Coach Gary Wortham (Photo: Andy Hilton/recruitNoVA)
Gary Wortham and James Gillespie make the move to Bishop Ireton
by Jim McGrath, recruitNoVA
One of the most prominent linemen from Prince William has announced his college commitment, with James Gillespie (c/o 2021, 6-2 315) posting to Twitter on Monday evening that he will be continuing his football career at Louisiana-Monroe.
However, it may have been the next line of his tweet that served as the stunner alert.
“Also I’ve Transferred With My Coach
To Bishop Ireton For My Senior Year!”
I’ve Officially Committed To The University of Louisiana Monroe!
Also I’ve Transferred With My Coach @BallCoach34 To Bishop Ireton For My Senior Year!@CoachViator @ULM_FB @coachjay91 @CoachStoker @CoachPFMiller @WeArePACT @GJrWorth #BallOnTheBayou#VA2ULM #TalonsOut pic.twitter.com/s0WtFQH3VP
— James Gillespie (@JamesGillespieR) August 10, 2020
To those in the know, @BallCoach34 is Coach Gary Wortham, former head coach of the Woodbridge program that won the Region 6C title in 2017. However, in a surprise move, Wortham resigned shortly thereafter, much to the disappointment of the Viking faithful.
During his break from active coaching, Wortham concentrated on working with some of his younger Viking players, including Gillespie, Antoine Sampah, Sammy Obiang, and a few others, as well as a small network of players from the Northern region.
“We had 18 Division I recruits in the five years I was (at Woodbridge),” recalled Wortham on Monday evening. I have guys like my son Gary Jr. and Kirk Peterson who get the spark going and get college coaches interested in our guys.”
In Gillespie’s case, there were at least 14 potential offers on the table. Yet, as the COVID-19 virus has impacted all collegiate sports, it has also caused a trend of rising high school seniors making early verbal athletic commitments in order to place some normalcy in uncertain times. In the end, according to Wortham, there was something about Louisiana-Monroe that “caught his eye in the end.”
(Gillespie) had some of the best offers in the country, but felt that ULM really wanted him.”
The Warhawks were 5-7 in 2019 as an FBS member of the Sun Belt Conference. The addition of Gillespie, a four-star defensive tackle, should shore up the front line of a unit that gave up almost 39 points per game last year.
Yet it was the second decision that could be just as big of a head-turner. Gillespie’s decision to leave the public school competitive ranks to join Ireton, a member of the WCAC, may be the biggest football news for the Cardinals in years.
And as it turns out, makes perfect sense.
“This is a big deal,” said Wortham. His personal ties with Ireton coach Chip Armstrong go back to 1983 when Armstrong was Wortham’s position coach at the former Groveton High.
“There were four coaches at Groveton – Chip, Gerry Pannoni (coach of 2019 state champion South County team), Vaughn Lewis (last head Groveton coach), and Don Michelletti, who had a tremendous influence on me. Chip took care of me, and I am honored that he extended a coaching position to me.”
In a not-so-chance encounter at last season’s Lake Braddock-South County region championship, both Wortham and Armstrong had come to support Pannoni and his Stallions. The two got to talking about the Ireton program, 3-6 in 2019, but steadily improving.
It didn’t hurt when the Cardinals hired Dwayne Bryant as the new athletic director last winter.
“I’ve known Dwayne since I was coaching football at T.C. Williams when he was the basketball coach there.”
With the addition of Gillespie, other players may find their way to the Alexandria private school, which recently saw the construction of a three-story academic addition (library, cafeteria, robotics lab, classrooms) which allowed for enhancement of its athletic facilities, including an auxiliary gym and new weight room.
– Jim McGrath