Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

November 27, 2013

Football family ties

Coaching cousins to face off in playoffs

PEARISBURG, Va. — A pair of second cousins who are also brothers-in-law will lead Giles and Richlands into Friday night’s Group 2A West quarterfinal game.

Greg Mance, a two-way football player as a student at Giles High School, will coach his Richlands Blue Tornado against his alma mater after a commute east along U.S. Route 460.

Jeff Williams, who played on the 1980 Giles state championship team with his older cousin, will await with his Spartans and their large fan base in Pearisburg.

“I don’t know if anyone really knows that, much,” Williams said about the coaches’ kinship. “We grew up together. He was two years ahead of me in school. We lived in the same neighborhood.”

Mance, a 1982 Giles grad, said that in the 1980 title game, “Jeff was a freshman who started on the kickoff return team in that game.”

“Jeff was a hard-nosed, very tough football player, and he’s carried on that tradition at Giles. He has done an outstanding job with those football teams. I mean, they’re solid in all phases of the game and the kids are very well coached.”

Williams said about Richlands, “They throw ball well, run the ball well. They’re really balanced.”

He said “everything” concerns him about facing Richlands. “Their skill people do things well, they’ve got big guys up front. They’re going to be solid defensively. They’ve got big, strong guys you’ve got to be able to block.”

Mance’s wife Ann and Williams’ wife Maria are two of four sisters in their family.

“They’re all really close,” Jeff Williams said. “They’ve got a sister in Salem, another in Richlands. They’re always texting, always seeing how everybody’s doing.”

There is one more family dimension to Friday’s game.

“Greg’s boy Landon plays on the Richlands team,” Williams said. “My nephew (Hunter Epperley), who would be Greg’s fourth cousin, plays on the Giles team.”

Williams said the two schools played each other “four or five times, back in the late ’80s, early ’90s.” At that time, he was an assistant coach at Giles but he said the head coaches were “totally different.”

He had the same thing to say about the two offenses that will take the field on Friday.

“That’s a pro style passing attack (at Richlands) and we’re a running offense,” he said.

The single wing attack at Giles is unusual in this area.

“They (Richlands) don’t see it a lot, but Greg knows it really well, he’s run it before when he played up here. I’m hoping it’s tough for them to simulate in practice. You’re always hoping that’s the case.”

Mance said, “That gives them the advantage on any Friday night, because you can’t get a scout team to simulate that. I mean, it about drove me crazy this week to get kids to move a little faster, and to get them to go where they’re supposed to go.

“It’s almost impossible. It’s a big-time adjustment for the defense when you see it for the first time, because they’re moving in warp speed compared to the speed that we’re running it in.”

“And they do such a good job of blocking it. Each play has about three different blocking schemes that they use, and they call them out on the line.”

Williams said that the Richlands offense is also difficult to present to the Giles defense in practice.

“It’s so tough to simulate,” he said. “They do so much stuff out of different formations, different sets, things like that. There’s a lot of motion, trading places. You’ve got to prepare for it.”

“And we couldn’t get outside today (due to heavy rain),” he said on Tuesday evening. “You’ve got to do the best you can.”

He said about the two schools, “Both have good football programs. Both like to get into the playoffs, and usually do. But I never thought it would be this year, the first year of the new (playoff system). This is the first time they were in (Group) 2A with us.”

“We knew coming into next weekend, it’d be Richlands or Virginia High. They (Richlands) pulled a great win out there (last week) and so that’s who we’re playing.”

Mance has never lost his connection with his alma mater.

“When I was a junior, in 1980, we won the state championship,” he said. “I played wingback and defensive back. I started both ways. I have a lot of pride in that program.

“I always come in on Friday night and the first words out of my mouth are, ‘How did Giles do?’ They are my second-favorite team out of the Richlands area ... .

“They have a great tradition up there. Coach Ragsdale did a great job. That man, he turned the program around. When I was (in) my ninth grade year, he got the head coaching job, and just really turned it around and made it a football town.”

“Giles is a football town, just like Richlands, and if you look at the communities, they’re very, very similar. They love football, they follow their team.

“You won’t find much more support — the bandanas, the train engine will be sounding up there, they’ve got that horn off the train they blow constantly. It’ll be an electric atmosphere on Friday.”

He said, “If you go back the last seven or eight years, there have been people from Richlands who go root for Giles, and people from Giles who come down here and root for us, when the other one is out. There’s a lot of respect for each other’s programs.”

He added, “I’m a Giles Spartan at heart, and I love the Spartans, but I’m going to have to pull against them this Friday night.”

Friday’s competition will come after a holiday gathering the day before.

With a light-hearted tone in his voice, Mance said on Tuesday, “Man, it ain’t going to make much fun for Thanksgiving dinner, I’ll tell you that.”

“I guess the only good news is, somebody’s moving on in the family to the state semis. You hate for somebody to lose, but if I lose, you want to lose to a quality team and a quality program, and that’s what we’re playing this Friday.”

Williams said he doubted there would be any special interaction between the coaching cousins before kickoff due to the demands of the usual pregame routine.

“It will be the same as always when other coaches come up here,” he said. “They’ve got their things to do, we’ve got our things to do, everybody’s got their things to do. So we just go about our business.”

“I figure it will be a handshake at the end of the game.”

Daily Telegraph sports editor Brian Woodson contributed to this story from Richlands.

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