By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
GREEN VALLEY —
A little more than a year ago, Ian Mann was toiling in the defensive secondary for the Giles Spartans, while a couple of running backs had their turns as thousand-yard rushers in the Spartans’ single-wing offense.
That was then. On Tuesday night, Mann stepped forward to accept the Bluefield Daily Telegraph-Pocahontas Coal Association Football Player of the Year Award after setting seven school records for running the ball this fall.
Head coach Jeff Williams said after Tuesday’s banquet that one of last year’s runners had graduated and the other had transferred. The coaches had seen Mann’s athletic talent and work habits, and knew that he’d made the state track meet last year in two hurdle races.
“The first thing we thought of was, there was no question, we knew exactly who we were going to put in that spot,” Williams said.
“We just told Ian, ‘You’re going to be the man. You’re going to be — your last name.’ And it just turned out great. It’s a tribute to just how hard he works in the off-season, and his background running track, and just a super overall great athlete.”
Mann accounted for 2,328 yards, with 1,887 rushing yards, and 37 touchdowns in Giles’ 10-2 season. He scored 224 points and averaged 194 yards per game, though he often sat out most of the second half due to the Spartans’ large early leads.
Ian Mann said, “I didn’t know, actually, I’d broken that many. I thought it was one or two. But I was really lucky to have the team that I was on, and the coaching staff and the support that I needed.”
He said he knew right away this season that something special was in the air.
“Yeah, it was pretty obvious, the first game, and then after that it just kept getting better and better,” Mann said. “Then we realized what kind of a team we could actually have if we just kept improving like we were.”
The opposition defense couldn’t gang up to stop him because, Mann said, “we had a few more good playmakers behind us. If they keyed on one running back, then we’ve got three other ones who can carry it just as good.”
Then there were the fellows who opened up the holes. “The offensive line is everything in the single wing. You’re only as good as your offensive line is,” Mann said.
Williams said, “When you’ve got a kid on your team like that It makes it easy to coach, and it makes it a joy on a Friday night to watch a kid run the ball the way he does.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a kid in school history that has been as elusive as he was, once he got into that linebacker area and that secondary area.
“We’ve had some tremendous great superstar backs that have come out of Giles High School. For him, for what he’s done this year, it’s just incredible.”
“Ian only carried it 150 times, 160 times. He could have carried it a lot more. And there were a lot of games where he didn’t play in the second half, because we had such good leads ... We always pulled him out.”
The coach called the honoree “a superstar” with humility.
“Just like he says, it’s a total team effort, and he’s humble about that, and he’ll let you know about that, and that’s the type of kid he is,” Williams said. “Just a spectacular kid. We’re really going to hate to see him leave.”
The quiet young man said after Tuesday’s dinner, “I feel honored just to be involved in this. It’s kind of a hard feeling to explain, but it’s a great feeling to have.”
He was chosen, along with Bluefield’s Montel Leggett and Graham’s Cody Hatfield, as a finalist for the player of the year award.
Mann said, “I thought that I had a shot, but I really wasn’t that sure. There were a lot of really good players here tonight.”
Dinner host Rick Taylor, president of the coal association, read out the names of the previous 11 players of the year.
Mann said afterward, “It’s pretty crazy to have your name on the same list as some of those players. They did really great things, and they’re still doing great things. I just feel honored to be on the list.”
The honoree’s father Todd Mann said, “It started in the third grade. We watched him, and we could kind of see glimpses along the way of his ability.”
Ian’s mother Angie said, “I was responsible for getting him to his practices. We actually live in West Virginia; he goes to school in Virginia, so I would drive him to his practices, and hang out with him there, three or four hours a day, every single day, sometimes twice a day.
“But, when you’re watching your kid play ball, and you’ve got such a large amount of pride, you enjoy going to the practices and doing whatever it takes to get him to this point.”
Todd Mann said the family lives in Ballard, but “just for academic opportunity, we transferred him to Giles. ... He’s had a wonderful experience in Giles. Great coaches, great teammates.”
“Giles has a system, and Ian, his personality allowed him to go to Giles and just plug in ... Whatever they need him to do, he’ll do. ... The coaching staff did a great job of preparing him.
“It was a pretty steep learning curve, coming in. He didn’t have a lot of experience running the ball.”
Angie Mann said that as the finalists were being announced, “What I was thinking while I was sitting there was how I would love to see all of these kids play on a team together, because there’s a lot of talent, there are a lot of good kids here.”
She said about Ian’s selection, “It definitely makes a momma proud when it’s your son that’s done that. And he’s worthy of it. He’s a very good kid, and he’s put in a lot of time and he’s pretty humble, too, and that’s something else that makes me proud to call him my son.”
In last spring’s state track meet, Mann was state runner-up in the 110 hurdles and came in fifth in the 300 hurdles.
“I went out for track to try to get faster,” Mann said. “It seemed to work a little bit.”
Mann said about his future plans, “I’d like to go to college, and study to be an anesthesiologist or a CRNA (certified registered nurse anesthetist), or an anesthesiologist assistant.
“I’m hoping I can get a scholarship to play somewhere, but it hasn’t happened yet. I’m just really interested in medical fields.”
Williams said he has been waiting for the opportunity to talk with Mann about the significance of his football records.
“But he’s not the type of kid that thinks that way,” the coach said. “He’s a kid who’s going out there who (says), ‘Hey, I’m going out to play something I love doing, and that’s playing football.’ ”
Williams said, “It’s a great award for him, and we really appreciate the Bluefield Daily Telegraph and the Pocahontas Coal Association for what they did for him, and to highlight him.”
— Contact Tom Bone at