Editor’s Note: This is the latest installment in a series that will feature some of the area’s top prep football players. These players are expected to receive the most attention from college coaches/scouts. The Dispatch will profile a player each day leading up to the start of the regular season Friday.
Columbus High School football coach Eric Rice had heard nice things about senior wide receiver Jervorius Vance.
After being held out of spring ball due to concussion protocol, Vance is building a strong relationship with Rice and junior quarterback Jaelan Craddieth.
“This is going to be a different Columbus team,” Vance said. “A lot of people do not know our potential. The offense is going to be different. We are going to get some results.”
Vance remembers some parts of the night his season ended a year ago. In the final possession of a 17-7 loss to Oxford, Vance had an inadvertent helmet-to-helmet collision with a defensive back. He was motionless on the field for about 15 minutes. He regained movement later that night at Baptist Memorial Hospital.
The loss ended Columbus’ playoff chances. The play changed Vance’s outlook.
“You never know how much you miss something until it’s taken away,” Vance said. “The support from players and coaches was overwhelming. A lot of people sent some type of message, and that meant a lot to me. After that, it was just a steady grind to get healthy again and to get back on the field.”
While Vance participated in summer workouts, Rice was waiting to see what his passing game looked like in a game setting. Craddieth showed his improvement with two touchdowns in a 33-7 victory against New Hope on Friday at the New Hope Jamboree at Mississippi State’s Davis Wade Stadium. Both scores went to senior Fred Harris. Fellow senior Matthew Leach also had some big catches.
The performance gives Columbus confidence entering its season opener against West Point on Thursday at Falcon Field.
“Jervorius is our leader on offense,” Rice said. “We have been waiting to see his big-play ability. He has been through a lot, so when he encourages a teammate, it means a little more.”
A year ago, Columbus averaged 107.5 yards passing and 10 receptions. Craddieth drew two starts as Laterius Stowers recovered from a separated shoulder. He threw for 88 yards in those two starts.
“He was thrown into the fire against the two best teams in the region (Horn Lake and Tupelo),” Vance said. “You either get down or you use that experience to come back stronger. Not sure people will recognize him this year. He has come a long way as a quarterback.”
Vance has matured, too. However, the road to his senior season has included doctors and patience.
“The hard part (about a concussion) is you feel like you can be out there when the doctors still say you can’t,” Vance said. “You have to be patient, and you have to put your trust in a lot of different people. If you play football, you want to be out there with your brothers, win or lose. You want to be grinding with them.”
The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Vance had 20 catches for 349 yards and four touchdowns last season. Those numbers would be marginal for some teams. For Columbus, they ranked among the team’s best.
“He’s a senior, so you just want to see him have a chance,” Rice said. “Everybody wants to have that one run. We have a bunch of seniors. The passing game is going to improve.”
An inability to play spring ball put Vance behind in Rice’s new system. However, hard work has gotten him up to speed.
Now, the job is to post numbers that will help Vance solidify Rice’s opinion he is the Falcons’ best player on offense.
“Everybody wants to play on the next level,” Vance said. “My path there hasn’t gone according to plan. However, what I can do now is be a team leader. On offense, I can help my teammates. We are going to be a lot better (on offense) than we were last season. We had a bunch of adversity. We need to use that to make us stronger.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.