WISE, Va. (WJHL) – The Highland Cavaliers have no shortage of area players on their roster, ranging from Southwest Virginia to East Tennessee.

“We’ve fought the stigma of not being athletic and having no football players my whole life,” head coach Dane Damron said of Appalachia’s football stigma.

One local players that is, perhaps, best setup to take on a leading role this season is Greeneville product, Jaevon Gillespie. The running back was a two-time state champion with the Greene Devils before moving to the collegiate game.

It took him a little while to get going, but in 2021, he broke out with 107 carries for 564 yards and seven touchdowns. He was ready for more of the same last season, until injury limited his touches to just 53 carries in seven games.

“I wanted to be out there really bad, but my shoulder didn’t allow me to,” he said at Saturday’s media day.

But, heading into 2023, Gillespie is feeling good.

“I had to really take like five, six months to get it where I wanted to be,” he explained. “So now I’m ready to go.”

“You could see a big difference in our football team,” Damron said. “All you hear in the media now is about how the running back isn’t valued. But I can tell you here he’s valued here.”

“You know, we’ve got we’ve got to have more depth there, which I think we’ve developed some depth,” he continued. “But we’re really counting on Jaevon to, you know, to be our bell cow, if you will, to get to get a lot of carries.”

UVA Wise will open the 2023 season against Union College (Ky.) on Saturday, September 2 at 7 p.m.