Jacob Phillips is leaving James River to take the head football coaching position at Staunton High School. Photo by Brian Hoffman

Jacob Phillips is excited to be close to his brother again. The James River head football coach for the past four years is leaving Springwood after accepting the head coaching position at Staunton High School.

The Phillips brothers, Jacob and John, have always been close emotionally. They played together on championship football teams at Bath County High before going their separate ways, Jake to William & Mary and John to the University of Virginia. Now, they’re going to be close geographically as well.

“I don’t think people realize how much family played into this,” said Jake. “I haven’t lived near my brother for 15 years, and he just bought a home in Charlottesville. Where we’ll be living is about 20 minutes away.”

John has played professional football since his UVA days. He’s been in the NFL for the past 10 years, including a stint with the Arizona Cardinals last season.  He’s not currently with a team but still hopes to play next fall.

“He’s still pursuing his NFL career,” said Jake. “Someone could get a couple injuries and need a tight end and he plans on being ready. Now, if he wants me to throw the football to him it will be just a short drive to my house.”

Jake is married to the former Kasey Austin, a James River graduate. They have four children, and that played into the move as well.

“We’ll be about halfway between her folks and my folks,” said Phillips. “I have four small children and my brother has three and we want them to grow up knowing each other. With seven between us at 6 years old and under, I felt that was pretty important.”

Still, it wasn’t an easy decision to leave James River. He led the Knights to a 22-20 record and two playoff appearances over the past four years, including an 8-3 season this year.

“I had no intention of leaving,” he said. “I’ve been preparing for next year just like I always did when I saw this opening, and it really caught my interest. It’s a good opportunity for myself and my family and a chance to do what I really want to do.”

At Staunton Jake will be the Strength and Conditioning coordinator for the entire sports program. The school is currently undergoing renovations and by 2020 it will be all but a new school with a new weight room.

The school will change its name from Robert E. Lee High to Staunton High School and will change the mascot from Leemen to a moniker still to be decided. That likely won’t change the tradition at the school, which has always been strong in athletics. As Lee High, the Leemen won many state basketball championships and were in the state Class 2 football final two years ago, losing to Appomattox in the championship game at Salem Stadium.

“I’m hoping to build on the tradition of the whole school,” said Phillips. “It’s a great situation for me.”

Jake stressed that he enjoyed his time at River after replacing Philip King as head coach prior to the 2015 season.

“I very much enjoyed my time here,” he said. “Any time there’s a change it takes a minimum of three years for the kids to adapt to a new coach, and we were 8-2 in my fourth year. The kids did a good job of buying into what we were doing.

“This has been a blessing. I had great kids and we had great community support.”

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