O’Rien Vance goes from struggling to succeeding in the classroom, with a shot at the NFL

The three-time all-state player had schools like Iowa State interested, but his one problem was his grades.
Published: Apr. 26, 2023 at 6:57 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Football was the easy part for Cedar Rapids Washington graduate O’Rien Vance.

The three-time all-state player had schools like Iowa State interested, but his one problem was his grades.

“He’s always been a smart kid,” said Maurice Blue, then the defensive coordinator at Wash. “I wouldn’t say couldn’t do the work, I would say maybe those first couple years he was just disinterested in the work.”

“I disliked sitting in classes, and then being given information, and then you having to take it and just overload yourself,” Vance said. “And spit it back out on an exam.”

When the offers came in, Vance’s grades needed to improve if he wanted to be eligible to play. In came his guidance counselor, Carla Wosoba.

“I called Ms. Wosoba my warden,” Vance said.

“Yeah I don’t know if I knew about that at first!” Wosoba said. “But he did call me the warden because I was on his case all the time. Because I wanted him to be able to follow his dreams. That wasn’t going to happen if he wasn’t doing everything that he could possibly do to get his grades up.”

Wosoba and Vance planned out almost his entire junior and senior years. Vance took any opportunity he got to put in extra work.

“We would go together and have conversations with teachers about what he could be doing,” Wosoba said. “He had to take the ACT a lot, so I would (say), the night before the ACT, ‘where your pencils? Where are you going to park? What time are you getting there? What are you going to eat for breakfast?’”

By the time he graduated Vance wasn’t just getting by, he was setting an example.

“Some of his friends who weren’t great students or struggled academically saw that he was working hard,” Wosoba said. “I think that motivated some other kids around him as well.”

It paid off. Vance did get to Iowa State, and he got on the field. But during his freshman year, he had one more setback.

Vance’s grades started dipping in the fall, and at the end of the season he sat down with Matt Campbell and his position coach Tyson Veidt.

“We had our exit meetings for that year and they were like ‘what are you doing?’” Vance said. “’We worked this hard, we got you to this point, you got yourself to this point and you’re just gonna throw it away. Are you going to actually grow and learn and show that you want to be here?’”

That’s when Vance touched base with his high school defensive coordinator - and solidified his journey.

“He stopped by school and we talked a little bit,” Blue said “I was like ‘what are you gonna do the second semester?’ and he just said ‘greatest comeback ever.’”

Vance made quite a comeback. He became a captain on the football team, never had a semester with a sub-3.0 GPA, and is now training for a spot on an NFL roster.

“I made a conscious decision that I’m gonna do everything in my power to make sure that the people that helped me get into the position, the work they have done hasn’t gone in the trash.”

“Am I surprised he graduated? No.” said Blue. “But I sure was proud when he told me he was getting his master’s. I was like ‘wow, that is the greatest comeback of all time.’”

“From being in a little bit of academic trouble to getting a master’s five and a half years later, that’s pretty big, that’s a pretty big deal.”