University City

Tailback/linebacker Larenz Bryant leads renewed title chase

This was supposed to be the year that Vance turned the corner and became a consistent winner in one of the area's toughest conferences.

The football team was coming off an 11-4 season, returned 12 starters and was poised for a big year.

So far, it hasn't turned out that way.

Facing one of the area's toughest schedules and fielding an inexperienced team of which too much was expected, the Cougars struggled the first half of the year.

Head coach Phil Culicerto was forced to step down days before the season started, further complicating matters. (He has since returned.)

After beating North Mecklenburg 55-21 on Oct. 14, the Cougars will finish the year with a home game against Hopewell and on the road at West Charlotte, and Vance could win both.

This season did not go as planned, but its core players will return next year, and they have a chance to be really good.

Star junior Larenz Bryant ran for 182 yards and three touchdowns and scored another on an interception return last week.

"Last year was great, and we beat Mallard Creek in the playoffs and played OK against Butler the next game," said Bryant. "Everyone kind of jumped on our bandwagon last year and thought it would just be easy to do it again this year.

"This year hasn't gone as expected, but we are going out there every game and competing and trying to win as many as we can."

The Cougars' struggles have nothing to do with Bryant, who has been a steadying force. He hardly ever comes off the field, starring at both tailback and outside linebacker. Last year, the 6-1, 207-pound Bryant rushed for more than 1,500 yards and scored 22 touchdowns. He also recorded 56 tackles on defense.

"That is the thing with me: Once my adrenaline gets going, I don't get tired," Bryant said.

"I also feel like I can see things really well before they happen on the field. Those are my best two attributes: using my instincts and my field vision.."

Early in the year, Bryant said, not everyone on the team was on the same page, and the team was searching for its identity.

"We are inexperienced, but we lost games early on because of maturity more than anything," Bryant said. Opposing teams have not been able to slow down Bryant on either side of the ball.

He is strong, fast, elusive and powerful with the ball. He runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash and is attracting lots of interest from colleges.

South Carolina and Illinois have already offered scholarships, and many others, including Virginia Tech, Clemson, North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia, are interested.

Most schools are looking at Bryant as a linebacker prospect, which is where he prefers to play. But he could easily play either position in college.

He said he will wait until he has made a few more visits and gotten to know the coaches better.

Bryant said he wants to be a TV football analyst after his football career is over.

Luckily for the Cougars, though, it has just begun. He wants to get the Cougars back to winning and plans to close out the year with two more wins and start strong next year.

"A lot of us have grown up together. We came from (James) Martin (Middle School), and we have come up together, hang out together, go to parties together, and we want to win together." Bryant said.