Winthrop cross country coach Ed Van Tassel spent the past outdoor track season and an entire summer quietly wooing Will Vance back to the team.

Vance, a junior standout in the 1,600-meter run during spring track, decided to try his hand at football last season. He played defensive back and was member of the special teams for the Ramblers.

“I am the track coach, so I was in his ear all spring,” Van Tassel said. “He has been eyeing the school record in the 1,600. Talked to him all spring and school broke and he was still kind of noncommittal.

“The team had a meeting in the summer and he finally came around to going back out for cross country. Football is a huge social sport. There is a lot a peer pressure to be a part of the program. He felt really pulled in both directions. What a thrill to have him out. He is at peace with his decision.

“He was around the program all summer. From the moment he said he was going to do it, he has been very committed.”

The commitment has as much to do with feeling like a part of this team as it does about his ultimate goal of bettering his times for outdoor track. 

“I only played it (football) for a year.,” Vance said. “I loved playing football, but it just came down to which would help me better, and I had to make that decision, and I chose to do cross country.

“If I was going to do football, I would be doing all that training for football and I wouldn’t have enough time, and it put too much strain on my back to play football and run cross country at the same time.

“It is a lot easier for me to run cross country and get really good during the season and keep running during the winter and into the spring. I really love doing track and that’s the sport I really focus on, and cross country will help me become a better runner in track.”

Vance won’t change his training routine this season. The distances are different, he said, but the ultimate goal is the same: to move more quickly from A to B.

“There is not much to do differently,” Vance said. “The only big thing is to listen to the coaches because they went to school for it sometimes, and they’re the ones that know what they are talking about.”

Beyond Vance’s desire to improve his times, the extra push from the coaching staff helped, too. Van Tassel’s fireside chats during the outdoor track season eventually persuaded Vance to rejoin the team.

Last fall, though, Van Tassel couldn’t talk him out of joining the football team. Vance’s brother was a senior on the squad.

“(Vance) is not a big guy,” Van Tassel said. “He looks like a distance runner and is a distance runner, and we had that conversation many times after his sophomore year and I asked, ‘Do you really want to (play football)?’ He said, ‘Yes, I really want to do it.’ He said, ‘My brother is a senior. I really want to do it and you can’t change my mind.’

“He was kind of a missing piece last year. With him back in the fold, we are definitely not a favorite, but we are going to float under the radar.”

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