FOREST - Jefferson Forest has a new full-time head baseball coach. After 13 years as an assistant, Ryan Gilleland has been promoted to the head position.
He is taking over the program following the departure of retiring coach Jim Thacker.
"[JF baseball] is in my blood," Gilleland said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. "I was excited to get it. You don't know how many opportunities you'll get in your lifetime like this."
In 2008, he was JF's interim head coach when Thacker opted to take a year off in order to watch his two sons play college ball at Roanoke. That year Gilleland was named Seminole District Coach of the Year after leading the Cavaliers to the regular season and tournament titles with an 18-5 record. That team reached the Region III semifinals before losing to Waynesboro. "[Thacker] won't be critiquing me but he will be there for any advice that I need," Gilleland said. "It'll be a daunting task to see his name above the scoreboard. I have some big shoes to fill. Maybe my feet will grow pretty quickly. It'll be a challenge replacing a legend, epically when the field is named after him."
Gilleland, 37, who now has a wife and two boys, played under Thacker, and graduated from JF in 1994. He then played four years at Virginia from 1995-1998. The 1996 Cavalier team finished 13th in the country after they won the ACC Championship and eventually lost to Alabama in the NCAA Regional in a time in which only eight sites hosted regionals (there are 16 currently).
Coming out of UVa, he worked as an assistant coach at Monticello H.S. in Charlottesville for a year and after that experience he knew he wanted to stay in the game of baseball.
More than a decade later he has his newest challenge. "I'm not going to change a whole lot. We've been successful. Of course one of our goals each year will be to win a state championship at some point. For me though, it's about building relationships with our players and helping them to get to where they want to go in life," he said.