Coaches react to 3-peat

Kathleen Cochrane, Staff Reporter

Behind the players, the football coaching staff feels nervousness, confidence and joy, too.

On the day of the third consecutive state championship, all these emotions were present.

In the opening minutes, Vance came out and scored a touchdown on the second play.

“You’re always wondering ‘uh-oh, what’s this mean’ but for us. Our kids were able to very quickly forget what had happened bad and put it behind them. The statistics showed out. They never got the ball inside the 37 yard line the whole rest of the ball game,” Offensive Coordinator Hancel Phipps said.

Everyone was on edge when it got to the last quarter.

“I knew that whoever had the ball at the most crucial moment would win the game,” assistant coach Jamie Holland said.

To prepare for these tense moments, the coaches work hard every week and every season and attend conferences to improve.

“Every coach is always looking for anything you can do to improve. You’re looking for better drills, motivational techniques, you know. Every coach is doing that all the time, looking for little things that can maybe give your players an edge when they go on the field.” Phipps said.

Along with practices and games, the road to winning a state championship is long.

“All those championships are so special, and I tell the guys even at the beginning of the season all the way to the end of the season it’s special because of the journey. It’s such a long road to get there. You have to do so many things just to get to the game, get to the state finals, and when they look at that ring, yes, they’re going to look at it as an accomplishment, and they should, but they’re also going look at that ring and think of the journey and that’s the most special thing for me,” Running Backs coach Glendon Dillard said.

With every title win comes more attention.

“This one was probably the most special because it was a team that wasn’t supposed to be there. Early in the season everyone was talking about Garner and Heritage and Cardinal Gibbons, and they were going to be the guys to step up, and for our guys to overcome all that and win the championship really made this year special,” Phipps said.

As well as being three-time state champions, the team has also achieved a winning streak of 45 games.

“Something I’ve never experienced. So to me, it’s something that I cherish as a coach and as a former Wake Forest High School graduate and football player. That’s something that I will carry on in my legacy,” Holland said.

Football has always been in the spotlight, but now that the team are champions again, they have gotten even more popular and continue to be a dominant team and program.

“The work ethic that our young men put in: It all starts in the weight room with coach Lucas. Our guys really get after it there. We get bigger, we get faster, we get stronger every year, and that same work ethic they bring it to practice. We work them hard, we coach them hard, they run hard and all that pays off,” Phipps said.

For head coach Reggie Lucas, consistency breeds success.

“At the start of each season our goals are the same: win conference, make playoffs and win state championship. I do not think about repeating. I’m more focusing on preparing for the next game,” Lucas said.

As senior leaders depart each season, one worry for coaches of all sports is if the next class will have the determination, work ethic and grit to see things through.

“As a coach you always want them to be healthy, especially in the backfield. Whenever somebody’s health is in question, it really takes away from what they can do in their skill-set. We were relatively healthy this year, which was a good thing,” Dillard said.

At the end of the 2017 season, the coaches had to say goodbye to some big-name players, and those holes can be hard to fill.

“Every year it seems like we lose a lot of kids, especially last two teams, that were key contributors, but the one approach was, these guys have been here before. They’ve played together for quite some time, and actually this senior group has never lost at Wake Forest, so that kind of helps. At the same time we knew that there was going be some growing pains, and the guys really stepped up during the off season and especially during the summer,” Dillard said.

The championship game was a highly anticipated event, but the coaches were confident about what their team could do.

“It was the last game, it was a big game. I knew what our defense could do, and they proved it. We shut down a high-power offense team that scored a lot of points throughout the season. We knew what our defense could do,” Holland said.

Confidence is key, but Phipps and the coaches knew Vance was a formidable opponent.

“Every team you play in the state championship is always a tough team. They’re not there if they’re not good. So Vance was just as good as every other game. You got to remember last year’s game against Mallard Creek came down to the last five minutes of the game also,” Phipps said.

Turnover on a coaching staff is not uncommon, but most of the coaches have been working at the school and within the program for a long time and have been through the championships with the team and have connected with all the players.

Lucas said, “It’s home for me, and we really try to help each athlete become a better person not just a good football player.”