Published on Thu., November 2, 2023

Every fall, the E. C. Glass and Heritage high school football teams face off at the annual Jug Bowl game—the biggest matchup of the year.

E. C. Glass coach Jamar Lovelace looked on as the game clock ticked down to zero. He remembers well the last time the Hilltoppers won the Jug Bowl, back in 2017 when Lovelace was the defensive coordinator. Now head coach, Lovelace was ready to take back the little brown jug from Coach Brad Bradley and the Heritage Pioneers.

The field erupted into a royal-blue-hued frenzy of celebration. For only the second time in the last 14 years of Jug Bowl games, E. C. Glass had won.

The two teams came together to exchange handshakes, and Lovelace and Bradley assembled their respective teams into post-game huddles. The players had put in a lot of work preparing for this, and win or lose, the coaches used the game as a learning opportunity.

“I always say football is not a game—it’s life,” said E. C. Glass varsity football student-athlete Mike Thomas. “There are so many lessons I’ve learned from football that can be translated to life.”

Glass football team celebrating with Little Brown Jug
The Hilltoppers celebrate after winning the Jug Bowl. 
A New Era for the Hilltoppers

It’s the beginning of a new era for football at E. C. Glass. Lovelace started as head coach in February, bringing 12 years of experience as a high school football coach to the division.

Under his leadership, the Hilltoppers started the 2023 football season with a renewed sense of purpose. Lovelace is serious about holistic support for students—academically, personally, and athletically. 

“Football is the best mentorship and academic support program you can have in a school. E. C. Glass has 14 men on staff pouring into these players’ lives,” Lovelace said. “It’s our job to help them keep the bigger picture in their heads, to push them toward success despite their family situations or the cards they’ve been dealt.”

His approach is largely influenced by his time at William Fleming High School in Roanoke, where he served as the head varsity football coach for five years before returning to E. C. Glass. When he took over at William Fleming, the program was 0-10. They had only competed in the playoffs once in the eight years prior to his arrival, and they hadn’t won a playoff game in 18 years. Under his leadership, the team appeared in the playoffs three times, notching three playoff victories and winning the Region 5D championship in 2021. 

“As the wins increased, so did the team GPA. It’s all about holding players to a higher standard of accountability,” Lovelace said. 

Jamar Lovelace holding football outside school
Coach Jamar Lovelace.

At E. C. Glass, Lovelace and his coaching team help players succeed academically by helping them maintain awareness of their grades and working with teachers and parents to support them where they may be struggling. He says proactivity, not reactivity, is the name of the game. With an average team GPA of 3.12, players understand their commitment in the classroom is as important as their performance on the field. 

“If there’s one message I could impart on these students during their time at E. C. Glass, it’s that they control their destiny by what they do academically,” Lovelace said. “And not only with the goal of playing football in college—I never want you to play for me for four years and not be academically set up to do something else.”

E. C. Glass twelfth grader Mike Thomas is a beneficiary of the program’s laser-sharp focus on academics. Coach Chris Gardner, the team’s academic coordinator, helped him bring his GPA up almost a whole point and counting.

“If I wasn’t playing football, I don’t know what I’d be doing right now. It gave me something to strive for and taught me so much responsibility and accountability,” said Thomas.

For students like Thomas, relationships with coaches like Gardner and Lovelace are a source of guidance to help them navigate high school. Lovelace says the mentorship aspect of coaching is the most important part of the job for him. 

“We can get wrapped up in wins and losses, but the real impact we have is on the everyday struggle for these kids,” Lovelace said. “As head coach, all eyes are on me, whether we win, lose, or draw. At the end of the day, I want to be the person who really loves them, who helps them become better men.”

E. C.  Glass 12th grader Jaren Paige, who’s played with the Hilltoppers since his ninth-grade year, attributes his personal, academic, and athletic growth to his time on the team.

“With everything I’ve been through, I think I would’ve just folded if I didn’t have football. But football taught me to face adversity in every aspect of my life,” Paige said.

Coach Lovelace sitting on steps with two football players
E. C. Glass students Jaren Paige (left) and Michael Thomas (right) with Lovelace.

Lovelace’s appointment is historic, as he’s the first Black head high school football coach at LCS since the division was integrated in 1970. He’s also keenly aware of the significance of his return to Lynchburg. Lovelace graduated from Brookville High School, and he considers his position at E. C. Glass a chance to invest in the community that raised him. 

“It’s exciting to have this opportunity to go back to my roots and pour into kids growing up in the same place where I grew up,” Lovelace said.  

From Drought to Deluge: The Pioneers’ Ascent

On the other side of town, it had been a decade since Heritage High made it to the state championships by the time Brad Bradley took over as head coach in 2012. Within a few months of Brad’s arrival, it looked like they were finally headed to the top. 

“The seniors on my 2012 team were hungry to win,” Bradley said. “The way I coach football, you have to be willing to work hard and commit, and you have to be a tough kid. The team embraced that philosophy right away.”

The Pioneers were runners-up in the state championship against Briar Woods High School that year. They’ve been to states three times since then, winning the championship in 2018 and emerging as runner-up in 2017 and 2022. The program has become a regional powerhouse under Bradley’s leadership over the past 12 years.

“Making it to the playoffs, winning the championship…these are memories our kids will never forget. Our ‘why’ is always our next senior group—we play hard so they can have these life-changing experiences,” Bradley said. 

With 29 years of experience coaching high school football—all but two of them as a head coach—Bradley has a history of turning football programs around. During his time coaching at William Campbell High School, the school won two state championships (2002 and 2005), four Dogwood District championships, and five Region B championships. They were state semi-finalists in 2003, 2004, and 2008. He then resurrected the football program at Patrick Henry High School in Roanoke from 2009-2010, leading them to their first winning season in 10 years in his second year there. Before joining LCS, Bradley led Amelia County High School to the state semifinals in 2011, though they’d never won a playoff game before that season.

Bradley is known for his tough-as-nails coaching style. His standards are high, but behind them is sincere care for his students. 

Coach Brad Bradley sitting at his desk in his office
Coach Brad Bradley’s office is adorned with memorabilia from the Pioneers’ past wins.

“He’s passionate not just about the wins and losses, but the kids’ well-being in school and beyond,” said school principal Tim Beatty. “He has a high bar for accountability with behavior, so I know I don’t have to worry about the students on his team. In fact, they’d rather be disciplined by me than by him because they don’t want to disappoint him. That just shows you the deep relationships and rapport he’s built with the students.”

While the program’s record under Bradley is impressive, he emphasizes investing in students’ futures as the most valuable facet of his work. He makes a point to support the local football community, from elementary to the secondary level. He’s watched many of his players grow up, and many stay in touch after high school. 

“Coach Bradley has become a father figure to me,” said Heritage High 12th grader Trevon Moss, who’s been playing under Bradley for the past four years. “I struggled in school in 10th and 11th grade, but he helped me push through the bad things and stay focused.”

Bradley doesn’t take his role as a mentor lightly. Like Lovelace, he emphasizes holistic growth for players. He and his fellow coaches boost students’ academic progress with study halls, focused support, and scheduling assistance while encouraging character development through community service projects. 

“I see a lot of students graduate who would not have crossed that stage without football. Some kids are literally still alive because of sports,” Bradley said. “There’s a lot of trouble out there to get into, but football teaches these kids expectations and consequences. It gives them something to work for.”

Heritage quarterback preparing to pass the ball during a football game
The Pioneers play the 2023 Jug Bowl.

Twelfth grader Quentez Petty is playing his first and last season with the Pioneers this year. A football player since elementary school, Petty dreamed of playing for Heritage High, but some personal hardship prevented him from joining the team.

“Coach Bradley stayed in touch with me the whole time, even though I wasn’t on the team,” said Petty, who’d met Bradley in middle school through his brother, a Pioneer football alumnus. “We formed a connection, and we’ve stayed tight ever since. I kept going to games to see them win, and he kept encouraging me to get back on track.”

Quentez joined the team his senior year. The wait was worth it, he says—the relationships he’s formed and experiences he’s had this season have been priceless.

“He had all kinds of reasons to give up on his goal to play on the team, but he stuck with it,” Bradley said. “I always tell students they can control their futures. High school is an opportunity to succeed, whether you decide to go to college or do something else. And football can really change lives for the better.”

Those who know Bradley have heard stories like Quentez’s time and time again over the past decade. He’s known for seeing potential in students and refusing to give up on them. Over the years, he’s seen students transformed by football—not just by the sport itself, but by the relationships, camaraderie, commitment, and passion that come with it. 

“Nothing compares to the way you feel walking out on that field on Friday night. You have to be tough mentally, physically, and emotionally to play, and you sacrifice a lot of your time. But it’s not about us as individuals—it’s about the team. And that’s the magic of it,” Bradley said. 

The Road Ahead

The 2023 football season will come to a close next week, and both E. C. Glass and Heritage high school coaches are preparing their players for a shot at the playoffs. They’re also thinking big-picture about the future of football across LCS. 

As Lovelace dives headfirst into his head coach position, he’s collaborating with Linkhorne Middle School to streamline the transition between middle and high school by instilling Virginia High School League (VHSL) academic standards early. A similar program is in the works between Heritage High and Sandusky Middle School. Both coaches are investing in relationships with Dunbar Middle School student-athletes, inviting middle schoolers to out-of-season workouts, and mentoring middle school coaches. 

Bright futures await the two football programs as they continue to grow under the leadership of Lovelace and Bradley. From programmatic progress to relationships with individual students, the coaches’ impacts reach far and wide.

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