Returns To AHS After 34 Years And Reflects On His Experiences
The year was 1987. The headlines read #1 in Florida in football.. Brian VanGorder was the third head football coach at American Heritage Schools, and in four years he took the team to their first district win and to the playoffs moving up to #1 ranking in the state.
“I wish every coach could experience what I did at AHS,” VanGorder says. “Those kids remain special to me to this day.”
The next 34 years he spent as defensive coordinator at major college programs, such as Notre Dame, Georgia, Auburn, as well as in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets, and Jacksonville Jaquars.
“I had to really climb the ladder in the business,” explains VanGorder. He worked late hours and relied on his enthusiasm and work habits to get him through and prepare the teams for games. “All the different stops I had prepped me for the schematics of the game,” he says.
His big break came in 2001 when he landed the position at the University of Georgia. Until then, he was grinding away at the business, working hard, and getting better.
VanGorder grew up with three brothers and a sister in a suburb west of Detroit, Michigan where most people worked in the auto factories and the kids were expected to have jobs to help out. VanGorder worked as a caddy for seven years, starting when he was eleven through to when he graduated from high school. Football was also a big part of their lives. Kids as young as five years old would play tackle football every day in the fields until dark. His dad and oldest brother were good football players. The competition was intense.
“It was a struggle and a blessing growing up as I did; you had to work hard to compete; loyalty and honesty were a big part of our culture, and I’m grateful I grew up that way,” VanGorder says. Most of his friends went straight to work in the factories after high school. A football scholarship enabled VanGorder to attend Wayne State University in Detroit where he majored in criminal justice. “Inner city Detroit was a culture shock for me after growing up in the suburbs, but like everything in my life, it was a great learning experience,” he says. He contemplated being a lawyer or working in the secret service or at the FBI, but he found success in football and never looked back.
Today, after a 34-year coaching span throughout the country, VanGorder is back at American Heritage Schools as head football coach for the Stallions. He confesses it was easier in 2000 since there is a lot more going on now that makes you stop and think. “It’s the way the world turned and the things available today are different. But the kids are all learners, and we don’t turn our head to anything outside of our standards. We have to change our approach to help them take on these disciplines to become successful adult men.”
“I am really excited that Coach VanGorder is back,” says Marc Shaw, Executive Director of Admissions at the Broward Campus, AHS Class of 1988 graduate, and former player on VanGorder’s 1987 #1 state-ranked football team. “He had a positive impact on all of our lives beyond football. He taught us the importance of hard work, commitment, accountability and teamwork. We were lucky to have him as a coach and I know he will have a positive impact on the Palm Beach Campus beyond football.”
VanGorder is the type of person who has always been able to connect with the players, adapt, and create an exciting environment for them through the evolution and intensity of the game of football.
When asked how he thinks his players view him as a coach he laughs for a few seconds and responds, “They view me as a disciplinarian. They respect a resume and experience and appreciate me being real with them. The tougher part of football is being able to tell a player where they are and where they need to be and try to send them through the process staying tough and focused on the work ahead.”
VanGorder has six kids of his own, their ages range from 33 to 15. “They got to grow up a lot different than I did,” he explains. “When they were young, things took off for me and they all got to play big parts in that. They were in locker rooms, on the field for NFL games, and they got the experience that were dreams to me when I was a kid.” Two of them are following in their dad’s footsteps. His son Montgomery graduated from Notre Dame and is the offensive quality control coach for the UGA Bulldogs, while his other son Malone is in his third year at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga as a Mocs offensive lineman. “I want all my kids to find a purpose and passion in life no matter what they do,” VanGorder says. “They are all honorable and they appreciate and I’m grateful for that.”
Truly, Brian VanGorder is a fine role model for all. He values all that life has given him – the chance to travel the country and see things in his life – and now he is giving back. “The blessings I have been sent have been amazing. I have a voice relative to young people that maybe in some way will help them. I have always felt I am giving something back to the great game of football.” American Heritage Schools is lucky to have VanGorder back as a valuable member of the team.