James Gillespie former Woodbridge High School defensive tackle

Nationally recruited defensive tackle James Gillespie signed with Louisiana-Monroe last week. He’s pictured with sister Aniya, mom Tasha and dad James. 

Due to the pandemic, top high school football recruits like James Gillespie could not take campus visits this year, making this the most difficult recruiting period in memory.

But the former Woodbridge Senior High defensive tackle found a fit, signing with Louisiana-Monroe (also known as ULM) on the first day of the early signing period last week.

“He is the first four-star prospect in the history of ULM to commit and one of the nation’s top defensive tackles,” said former Woodbridge High coach Gary Wortham, who helped Gillespie’s recruiting.

“I’m excited to come to Monroe and help build this incoming recruiting class as well as being the highest-rated recruit they’ve had to commit,” Gillespie said. “After having a long talk with my family and coaches, we agreed this was the right approach to finalize my recruitment.”

Regarded as Virginia’s No. 39 senior by rivals.com, the 6-foot-2, 295-pound Gillespie had numerous offers in front of him back in May, but the landscape changed as college programs struggled with their roster decisions, with many holding spots for transfers or seniors retaining eligibility. “When COVID hit it turned into a chess match with so many things changing,” said Wortham.

Wortham said it looked like Gillespie might attend Central Florida for a while, and “still had a ton of offers.”

He committed in August for ULM coach Matt Viator, who was fired recently after an 0-10 season, so Gillespie is waiting to learn the new coaching staff.

Gillespie will play his upcoming senior year at Bishop Ireton (Alexandria), where he’s reunited with Wortham, who is the associate head coach.

“He’s doing outstanding academically and taking on the challenge of a traditional Catholic private high school. The curriculum is different, everything different,” said Wortham.

Gillespie’s ceremony came in a private room at The Bungalow Alehouse in Woodbridge. 

“He wanted Bishop Ireton uniform and helmet on the table” at signing day, said Wortham.

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