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Sumter's Breland works to fill role of father figure like his coaches did for him

By TIM LEIBLE
tim@theitem.com
Posted 6/20/20

Sumter High School outside linebacker coach and strength coach James Breland knows what it's like to grow up in a single-parent household. Growing up, he turned to coaches to find role models. Now that he's a coach himself, Breland wants to fill …

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Sumter's Breland works to fill role of father figure like his coaches did for him

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Sumter High School outside linebacker coach and strength coach James Breland knows what it's like to grow up in a single-parent household. Growing up, he turned to coaches to find role models. Now that he's a coach himself, Breland wants to fill that role for Gamecock student-athletes.

"I was that kid that needed coaches quite a bit to pick me up from practice, take me to practice, take me on recruiting visits and just chilling at their house to stay out of trouble," said Breland. "I was that kid that was searching for a father figure, and my high school coaches, my little league coaches was that for me. I'm very blessed to have the opportunity to do the same thing. I really take that seriously, trying to be a good influence on them."

Breland knows that a lot of Sumter athletes grew up like he did, searching for a father figure. He wants to make sure those kids know that they have somewhere to come and be loved.

"As far as social media and everything that's going on in the world, I feel like as a coach I should be that person that brings positivity to them and speaks positively about them," said Breland.

Having a place to feel welcomed and safe is even more important now. Life as a black male in America is now under the microscope more than ever after the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis and the protests that followed supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Breland keeps his door open so his athletes can come to talk to him about the civil unrest or anything else on their minds.

"They really do look up to us. I feel like it is our place to mention it and talk to them about it and let them know that we're here for them," said Breland. "No matter what they're going through or whatever they see on the outside, let them know that we're here for them. I think it's an awesome opportunity to talk about everything that's going on in society and hopefully we can start back soon (from quarantine from the coronavirus pandemic), so we can touch base and talk about some of those things."

Those conversations are important to have, but the pandemic has made that a bit more difficult. The Gamecocks haven't been able to resume football activities yet, so Breland hasn't been able to have the face-to-face interactions he'd like to with his athletes. In the meantime, he's taken to social media and telephone calls to stay in touch.

"I talk to them a good bit on social media and they reach out to me as well, asking when we're going to come back and asking me what I think about whatever they've got going on," said Breland. "I've got some seniors who are trying to get into college. I'm just trying to give them input and posting positive material on social media since I can't reach out to them and talk to them face to face like I normally do."

When Sumter is able to return to practice, things will be different. The Gamecocks won't be able to get the whole team together initially, but Breland isn't too worried about that.

"It's going to be a bit different, but I see a lot of good getting those kids back together and letting them know that we love them," he said. "They may not hear that at home, that they have someone that loves and cares about them. It doesn't matter if they're black or white or Hispanic or whatever, we just love on them and let them know that we're there for them."

Sumter doesn't have a return date finalized yet, but Breland is looking forward to getting back on the field with his team again.

"Man, you don't have a clue how excited I am just to see all of them," said Breland. "Yes, there's going to be some stipulations on how we do things -- we won't be able to have everyone together at once -- but just to see them and see their smiles and they need that as well. They're sitting in their homes not able to do anything and looked at every Zoom meeting and Powerpoint to try to improve, but it's still not the same as seeing the kids and working with them every day."