By Rachel Epperly, Cameron Hildebrand, Bailey Marshall, and Olivia Hoye
Jake Phillips, head football coach and physical education teacher at James River High School, will be leaving at the end of the 2018-2019 school year to coach the Fighting Leemen at Robert E. Lee High School in Staunton, Virginia.
Starting in 2015, Mr. Phillips took on the role of head football coach at James River High School. His background as a player for William & Mary’s football team, as well as being apart of the Green Bay Blizzards 2010 roster, qualified him for the job and his experience pushed the team to success. At the time, the JRHS team was 2A and had not hired a new coach since 2003. The team was also one of two Timesland schools without a playoff game victory.
Jake Phillips was the starting quarterback at Bath County High School and led his team to the 1A state title in 2001. The Chargers had a record of 49-4 during Phillips years there. He finished his high school career with more than 9,000 yards of total offense, and 128 touchdowns. While claiming the state title in 2001, the team made it to state finals in 2000 and 2003. In 2003, Phillips was named the National Associated Press Group A Offensive Player of the Year.
After finishing his high school career, he would head to Williamsburg, Virginia to play for William & Mary. At William & Mary Phillips was redshirted, meaning he was eligible for five athletic years. During his last two seasons at W&M, 2007 and 2008, he was the 6 foot, 3 inch, starting quarterback. He started 23 games while at William and Mary. Visible in his stats below, he was a clear example of the qualities of dedication, effort, and achievement:
When asked about his college and pro career Phillips mentioned, “I enjoyed both my collegiate and professional careers, though I only played one season of Arena football. I will say that playing Arena was a huge adjustment but it was a lot of fun and I understand why it is so much fun to watch because there is a lot of action and scoring. I made the commitment to either move up to the Canadian Football League or higher after my first season and if not I would look to move on from football. I was fortunate to coach at Bath County right out of college while I was pursuing a professional career, and that is when I realized that teaching and coaching high school was what I wanted to do for my career.”
Wanting to learn about his career through his perspective, we took some time to interview Jake about his time here at James River and his plans moving forward. We first asked him why he originally decided to come to James River. “I was looking for a head coaching opportunity, and the JRHS job came open. I felt it was a really good fit for me. I knew the area with my wife going to River, I had played and coached against River previously, my family was regularly attending Fincastle Baptist already, and I knew quite a few people in the community. I was ecstatic about the opportunity to be a head coach and also teach at such a great school with great kids.” Phillips said. Next we asked what he considered to be his biggest accomplishment and regret during his coaching career at James River. “Biggest accomplishment was working with the players and being a part of this school and community for the past 4 years. I truly enjoyed it! I can remember a few games that really stand out 1) Giles game this year with an epic comeback win, 2) Radford overtime victory in 2017, and 3) the Radford game in 2015 when we dominated a team that was undefeated and had intentions of winning the state championship that year...we played with guts and toughness, and that was a turning point for our players to see the fruits of their labor and put us on the map in Division 2. The one thing I wish we could have accomplished was winning a playoff game. We went to the playoffs in 2015 and 2018 which were only the 6th and 7th time James River had ever reached the playoffs, and in 2015 we were just a couple of plays away from getting that 1st playoff victory. In 2018 we executed our game plan but just came up short,” Phillips said.
We are excited for all that is coming to Phillips and were curious about what he sees and hopes will happen with this job change. We asked him what his goals are for his career change? “I am looking forward to being a part of the new school which will be built by the 2020 school year and the process of changing the name and mascot at the school. It is really exciting being the first head coach at what will be Staunton High School, but it is also building off the tradition of the former Robert E. Lee High School,” he said.
Phillips has not only been involved with football, but also helped out with other sports here at James River. “I was able to coach baseball at James River and be very involved with the athletes through Strength & Conditioning. Baseball is a good "change of pace" for me compared to the grind of coaching football so it was fun to adapt to the style needed to coach baseball. But what was consistent throughout coaching multiple sports and running the weight room was how great the athletes were, especially in regard to their character. It makes coaching even more enjoyable when the players buy-in to the work ethic needed to be successful, they have a positive attitude, and compete to their full potential,” he said. He’ll be assistant coaching baseball in the spring as his last coaching endeavor here at JR.
After hearing the news, we asked some football players from the 2018 football season that had first-hand experiences and relationships with Phillips about their feelings on his departure. First, we interviewed current senior, defensive back, slot receiver, and WDBJ7 Player of the Week River Clonch. We first asked him how he felt about the news. He said, “Well it’s kinda shocking but I was definitely glad to [have been] a part of what he’s done at James River for the past four years. I’d like to see him do well at his new school and for him take his new opportunity that he has and run with it.” We followed by asking if he was surprised to hear that Jake would be leaving. “Yeah I was pretty surprised, I didn’t think something like this would happen this soon.”
Next, we interviewed freshman, wide receiver, and strong safety, Tanner Dillow. He will be continuing to play football in the upcoming seasons despite the absence of Coach Phillips. This seems to be the general consensus between returning underclassman football players. We followed up by asking what he is hopeful for in the future football team and the upcoming seasons. “I expect to keep winning. I think roster-wise we have the pieces we need to be successful. I fully expect us to be in the playoffs next November,” Tanner said.
Phillips positively impacted not only our sports teams here at James River but also the school and students’ morale. While James River is sad to see Mr. Phillips go, we are very excited to see what his future holds and are grateful for his time that was well spent here at River. As a school that is prideful about athletics, we are grateful for the time that he devoted to building our football program and will always be supporting him as he furthers his career as a coach. Once a Knight, always a Knight.