Lance Ware had a juggernaut.
Ware, an Appalachian State graduate, inherited a strong high-school program at Shelby in 2011. He helped the Golden Lions rattle off 99 victories and five state championships during his eight seasons as head coach at his high school alma mater.
Ware said Tuesday that with the pieces coming back, he could’ve stayed at Shelby and continued its dominance. But an opportunity to return to his college alma mater pulled him from a school he’d spent the past 22 seasons coaching, starting as an assistant.
Ware, 45, starts at App State today as the senior assistant to Coach Eliah Drinkwitz. After hopping in the car to beat the potential of ice and snow in Boone, Ware bellowed excitement. But that didn’t make it any easier to leave one place he loved for another.
“I didn’t want two or three years down the road to wonder what if,” Ware said. “I’ve never been one to kind of settle. I’ve always wanted to learn and get better, and I thought this was a great opportunity to do it at a place I was very familiar with.”
To weigh his decision of staying at Shelby or going to Appalachian, Ware leaned on two other coaches who made the shift to college football after winning at stellar clips on the prep level.
Clemson senior offensive assistant Kyle Richardson and South Carolina tight ends coach Bobby Bentley moved up in similar fashion during the past few years. Richardson helped Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, S.C., win three state championships from 2007 to 2015. That included a 58-14 record and two state championships as Trojans head coach from 2011 to 2015.
Bentley coached at Byrnes High School in Duncan, S.C., from 1995 to 2006 and then again for one season in 2013. He won four straight state titles from 2002 to 2006, winning 119 total games before becoming an offensive analyst for Auburn in 2014. Bentley joined the Gamecocks in 2015 as running backs coach.
They both provided similar opinions to Ware: Go for it and don’t second guess yourself.
“I feel great about the decision,” Ware said. “Talking to Coach Drinkwitz, what he stands for and his vision for the program, I think it’s a great opportunity.
“... I feel like I’m moving to that type of situation (like Shelby’s) as well at the college level. Lot of people I’m already familiar with, and I’m excited to get to work with them.”
Ware’s title is somewhat nebulous. He said that’s part of the design. It gives him a chance to impact the program he played for in many ways. Ware went to App State from 1992 to 1996, serving as the full-time long snapper for most of his career.
“I think he welcomes having another set of eyes on things, with him still technically being a play caller,” Ware said. “Involved in getting alumni, football alumni especially, back on campus, back involved. I think the high school relations deal will be part of it, with my relationships within the state.”
Ware sees this move as a natural transition. At Shelby, he was both football coach and athletics director. He said it gave him the experience to perform different tasks, much like his new App State job. More than anything, his time at Shelby taught him how to relate to players, parents and coworkers alike.
On Tuesday, Ware packed enough clothes for three days and made his way up the mountain. In the short term, he’ll bounce around while his wife and kids finish the school year in Shelby. But he gets to both replicate and enhance the experience he had in Boone for App State’s current roster.
“It comes down to seeing the big picture,” Ware said. “Preparing guys for life after football, getting the most out of their experience while they’re at Appalachian State because that’s what I remember the most about it is the people and the great times we had there.
“You want to create those lifelong memories for others that can experience that as well.”