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Always a Cavalier

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Ryan Gilleland named to head JF baseball program

By Mike Forster

 

Once a Cavalier, always a Cavalier.

Such is the case for Ryan Gilleland, who was recently named as the new head coach of the Jefferson Forest baseball program.

In a move that shocked absolutely nobody, Gilleland was chosen to take over the mantle vacated by Jim Thacker, who resigned after 28 years as skipper.

Sure we all have red blood (readers from planet Vulcan aside).  But Gilleland bleeds Jeff Forest red.  He grew up in the Forest area, watching his idols win a State title in 1988.

He got his chance to shine in the early 90s.  Along with Anthony Poindexter, Gilleland started as a freshman for Thacker.  

In his four years at Jefferson Forest, Gilleland helped JF to a couple of district titles, a district tournament title, a trip to the State quarterfinals and a visit to the State semifinals.

He was an outstanding football, basketball and baseball player for the Cavs before heading to the University of Virginia, where he didn't have to change his team nickname.

Gilleland thrived at UVa.  Just as at JF, he was a four-year starter.  Primarily playing second base, Gilleland helped his team to the 1996 ACC championship.

He graduated in 1998 tied for the career lead in RBIs, piling up 166 of them.  He also set the record for the most games played (221).

He was also one of only seven Cavaliers to have belted 200 hits over the course of his career before graduating with a bachelors degree in psychology.

After teaching and coaching at Monticello for a year (a school notably NOT nicknamed the Cavaliers), Gilleland headed to ODU to earn a masters degree in sports management.

From there, he began his run at JF, in '01.

Along the way, he married Kylie.  "I need to thank my wife for being a coach's wife.  It's a difficult job," he acknowledged.

"I didn't know I wanted to get into coaching," he recalled.  "Jim Thacker asked me to come back and that helped me get back into it."

Gilleland learned at the hand of the old master.  "Without a doubt, (Thacker) taught me a lot about life," he noted.  "There was so much off the field I hadn't realized existed."

Eventually, Thacker was comfortable enough to leave his beloved team in Gilleland's hands for a year, as Thacker took a sabbatical to watch his own boys play at Roanoke College.

That year, Gilleland led the Cavs to the Seminole's regular season and tournament titles.

As such, Jefferson Forest principal Tony Francis saw the move as purely logical.  "We're in a unique situation with Ryan having served as interim [head coach] and winning [Seminole] District Coach of the Year," he said.  "Ryan is such a strong fundamental coach that we feel that he can continue the tradition Coach Thacker started."

Much of that tradition is carried by the likes of staff members Barry Gordon, Kelley Russell and Harold Drumheller, who combine for over 80 years of baseball experience.

"These guys know more about baseball than I ever will," said Gilleland, adding he plans on all of them returning.  "I'm fortunate to have them."

Gilleland will have the opportunity to coach against a former teammate.  Liberty Head Coach Mike Thompson played with him (and with long-time major leaguer Brandon Inge) on Bedford's American Legion Post 54 team.

"To coach at a place you played is exciting," said Gilleland.  "Being a grad, you get to relive the rivalries and I can relate to the JF kids on those rivalries.

"I've been where they have."

Is he living the dream?

"After high school, I always wanted to stay a part of JF baseball," recalled Gilleland.

Then he added, "I hope to be so for a long time."