Aaron Brand has been part of championship-winning teams as a player and a coach.
But none of the accolades and titles can compare with what the Irmo High School coach will do over the next three years — coach his son AJ.
“It has been the highlight of my coaching career thus far. We’ve won a bunch of championships, been able to hoist trophies at a bunch of different places,” Brand told The State. “But getting to coach AJ has been really ideal for me and him.”
AJ Brand, a sophomore, will be the Yellow Jackets’ starting quarterback after playing receiver as a freshman. After Izyah Whitseide graduated, AJ moved back to his normal position at quarterback, where he’s expected to lead the program the next three years.
AJ Brand isn’t the only player in the Midlands playing for his father this year on the varsity level:
▪ Sophomore Will Wilson enters his second year as Richland Northeast quarterback, playing for his dad, Walt Wilson.
▪ Apollos Cook transferred to Airport to be with his father, Andre, who was named the Eagles’ new coach after five years an assistant coach at River Bluff.
▪ Junior Conner Holmes moves up to varsity at Gray Collegiate with his father, Adam Holmes.
▪ Lexington High coach Perry Woolbright has two sons in the Wildcats program — Bradyn and Brody. Bradyn Woolbright is a receiver and cornerback on varsity, while Brody is on Lexington’s B team.
“Being a coach’s son, some people look at it as a curse, some look at it as a blessing,” Walt Wilson said. “As a father, it is one of those times you cherish. It is a special time period because it goes so fast.”
Second opportunity for Walt Wilson
This will be Wilson’s second time coaching one of his sons in high school. Brandon Wilson was a defensive lineman for his dad when he was head coach at Battery Creek in Beaufort County. Brandon is now a junior at Georgia Southern University.
Will Wilson made it known to his father that he didn’t want to have any part of playing defense despite being bigger than a lot of kids growing up.
“I will not put my hands in the dirt,” Walt Wilson recalled his son saying.
Instead, Will Wilson took up playing quarterback — and he should be one of the state’s top QB prospects over the next few years. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound sophomore threw for 987 yards, ran for 855 yards and scored 13 total touchdowns in 2021. The Cavs won three games after not winning at all since 2019.
“It is pretty cool because he has high expectations for me and I have high expectations for myself. It is a good thing to have,” Will Wilson said.
Wilson still is waiting for his first college offer but spent the summer at different college camps — South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and N.C. State. The Wolfpack has shown the most interest, and he attended an event with his parents at N.C. State on the first day of their practices.
Walt Wilson tries to keep the balance between being a coach and being a dad when at home, he said. Many times, the two will sit down watching film together or football highlights on YouTube.
“He wants to be a leader because he is a sponge. Some kids want to be good; he wants to be great,” Walt Wilson said. “My whole thing is to put in the knowledge I have to help him attain his goal.”
AJ Brand, from ball boy to QB
AJ Brand has been building for this moment.
Growing up as a ball boy on the sidelines at his father’s coaching stops in North Carolina, Brand dreamed of being a quarterback. Now, he’s ready to make the most of that opportunity and continue the momentum the Yellow Jackets are building.
Irmo won eight games last season, a share of the Region 4-4A title and advanced to the third round of the playoffs.
“Definitely saw a lot of great players when I was a ball boy, and I want to be one of the next great ones,” AJ said.
Aaron Brand believes his son has all the tools to be a great quarterback and says he’d enjoyed watching his progress. AJ picked up a college offer when Mike Bobo was coach at Colorado State; he added one this summer after attending a camp at UNC Charlotte.
AJ Brand has put on more than 20 pounds this offseason and is bench-pressing close to 300 pounds already.
“He has done all the right things and looks the part,” Aaron Brand said of his son. “... I try not to browbeat him too much. There are no rules for this. I try to learn day by day. Coaches pull me off him sometime. When I see coach (Randall) Ingram put his arm on him, I know coach has got him.”
When Andre Cook accepted the head coaching job at Airport in February, there was little doubt where Apollos Cook would play this season.
Apollos had played for his dad at River Bluff, but it was little different with his father being a head coach for the first time.
“I wanted to play for him so he could see me play my senior year. If I would have been at River Bluff, he wouldn’t have been able to see me play. That would’ve been hard,” Apollos Cook said. “It is pretty cool; I was already playing for him, but now that he is head coach it has been amazing.”
After a four-way scrimmage at River Bluff last month, the two Cooks talked after a team meeting broke up. Apollos expected that conversation to continue when the two got home later that night.
“We definitely are going to go home and he will call me downstairs and show me a few plays where I might have missed,” Apollos Cook joked.
Apollos is one of the state’s top prospects for the Class of 2023. He committed to play college football at Duke earlier this summer.
Unlike Brand and Wilson, Cook isn’t a quarterback, but he will be on the field plenty for the Eagles. He’ll be one of the team’s starting receivers and will see time in the secondary. Last year, he led River Bluff with 470 yards receiving and had 27 tackles.
“It is an an opportunity that a lot of people don’t get. It is exciting,” Andre Cook said. “I’m happy for him. I am going to hold him accountable like everyone else, but I am going to rely on him to lead these guys. He does know the expectations and what I want. We came here to be successful, and he wanted to be here as much as I did.
“It is a special thing. We are going to ride this thing out together and just enjoy it.”