Meet Coach Strickland
Written by Athletic Facilities Manager and Coach Jarrett Van Meter
It was a typically muggy summer evening in the Florida panhandle. A 9-year-old Geoff Strickland lay face-up on the field, the grass tickling the back of his neck and the setting sun still visible through the grid of his facemask. Gnats swarmed above him, waiting for him to return to his feet. Finally, the whistle blew, and he began to climb to his feet, ready to make a tackle…
A collision ensued, but Strickland received the brunt of it. His opponent in the drill, the ball carrier, had sprung off the ground and bulldozed Strickland before he could even get off of his knees. It was his first football practice ever, and he was hooked.
“He just put his forehead right into my mouth and blew me up,” recalled Strickland. “But for some reason, I loved it, and it has been a part of my life ever since.”
Strickland came to Asheville School in 2017 as a Strength and Conditioning, Football, and Track and Field coach. Since then, he has added advisor, dorm parent, and Humanities teacher to his list of responsibilities. While he relishes all of his roles at Asheville School, football season holds a special place in his heart. The Tallahassee, FL native grew up around the game, attending Florida State games with his dad ever since he was old enough to walk.
“He influenced my love of football,” Strickland said of his dad, Gene. “He took me to games, threw the ball with me in the backyard, and only missed one of my games throughout my entire career, when we played at Willamette University in Oregon during college.”
Gene recognized early on that his son’s interest in football was more than just a phase.
“We lived in a house with a double back yard and from the time he was 4-years-old on, he would be running around out there with a ball in a jersey, helmet, shoulder pads, all of it,” said the elder Strickland. “By the age of 6, the people who sat behind us at Florida State games were marveling at this little kid who was breaking down the game and predicting what was going to happen before each snap. From a very young age he has not only had a passion for the game but possessed a knack for analyzing it and understanding it.”
Strickland attended Leon High School, a 6A school with more than 2,000 students. He played defense back for the Lions under the tutelage of Defensive Coordinator Kyler Hall. Strickland had grown up watching Hall play in the Florida State secondary and tried to emulate his coach’s scrappy style of play.
“He went crazy on the field and was fun to watch as a player and was equally energetic as a coach,” Strickland recalled of Hall. “I really learned how to have a passion for the game from him, how to live by that passion, and how to show that passion every day. You knew every single day that that was where all of my high school coaches wanted to be. They wanted to be on the practice field. They loved football. They really demonstrated that love of football to us.”
Hall recognized Strickland’s insatiable desire for improvement and still affectionately refers to him as “Strick.”
“I still tell a story about Strick every year to all my players who want to go play college football,” said Hall, who is now the Head Coach at Suwannee High School in Live Oak, FL. “Stick started one game for me at Leon, his last game. He had never started before. He had only played sparingly as a backup and played some special teams, but he was one of the hardest workers we had, and he had good grades. He never had an attitude. We had two of our starters quit before the last game of the season, so I started Strick and he was ready. He played lights out that game and had an interception and we won the game. It was one of the cooler moments still for me as a coach. Then, of course, he continued to work hard and went on to have a great college career. All of my players hear about Strick.”
Strickland matriculated to The University of the South for college as a member of the Tigers’ football team. Like at Leon, Strickland benefited in college from learning under two coaches who would go on to join Division I coaching staffs. His defensive backs coach at Sewanee, Ossie Buchannon, is currently the wide receivers coach at Kennesaw State University and his defensive coordinator, Brian Newberry, now holds the same position at The United States Naval Academy.
“In college, it was much more structured and professional,” said Strickland. “We had a pre-practice period, a warmup period, and an individual period. Offense and defense practiced on different sides of the field. It was cool to see both the high school and college side of things. I saw the benefits of having every minute of practice scheduled so that we were prepared, but also saw at Leon how to deal with high school kids, because they need to be excited and having fun. High schoolers need to be poured into in much bigger ways than just football.”
While the coaching seeds would be planted later, it was at Sewanee that Strickland cultivated a passion for athletic performance.
“When I was playing in college, I started really taking off-season training seriously and seeing the effect of training hard,” he recalled. “I decided that was the avenue I wanted to go down and I did that for my first two years out of school at Titus Human Performance back in Tallahassee.”
Back in his hometown, Strickland was able to work hands-on with top-tier athletes and cut his teeth as a strength and conditioning specialist. He loved it, but a new door was opened in the form of a coaching invitation from his boss at Titus.
“My boss had a son who was playing Pop Warner and he asked me to coach their team,” he said. “So, I did and it was just a blast. I loved getting to work with those kids and being part of the team rather than just focusing on the performance training side. It made me really want to pursue more of a career coaching football.”
Thus, when Strickland heard about an opening at the alma mater of college roommate and best friend Michael Schill 2012, he applied and was soon packing his bags for the Blue Ridge Mountains. The fit was immediately apparent, and administration wasted little time reallocating his teaching skills from the weight room into the classroom.
“We have so much contact with them here and there are so many moments for teaching and so many little opportunities for influence,” said Strickland. “What I love about working at Asheville School is the number of hats I get to wear in relation to our kids. For a given student, I can be their football coach, strength and conditioning coach, track coach, hall parent, their advisor, or their teacher. To be able to interact with them in so many different environments is really neat because you get to know them as a whole person.”
Asheville School Dean of Students and football team Offensive Coordinator Ben Williamson was effusive in his praise of Strickland.
“Geoffrey is just an incredibly solid person from a character standpoint,” said Williamson. “He cares about people, and he cares about doing things the right way. He’s the type of coach you want kids around, and anyone who spends time with Geoffrey is better for it. He’s as good a leader and person as I’ve been around in my time as an educator and coach.”
Head Coach Gus Schill echoed Williamson’s praise.
“Geoff is extremely dedicated and loyal,” said Schill. “He attacks his duties as a coach with tireless enthusiasm and high energy. He doesn’t sit around and wait for someone to give him instructions but jumps in and helps wherever he sees a need. He is deeply committed to the players, fellow coaches and the mission of the school. He is an excellent teacher on the field and his communication with the players is excellent.”
While he continues to absorb new responsibilities, Strickland remains ever focused on the game he fell in love with as a boy. In just his second year of coaching, Strickland helped lead the 2018 Blues football team to a state championship game appearance. Even still, he says his proudest coaching chapter might be the 2019 group.
“I’m exceptionally proud of the seniors we have right now,” Strickland said. “They have shown exceptional toughness and love for each other. They have been the glue that has held our team together through these early season troubles.”