Wrestling background pays off for former OC star Vance

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By Brad Stephens

Ichiro Vance has received his fair share of football accolades.

The Eastern Kentucky University linebacker was named all-conference the last two seasons. This season Vance was named a semifinalist for the Campbell Award, an award that recognizes a college football player’s academics, community service and on-field performance.

All those honors came after a decorated football career at Oldham County High School.

But according to EKU linebackers coach Garry Fisher, Vance’s skills from another sport have made a big difference in his football career.

“I think his passion is running around and being physical,” Fisher said. “I think that still comes from his mentality of a wrestler. Just winning the one-on-one battle with the guy trying to block him and he refuses to be blocked.”

Vance was a standout wrestler during his days at OC. He placed third in the 2008 state wrestling championships in the 215-pound weight class. Vance also ranked first in the 215-pound wrestling weight class as a senior.

That background helped him when it came to playing linebacker at the college level, he said.

“Especially as a linebacker, you go against people bigger than you,” Vance said. “So you have to learn how to adapt to shifting your weight to be able to get leverage on them.

“With wrestling came the physical knowledge of leverage and how to use my force to produce impact upon contact.”

Vance has produced plenty of impact during his time in Richmond.

The 6-foot-1, 240-pound senior has started every game but one at middle linebacker for the Colonels since 2011. Over his career Vance has tallied 211 tackles, including 52 this season.

“Besides his numbers, Ichiro has left his footprints all over this program,” Fisher said.

His best on-field work comes defending the run in the middle of the field, a skill Fisher calls “working through the trash.”

“He’s just a great inside player,” Fisher said. “He has the ability to tear off those blocks inside... and finish at the ball.”

Vance is also a perfectionist, Fisher said. Vance agreed with that statement.

“I strive for my personal best in everything I do,” Vance said. “I don’t like going with the flow. I want to show I can do my best and be able to not just physically do it, but to be able to mentally do it as well.

“One of the big parts about being in football is being able to deal with the mental strain of the game. It’s an ebb and flow, it’s a huge battle... Wrestling gave me the ability to deal with that, as well.”

Fisher told the story of how, in the week leading up to an October conference game against Austin Peay, Vance asked Fisher to run additional passing drills because he thought he needed work defending the pass.

Fisher began to call the extra pass work “The Ichiro Drill.”

“It was like ‘Really, I’ve got to do this drill just for you?’” Fisher recalled. “He said ‘Coach, I really think it’ll help.’

“That goes back to him being a perfectionist. That part of his game wasn’t where he thought it needed to be. He asked me to help him so we did it as a whole group.”

Just days later, that work paid off. Vance recorded his first career interception in the fourth quarter of the Austin Peay game. His pick and subsequent 13-yard return set up a fourth quarter touchdown in a 45-14 EKU win.

“I was striving to get better at passing,” Vance said. “There are several people on our team who are exceptional at pass defense and being able to execute that way, so I wanted to be able to improve on that. I practiced just like I did with anything else and got better, I suppose.”

Vance is approaching the end of his football career, at least at the collegiate level. His Colonels (6-5) play their season finale at 1 p.m. Saturday at Murray State. He said he’s leaning toward accepting an invite to the FCS Senior Scout Bowl, played Dec. 21 in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Beyond that, Vance said a chance to play pro football “would be nice,” but that right now his focus is on finishing his education. He graduated this spring from EKU’s criminal justice program and is working toward a master’s degree in the same field.

Vance is especially interested in federal-level law enforcement, he said, and would like to be part of an organization like the FBI or Secret Service.

Fisher said he’s confident Vance will do well in his post-graduate life.

“Whatever he does in life, he’s going to go a thousand percent at it and give it his all,” Fisher said. “That’s the type of guy he is, and that’s what you hope out of all your guys is that regardless of the talent level you possess, that you maximize what that talent is. Ichiro has definitely done that.”


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