NICEVILLE — John Gillis showed up to NWF State a 6-foot-5 righty tipping the scales at 175 pounds.
The Crestview alumnus was wiry. He was raw.
Now, eight or so months later, he’s 200 pounds and simplified his pitching mechanics to deliver a deceptive changeup to compliment an above-average fastball and curveball.
“I’m completely different than high school,” Gillis said. “I got into a workout program when I got to college and it’s been five, six days a week nonstop, and I’ve fallen in love with it.
“I’ve got the same fastball and curveball, but now my best pitch is my changeup. Just the movement, the deception — it looks like a fastball to the batter and then it falls off the table.”
His maturation on the mound showed up in the numbers. In his final eight innings, Gillis allowed just one run on four hits and struck out 12.
“What amazed me is the amount of coaching yourself,” Gillis said. “Obviously (NWF State) coach (Doug) Martin works with us, but he’s one of those guys that tells you to figure it out. To him, it’s all about putting in the work. It’s about ... accountability. I love that.”
Ranked third in the country, the Raiders were 18-5 when the season was canceled.
“Heartbreaking, that’s the only word you can use to describe it,” Gillis said. “We had a squad this year. We could hit one through nine, we could pitch — there wasn’t a guy out there that didn’t put us in a good position to win.”
But good news for Gillis: Athletically, he’ll retain his freshman label next year.
“Coach Martin called me a few days ago for an exit interview, and he wants me back. He said ‘Good thing is you’ll be a freshman,’” Gillis said. “That’s good to hear. I want to be one of the two or three starters that can go seven innings for this team. Coach Martin said that’s up to me, completely performance based.
“So I’m just going to keep working hard, get up to a lean 215, 220 and be ready.”
So how has the pandemic affected you personally?
“It’s changed my everyday lifestyle. Obviously, schools are closed and when schools are closed that means no baseball. Gyms are closed, so I’ve been dealing with that and have had to start coming up with creative ideas to workout at home. It hurts to see all the hard work that I’ve put in to prepare for the season just kind of get thrown out the window, but I know that God has a plan for each of us and next year I will come back even stronger.”
Who are you social distancing with? Has this strengthened the family/friendship bond?
“I’m social distancing with my family. My dad, mom, and brother. My family is always on the run especially during this time of the year with my dad being a head coach and brother working every day. It sort of has been relaxing to be able to be around each other all the time and just getting to relax with the people I love.”
Out of all the postponements and cancellations between pro and college, what sport do you miss the most and why?
“I miss baseball the most. Two weeks ago, I was out practicing and would have never thought I’d be at home trying to figure out how and what is going to happen in the future. I miss the feeling of being at home when being on the ball field. There is no better feeling than lacing up your cleats and getting to play the game you love. The feeling is indescribable.”
Crystal ball time, what were you/your team going to accomplish this spring?
“To be completely honest, I thought we had what it took to be national champions. There was not one weak link on the team. Everyone was talented and contributed to the team in their own ways. We played extremely well as a team and we were closer than brothers. My favorite part about our team was the mentality that each of us had. We all wanted to win and being surrounded by people who have this mentality makes us better. We obviously were talented, boasting an 18-5 record just starting up conference play. I can speak for the whole team when I say this: I had a really good feeling that this team could have made a national championship run.”
What does a world without sports look like to you?
“It looks blank. I know there is more to the world than sports, but if you ask anyone who is no longer playing sports, ’Would you go back and play if you could?’ I can almost 100% guarantee that they will say yes, so that’s why I don’t take anything sports-related for granted because I know there are thousands of people who would love to be in the position that I am in.”
What are you doing to stay busy?
“I’ve been doing my schoolwork and that has kept me plenty busy. All of our classes were recently moved to online, so I am still trying to adjust to that and that is what I spend most of my time on.”
Have you watched or binged anything good?
“I’ve started watching a Netflix series called ’All American’ and it seems to keep me pretty busy at night before I go to sleep, but other than that I’ve gotten to fish more, so that’s always good.”
Are you an extrovert or introvert?
“I am a 100% extrovert. I love being around friends and family and getting to meet new people.”
How are you staying fit? Any creative ways you’re avoiding cabin fever?
“I’ve been running around my neighborhood and mainly doing pushups and sit-ups along with stretching for much longer so that all this being inside the house doesn’t make me become stiff. I’ve also been doing arm care routines with my arm bands and things like that.”
What kind of advice can you offer fellow athletes dealing with the pandemic?
“Some advice that I would offer would be stay active. Any real athlete that cares about what they are doing will not just sit inside and do nothing, so just make sure you are taking care of your body and stay healthy.”