KANNAPOLIS — Growing up, Jaren Lipscomb knew exactly what he would be doing on the first Friday of November in his senior year of high school.
He is a product of Kannapolis and the son of a coach who, as a player, is remembered in the city’s high school football lore. Playing in the “Battle for the Bell” — the annual rivalry game between his A.L. Brown Wonders and the hated Concord Spiders — is a thread of Jaren Lipscomb’s fabric.
However, as a result of a season-ending knee injury he sustained in a Sept. 27 A.L. Brown victory at Davie County, Lipscomb, a senior cornerback, will be relegated to the sideline during Friday night’s regular-season-ending Bell game, serving as an encouraging teammate and a de facto assistant coach.
“It’s definitely therapeutic to be out there helping,” said Lipscomb. “Without that, I think I’d be in a lot worse position than I am now. Being out there definitely makes me feel like I’m at least contributing to the team like I used to. And that helps a lot.”
The emotional pain he feels by not playing might be stronger than the physical pain that limits his ability to run and tackle and defend passes. But the A.L. Brown defender has thrown his full support behind his brethren in the Wonders’ secondary. And vice versa.
The likes of seniors Josiah Cauthen, Nico Harris, Khalil Blanton, Antoine Irving and Marcus Chapman, and juniors Isaiah Black and Jacob Booker are the leading players on a unit where positions and responsibilities shifted after Lipscomb’s injury.
And the person who has shouldered much of the responsibility in remolding A.L. Brown’s secondary over the last six weeks is, of all people, Lipscomb’s father, Wonders’ defensive coordinator Barry Lipscomb.
“They have done a really good job of catching on to what we’re doing,” said Barry, who is in his fifth year as an A.L. Brown assistant coach. “We’re not doing as many coverages right now. But those guys have stepped up. Each player brings something different to the game.”
Barry Lipscomb, who is also a guidance counselor at the school, graduated from A.L. Brown in 1992 and was a standout wide receiver, defensive back and kick returner for a Wonders team that reached the 3A state championship game in 1991. In the 1990 Bell game, when the Wonders scored a touchdown on the game’s final play to beat Concord, Barry had an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown. You can find it on YouTube.
As an adult, The Bell game stayed true to his heart. As a member of the Army National Guard, in which he holds the rank of Sergeant First Class, Barry remembers listening to a broadcast of the 2009 game via Internet during the early morning hours while he was deployed in Iraq.
After coaching stints with Central Cabarrus and South Rowan, Barry crossed over to the dark side. He had to get used to dressing in black and gold when he joined the Concord coaching staff in 2010. Jaren was a student at Kannapolis Middle School at the time.
“The whole time I was there, the coaches would try to get (Jaren) to put something on that had ‘Concord,’” said Barry, who worked with the Spiders for five years. “Going into his eighth-grade year, I asked him, ‘Do you want to go to Concord?’ And he said, ‘I want to go to Kannapolis. I want to graduate from the same school that you and my sister graduated from.’”
When he was a freshman on the junior varsity team, A.L. Brown beat Concord and regained possession of the Bell. Jaren vaguely remembers making the prediction, “We’re keeping the Bell (for all four years), Dad.”
Jaren missed the Bell game as a sophomore varsity member because of the first season-ending knee injury he sustained. Because of this year’s catastrophic injury in the season’s fourth game, last year’s Bell game — a 54-35 A.L. Brown victory — would be Jaren’s only one as a player.
“Anytime you lose a returning starter, you’re probably not as good as you were just because of the experience,” said A.L. Brown head coach Mike Newsome. “I think any coach will tell you that the No. 1 determining factor for success on the football field is experience.”
As a result, Barry Lipscomb started playing chess with his defensive backs. Cauthen moved from strong safety to free safety. Booker switched from safety to cornerback. Harris’ role as a cornerback became more prominent. Black moved from offense to defense to play safety.
The Wonders’ secondary has shown flashes of brilliance. Blanton is a shutdown corner. Cauthen is known as one of the best defensive players in Cabarrus County. And Booker provided a season-defining highlight with a victory-clinching “Pick-6” against Cox Mill on Oct. 18.
Jaren will not play again this season, but he will step on the Memorial Stadium playing surface at least once Friday. Before the game, he will receive one of the Great American Rivalry Series scholarships given to the senior player with his team’s top grade point average for A.L. Brown and Concord.
“I don’t think we’ve lost a ton (of talent), as far as on the field, but we lost a ton with (Jaren’s) leadership, his demeanor, his character,” said Newsome. “I think any father would just hope his kid would end up like a Jaren Lipscomb. And I’m not talking about the football player; I’m talking about the person.”
For Barry Lipscomb, his son didn’t just end up like a Jaren Lipscomb. His son became the prototype.