High School Football

Gas, Go: New Irmo football coach fuels Jackets program with high energy, big goals

First look at Irmo High School football with new head coach

Aaron Brand is the new head football coach for Irmo High School. He talks about the goals for the upcoming season.
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Aaron Brand is the new head football coach for Irmo High School. He talks about the goals for the upcoming season.

The word on Aaron Brand’s shirt summed it up best.

“GAS” was stripped across the new Irmo High football coach’s yellow long-sleeve hoodie as he stood in the hot sun during a July team workout.

The “GAS” is part of Brand’s favorite slogan — “All gas, no brakes” — that a lot of teams use, including the South Carolina Gamecocks.

It is a style and philosophy he wants to use as fuel to re-energize the Irmo football program.

“We want to be a gas team and get a lot of thinking out of their brains once the play is going on,” Brand said. “We want to react and go play hard. ... We want to play hard for 48 minutes, and these guys bought into it.”

Brand has been full throttle since leaving Vance High in Charlotte to replace Reggie Kennedy, who left Irmo to take the Manning High job. He spent five years at Vance, winning 55 games and leading the Cougars in 2018 to their first state title game appearance. Vance also made three trips to the state semifinals.

But Brand was ready for a change and it was financially worth making the move. He doubled his annual salary to more than $100,000, the highest in the Midlands for a coach who isn’t an athletic director.

Brand isn’t focused on the money. He wants to get the program back to where it was under the likes of Bob Hanna and Joe Turbeville. Irmo won 11 games and made it to the state semifinals in 2010 but hasn’t won more than six in a season since then.

“We are getting back to the true essence of football,” Brand said. “Where we left from (Vance), it was at the top level at this point. But we got to a point where people started to feel entitled and expected stuff. I got a bunch of energy left and I want these guys to feel what it is like to earn something great. I think we will get there.”

Brand’s message to team is not about rebuilding. It is about winning now.

“We want to get back on top as quick as we possibly can but at the same time not missing the fine elements that football provides,” he said. “We want to take care of the little things and take care of small things that get you to the top. No instant answer for success.”

The players seem to be excited as well and love Brand’s personality. The new coach is active during practice, high-fiving and even chest-bumping assistant coaches during a workout in July.

“He is a fun dude and has a bunch of energy,” Irmo receiver Kobe Taylor said. “Expectations are way higher. He is going to turn this around and get us back to the top.”

Brand didn’t come to South Carolina empty-handed. He brought a few of his assistant coaches with him, including Miles Alrdidge. The former Spring Valley coach who will be Irmo’s defensive coordinator spent the past two seasons at Vance. He was at Hough, also in Charlotte, before that.

Brand is used to winning on all levels. In high school, he was all-state in baseball and football. He quarterbacked Halifax High School in South Boston, Virginia, to the 1991 state championship.

Brand played in college at Division III Emory & Henry and didn’t lose a home game as a starting quarterback. He also was part of state championship winning coaching staffs at Independence under current Dutch Fork coach Tom Knotts and at Mallard Creek as well.

“He was looking for a change of scenery,” Knotts said of Brand. “And he did a great job with me and great job in his own program with Vance. I know he will do well at Irmo.”

Brand and Knotts haven’t been able to get together since he took the job at Irmo. But the two teams will play in the same Sumter jamboree Aug. 16. Irmo and Dutch Fork will meet in the regular season Sept. 9.

Brand said Knotts’ program is a model of success that his team will try to emulate. Dutch Fork is going for its fourth straight championship and is nationally ranked to begin the season.

“We look across town and we see a really good football team and really good things,” Brand said of Dutch Fork. “I want our guys to be a little envious from that and want to achieve what coach Knotts has going on over there. We won’t be a copy team but we will instill some of things they have got going on and some of the things we believe in for this program.

“The sky’s the limit for Irmo football.”

New faces in new places

A look at the new high school football coaches in the Midlands this season:

Aaron Brand, Irmo

Dustin Curtis, AC Flora

Matt Quinn, Westwood

William Richardson, Richland Northeast

Brent Wilder, Swansea