Usually by the time the non-region portion of a team’s schedule draws to a close, the head coach has a good sense of what kind of team he has. Tha’ts not quite the case for Irmo head coach Aaron Brand.
Despite the season being over a month old, Irmo has only played two games. COVID protocols moved the start of the Yellow Jackets’ season to September. Then a non- COVID related matter forced Irmo’s game last Friday to be cancelled.
While it is always important for a team to be rounding into form once region play begins, it’s more challenging for a team to do so having only played two games with new faces in some important places.
On offense, Brand welcomed in Gilbert transfer Izayah Whiteside at quarterback along with White Knoll transfer DeAree Rogers at wide receiver.
Whiteside and Rogers feel more comfortable in the Irmo offense but both said the transition has been hard.
While they are learning a new playbook, they also have to grow accustomed to Brand’s style of coaching.
“Coach Brand has helped me a lot,” Whiteside said. “He always makes sure I’m doing things the right way. If I take the slightest wrong step, he’ll stop the whole thing and fix it. He makes sure everything is perfect.”
Whiteside said he has gained more strength and knows more about the position since he’s been at Irmo.
Rogers described Brand as an old school coach, and says while he’ll get on players to run the plays correctly, he will also tell them he loves them.
While Whiteside and Rogers transferred from different schools, the two have history together. They played on the same middle school team and were together for one year at White Knoll.
Through two games, the Irmo offense has averaged 36.5 points per game. Whiteside has completed 26-of-39 passes for 526 yards and five touchdowns. Rogers has 14 receptions for 362 yards and three touchdowns.
“Rogers is as good as there is,” Brand said. “He can run and go up and get the ball. Whiteside is sharp. He still has a ways to go, but he’s done a great job.”
The defense has also undergone changes. Former Ben Lippen head coach James Reynolds replaced Miles Aldridge, who is now at Brookland- Cayce, as defensive coordinator. Brand said it has taken time for both coach and players to get use to one another. While the debute didn’t go well, giving up 63 points to South Florence, the Yellow Jackets rebounded to hold Crestwood to 18 points.
“It was tough losing Miles. He provided a sense of stability,” Brand said. “But James has come in and caught on to what we want to do. We want to put pressure on the football and put players in ideal situations. I hope the play on the field improves even more.”
One of the defensive leaders is University of South Carolina commit Nick Emmanwori, who has 59 tackles on the season.
Emmanwori felt embarassed after the South Florence game and spent much of the time following that game talking with coaches and fellow players about putting together a better performance.
While Emmanwori has gotten a lot of the spotlight following his college commitment, it hasn’t detered him from finishing out his high school career strong.
“I felt that committing to South Carolina was the right decision,” Emmanwori said. “I wanted to make that decision so I could be more focused on the season. I didn’t want the recruiting process to be a distraction on the season.”
Brand said Emmanwori is a prime example of a player who has benefitted from buying into his system.
One of the defensive changes Brand had to make following the South Florence loss was to make sure his star defender didn’t try to do too much. Emmanwori had 25 tackles in that game.
“While 25 tackles is good for the stat sheet, it’s not good for us,” Brand said. “He was trying to do too much. We wanted him to stay in his lane more and trust his teammates. He did a better job against Crestwood.”
Irmo is scheduled to close out the non-region slate with a trip to rival Lexington Friday, September 24 in the “Battle of the Dam.”
While Whiteside, Rogers, and Emmanwori have prior bad experience against Lexington, they are all looking forward to this game and want to come out of it with a win.
All three players have personal milestones and team goals they’d like to achieve like winning the region and competing for a state championship. A good next step toward those goals would be to have a 2-1 record after Friday night.
“Based on where we came from, I think being 2-1 would mean a lot,” Brand said. “I think these guys are ready to hit someone else. We’re trying to build some mometum going into region play.”