High School Sports

Coming ‘out of the mud:’ Vance aims for return to state title berth, new coach or not

New coach, same goal: Vance High football hunting state title

Despite losing star coach Aaron Brand to South Carolina, Vance High returns 13 starters all bent on returning to the NCHSAA 4AA state finals. Vance lost 9-7 to Wake Forest last December in its first appearance. In 2019, it desperately wants another.
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Despite losing star coach Aaron Brand to South Carolina, Vance High returns 13 starters all bent on returning to the NCHSAA 4AA state finals. Vance lost 9-7 to Wake Forest last December in its first appearance. In 2019, it desperately wants another.

Vance High junior linebacker Power Echols says that losing head coach Aaron Brand in the offseason was tough, but that the Cougars can only keep going.

Last May, Brand, one of the brightest young coaches in North Carolina, crossed the state line to take a job at Irmo High in Columbia. June workouts were about to start, and Vance — coming off a season where it reached the first state championship game in school history — was primed to make a run at a finals return.

Losing a dynamic coach like Brand, especially at that point, had to be deflating.

“It was a little (tough) when he left,” said Echols, the Charlotte Observer and Associated Press state defensive player of the year as a sophomore. “The vibe was off a little bit. But we kept it real professional. Things like this happen. He had a great opportunity in South Carolina and we understood.”

Vance High athletics director Carlos Richardson moved quickly to find Brand’s replacement, reaching out to Glenwood Ferebee via social media. Ferebee has a history of coaching strong teams and rebuilding weak ones.

Last season, Ferebee led Indian River High School in Cheaspeake, Va., to a 13-1 record and a third-round Virginia Group 5A playoff berth. Indian River was 1-9 in 2013, the year before Ferebee started, and had gone through five straight losing seasons.

Ferebee’s teams at Indian River posted five straight winning records, going 47-17.

Now at Vance, Ferebee won’t have to rebuild anything.

The Cougars have 13 returning starters from a team that won 14 of 16 games. Those veterans include five Division I recruits on defense, led by three major college recruits at linebacker — Echols, senior Stefan Thompson (Syracuse commit) and senior Stephen Sings (Virginia Tech).

“There’s a lot of talent here,” Ferebee said. “Probably the most talent I’ve had and I’ve had some talented teams.”

Vance will have a smallish offensive line and a new quarterback. Austin Grier transferred in from South Mecklenburg. But Ferebee likes Grier’s ability to run and pass.

Ferebee also likes junior running back Joseph Morris, who ran for 1,341 yards last season.

And with a defense like his — Vance shut out five of 16 teams last season and allowed 9.5 points per game — Ferebee doesn’t think his offense will have to do anything spectacular.

“I feel that if we can score 21 points a game, we should be fine,” he said. “We’ll hang our hats on defense until the offense comes along. And with some of the additions we’ve had, we’ll be fast on defense. We’ll do things differently than last year. We’ll get after people more, blitzing and playing man here and there. With a leader like Power Echols and Thompson and Sings, I’m expecting great things.”

So are the players.

“We’re going to be very good,” Thompson said matter-of-factly. “We don’t think anyone should score on us. That’s our mindset.”

Sings said losing to 9-7 to Wake Forest in the 2018 state championship game left Vance disappointed but determined.

“It’s going to be a better program, man,” he said. “We learned a lot.”

Echols — who said his top three schools right now are Clemson, North Carolina and Virginia Tech — said that desire, and those state championship lessons, are going to push his team all season.

“We do what we do,” he said. “We’ll work hard. We’ll outwork everybody. We come out of the mud. Nothing is given to us. And that’s how we like it.”

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