GATE CITY, Va. (WJHL) – For Gate City senior Ryland Mullins sports has always been about family – particularly when it comes to basketball.

“It’s just always been a place that I can go to and I know that I can have fun,” he said. “I can go to people who are loving and caring. It’s just always been a safe environment to have fun and be with the people I love to be with.”

It started with his dad, who had a standout career at nearby UVA-Wise. He’s been Ryland’s coach and mentor for as long as the senior can remember.

“He’s in the gym, out of the gym and always encouraging me, sending text messages before the game – keeping my head straight,” Mullins said. “I just know that no matter what he’d always be there for me.”

The word ‘family’ extends to many of his longtime teammates, as well.

“Most of the boys I’ve played with have been on my travel team since probably third or fourth grade,” he said.

This past winter, the Blue Devils earned the top seed in the Mountain 7 District and made a run all the way to the Region 2D semifinals. They would fall to Graham by just two points in that game, missing out on a state tournament berth.

But, for Mullins, perhaps the hardest part of the season coming to a close was walking off the court with his teammates for the last time.

“They’ve been with me since I was little and leaving them has been hard, but I know they’re in good hands,” he said.

The Gate City boy’s soccer team is in good hands, as well, as Mullins starts his second season as the varsity goalkeeper.

“Last year our starting goalie got hurt and we didn’t have anybody else, so they kind of just had like goalie tryouts,” he said. “I was like ‘might as well try it’ and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

It’s a position that suits the jump shooter just fine.

“I like being able to use my hands as goalie – it’s been a lot better for me,” he admitted.

On top of it all, Mullins maintains his grades and serves as a class officer.

“I’ve just been a person that’s always put other people first and I’ve just always wanted to help people,” he said.

It’s why he has recently decided to pursue a degree in nursing from ETSU beginning this fall.

“Like I said – I’ve always wanted to help people and I felt that in nursing I could do that every day.”