Vance High sophomore running back Daylan Smothers would really prefer to run as fast and as hard as he can into the first opening that he sees.
But Cougars coach Glenwood Ferebee has been teaching his budding star that running with patience could make him an even better high school player.
“He has me hesitating and letting things develop,” Smothers said after patiently running for 162 yards and two touchdowns Friday in Vance’s 27-7 win over Mallard Creek. “He wants me to find cutback lanes and be watching the linebackers.”
Smothers scored a touchdown in Vance’s 24-3 state championship win over Leesville Road, as a freshman, back in December of 2019. But he looks like a totally different player now: bigger, stronger, faster. With his upright and jittery style, he reminds you a touch of a high school version of Chiefs running back Le’Veon Bell.
Mallard Creek, one of the region’s top teams, had trouble bringing him down. And Smothers — who popped big run after big run — showed why Virginia Tech and N.C. Central have offered him, and why North Carolina is in hot pursuit.
“He’s gonna be special,” Ferebee said. “I knew that last year as a freshman, and this year it’s showing in the first game. And he’s a great kid. And he’s just in 10th grade, which is scary. We’ll try to keep him humble, teach him to be a man. And the biggest thing with him is, he’s a team-first guy. He’s not selfish. He wants to be the bell cow, but he understands we have other guys around him and he knows he needs those guys to make him better. That’s what makes him a great running back.”
Smothers, at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, said he was so happy to finally play Friday after months of waiting through the COVID-19 pandemic. He said it felt like five years instead of one.
“It was stressful,” he said. “You had to stay ready so you didn’t have to get ready. Knowing we’d have to play with masks and do conditioning ourselves and staying in shape. It was (a relief) finding out we’d have this game today.”
Vance and Smothers say they are on a special mission this season. In July, the school will change names to Julius Chambers High School, jettisoning the name of a former slave owner for a Civil Rights attorney whose legal work led to the desegregation of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in the 1970s.
The players have adopted a slogan, #TheLastVance, which is on the back of their helmets. They want to make their last run special. They want a third straight state finals appearance and a second straight state title.
And Smothers said it was important for the Cougars to play well in the N.C. game of the week Friday night.
“It really was a statement win for us,” he said. “We just wanted to come in and get it done. This is the last Vance. We just wanted to win and set the tone for the rest of the season.”
And by running patient, Smothers played a big part in the Cougars doing just that.
▪ South Mecklenburg junior Panos Burlos ran for 57 yards on 10 carries in the second half of the Sabres game with Ardrey Kell, and he also played linebacker on defense.
▪ Lake Norman was able to work out fairly regularly since June, while West Charlotte was just able to start three weeks ago. The strength difference showed up front in the Wildcats’ 40-8 win. Lake Norman ran 36 times for 285 yards. Lake Norman only attempted four passes.
▪ Vance (linebacker Power Echols), Myers Park (QB Drake Maye) and Weddington (RB Will Shipley) all lost generational high school stars to college as early enrollees. Echols and Maye are at UNC; Shipley is at Clemson. But if you thought their teams might drop off — think again.
Myers Park looked throw-it-all-over-the-yard good in a 49-0 win over Garinger on Thursday. Weddington dominated Sun Valley 47-2 on Friday, and Vance looked really strong against Mallard Creek.
▪ New Mallard Creek coach Kennedy Tinsley has a lot of talent, especially on defense. The Mavericks returned only four starters, and it had to be hard trying to teach a new system to new players in less than a month. Fewer teams go to the playoffs in this shortened season, but if Mallard Creek can get some wins early, I wouldn’t want to play them late.
▪ If anything good comes out of COVID-19, letting schools get set up for online streaming has been a revelation. And this “Game of the Week” broadcast being done by Teall Properties, National Amateur Sports and OrthoCarolina is pretty cool. Production values are high and it gives the kids a real ESPN-type feel. Charlotte Catholic and Weddington are up next.
Friday’s #BIG5 Top Performers
Aaron Carey, Hickory Ridge: ran 21 times for 110 yards in a 7-6 win over Independence.
Jack Curtis, Ardrey Kell: junior quarterback completed 10-of-27 passes for 151 yards and two scores in a 30-14 win over South Meck. Senior receiver Brevin Caldwell had a 75-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 4-yard scoring catch.
Trace Dlugolenski, North Lincoln: 13 tackles in a 10-6 win over West Lincoln.
Austin Shaw, Pine Lake Prep: Senior receiver/cornerback had a 77-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open a 52-8 win over Bessemer City. He also had a 33-yard fumble return for a score.
Daylan Smothers, Vance: 21 carries, 162 yards and two scores for the sophomore in a 27-7 win over Mallard Creek.