coach.
“I knew that he won a state championship at Mallard Creek and that he was the offensive coordinator,” said Butler, now a junior. “That meant he had to be doing something right.”
But after Brand told his new players of his vision for the program and for them to expect to be held accountable for their actions on and off the field, Butler was sold on the new regime.
“I love what he said,” Butler added. “I’ve always been a hard worker and felt that we could be a way better team now because we could work harder than anyone other team in the state.”
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When the first day of high school football practice was held Aug. 1, there was a new attitude in place and a feeling that the Cougars could eventually reach greatness.
Brand takes over this year as Vance’s fourth coach in five years. He brings an impressive resume with him as he tries to invigorate a Cougars program that has not won a conference championship since 2005.
Brand was a Mallard Creek assistant for the last four years, including last year’s 4AA state title run. Over the previous 10 years, he spent a total of six years as an assistant at Independence during two stints, two years as a West Mecklenburg assistant and one year (2008) as West Charlotte’s head coach.
Brand has a reputation for being a winner and for his offenses scoring a lot of points. Mallard Creek averaged 50 points in 2013 and 45 in 2012.
“Working for (Mallard Creek) Coach (Mike) Palmieri was a lot of fun,” said Brand. “I knew it was my time to keep it moving. I wanted to stay marketable. You have to do something when you’re hot.”
The South Boston, Va., native sees great potential in the Vance football program. He feels the infrastructure in terms of facilities, staff, and talented young players exists, but improvements can be made all around.
Only one assistant coach returned from former coach Keith Wilkes’ staff from last year: Jack Cameron, who will guide the running backs. Two of Brand’s new assistants are coaches he worked with at Mallard Creek.
Former Mavericks assistant Lamar Young will be the defensive line coach. Nick Leeson, who coached at Mallard Creek before leaving for Fayetteville Britt for one year, returns to the University City area to coach Vance’s offensive line.
Brand is content with the number of players (65-70) that have attended summer workouts. He is coaching them to be accountable to one another as much as he is developing football skill.
Something that is building team chemistry as much as it is raising funds for the football program is weekly car washes the players are working every Friday during the summer. Brand and the Cougars are collecting money so that Vance’s stadium can be fitted with a new sod playing surface, but the players are using the experience to get to know and trust one another a little better.
Brand feels the Cougars can be competitive from the season’s onset. He likes the talent he has at outside linebacker and in the secondary and has a few skill position players that could help score a lot of points.
At linebacker, Butler and senior Trinity Roberts are both returning starters. Running back Donovan Spencer and receivers Myles Dorn and John Ifedi should be a good support system for any of the three quarterbacks vying for playing time.
Senior LaQuell Thomas is the returning starter but senior Omar Baker and sophomore Kingsley Ifedi, both transfers from Berry Academy, will get a look from Brand.
“I like our confidence and quick adjustments to new offenses and new defenses,” said Brand. “It’s the same kids I’ve seen everywhere I’ve been. The first thing they think is ‘What is this guy talking about?’ But you see the eagerness in their faces so they can get it right. They just need a little structure and a road map to getting it right.”