Gilliam commits to his dream

Published 3:04 pm Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Fuqua School baseball standout Hunter Gilliam has not made it a secret what his dream has been — to play NCAA Division I baseball at Longwood University.

About two weeks ago, the high school junior shortstop made his verbal commitment to compete for the Lancers starting in the 2018-19 school year.

“It’s definitely a dream come true,” he said. “It’s something I’ve wanted since day one. It’s always been that goal in the forefront of my mind. … It was something that I had my mind set on, and I wasn’t going to let it get away from me.”

Email newsletter signup

Longwood, in particular, has been his dream school for a long time.

“It’s because I’ve driven by that field thousands of times and seen games being played, and it’s always kind of a place where I’ve wanted to be,” he said, referring to Buddy Bolding Stadium.

Gilliam commanded the attention of scouts from multiple colleges in addition to Longwood, including Virginia Commonwealth University, Radford University, James Madison University (JMU) and Hampden-Sydney College.

His mother, Lisha Robinson, said the coach from JMU told Gilliam’s travel ball coach that had he known Longwood was recruiting Gilliam so hard and quickly, he would have offered an opportunity to verbally commit to join the Dukes at a JMU baseball camp just days before he met with Longwood.

The road to this point in Gilliam’s career has been long and, at times, difficult.

He first started playing baseball in Buckingham County Youth League when he was 4. He said this was when his love for the game was born. He has played every year since then, while also spending some time playing other sports, like football.

It was in a Fuqua varsity football game on Oct. 10, 2014, that he broke his tibia and fibula. As a result, he had surgery, followed by seven months of healing and physical therapy.

“It was extremely difficult because I wasn’t doing what I love to do,” he said.

Football was something he did for fun, but it was to baseball he was referring when he talked about doing what he loves.

During the rehabilitation process, he had to re-learn how to walk.

“As soon as I broke my leg, it was like my brain just forgot about how to walk,” he said. “It was the weirdest feeling.”

It took a couple of months before this memory fully returned.

His time away from baseball during his recovery proved profitable on a personal level.

“It was kind of a growing process for myself, because I realized that the game could be taken away just like that,” he said. “So it kind of made me realize not to take things for granted as much anymore.”

It helped give him the mindset to make the most of every playing opportunity, as if it were his last.

Despite the serious nature of his injury, “somehow I was playing baseball in the spring,” he said. “I was hopping around on the baseball field.”

Gilliam even returned to play his third year of football in 2015. He had been a wide receiver/cornerback the two years prior, but he ended up playing much of 2015 at quarterback after the starter went out with an injury. That was his final year on the gridiron, though.

“Once I committed, I decided that it was in my best interest not to take that risk again,” he said.

Gilliam said he started to develop as a baseball player when he began playing travel ball with RISE Baseball out of Richmond in August 2015. He received personal training from Chris Martin with RISE a couple times a week, and then Coach Nick Windom would take a RISE team, including Gilliam at third base, to play in front of college scouts.

“Those guys helped me more than I could have ever asked for,” Gilliam said.

He also said Martin helped him develop his hitting and his speed.

“He’s always been a very talented ball player,” Martin said. “It was more about just molding him slightly in both defense, as well as a hitter, and just kind of guiding him into that direction.”

Martin said Gilliam’s strength as a baseball player is definitely his hitting ability.

“He’s an exceptional hitter, one of the most pure hitters I’ve seen in a long time,” Martin said. “He’s one of those type of hitters that never looked fooled. … If he faces (pitchers) three times, you know he’s going to end up winning that battle against them, and it’s always exciting to see him at the plate. He’s the guy I want at the plate every time.”