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The Modern Renaissance Man

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Squadron Training Commander. Gifted student. Future pilot. Student faith group leader. Athlete. If you thought these were all different people, you’d be wrong. UNC rising senior Colin Schilly is all of these things and more.

Schilly is what you’d call a modern day Renaissance man – he does it all. When he was a kid, his dream was to be a major league baseball player. “That was the only thing I ever wanted to do for a while, until I discovered biology,” he says. “And then astronauts, then the military, and here I am.” While he doesn’t see himself in the MLB league anytime soon, he has kept playing the sport his whole life, most recently with the UNC Club Baseball team.

So when his busy schedule makes things hectic, Schilly knows he has baseball to look forward to for blowing off steam. “Baseball is my stress relief – guaranteed I’m going to have an hour and a half each day that I’m just having a good time and hanging out,” he says. “If I didn’t do baseball, I would have an extra eight or so hours a week, but it’s something that I need.”

We’ll get to baseball a little bit later, but first, there are other things to do.

5 a.m. Wednesday

Most people are still sleeping, but Schilly is already beginning what promises to be a busy day. He wakes up at 5 because he has to be on campus for ROTC physical training at 6, which is usually some variety of strenuous or strength-building exercises. Most people wouldn’t be interested in waking up before dawn for PT 2-3 times a week, but it’s right up his alley. After all, among his accomplishments in the program is his perfect score on the fitness test.

When he was 10 years old, Schilly watched a man receive the Medal of Honor on television, and briefly considered joining the military as a future career possibility. The thought didn’t resurface until his freshman year at UNC, when he met people who were part of the University’s Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, pushing him to think about his future a little bit more and consider the program as an option. He also began to realize his dream of becoming an astronaut, and the military seemed like the perfect way to get to space.

He decided to join the program the second semester of his freshman year, and hasn’t looked back. His superiors quickly recognized his work ethic and skill set, and he eventually received a national scholarship through the Air Force – from which he receives paid college tuition and a stipend each month. Working his way up from his first year in the program, he now serves as a Squadron Training Commander, responsible for training first-year cadets to understand the basics of ROTC.

His counterpart, Maggie Adams, believes joining the program later than most people allowed him to figure himself out first. Since then, she has witnessed his growth and development in ROTC firsthand — and even thinks that the program has benefited him on the baseball field.

“It’s been cool to watch him break out of his shell the past couple of years,” Adams says. “He is quieter in the background when you first meet him, but when you understand him as a person, he is so strategic in how he acts and talks. Whether he’s actually presenting or just talking with you as a friend, there’s a lot going on in his brain, and he’s probably thought a lot about what he’s going to say and how he’s going to portray himself to you in that moment.”

Schilly just landed a spot in the prestigious pilot program, meaning that he will have to pass a flight physical and then go through several rounds of training to fly aircraft for a 10-year Air Force commitment. The challenge of the program doesn’t scare him, though – it motivates him to do well that much more.

“For me, it’s about controlling the things I can control – that’s something baseball has taught me. Whenever I would make a team, I knew that I could play with the guys, but it was a matter of showing that I was good enough,” Schilly says. He believes he can do almost any job, he just has to prove his ability and willingness to work hard – a sentiment he thinks may pass as a little arrogant, but that’s mostly just in his head.

8 a.m.

After PT, when the rest of the world is just now heading to work, Colin cooks himself breakfast and listens to music.  Besides club baseball practice, it might be his favorite time of the day. He loves being around people, but also really values his alone time, considering himself neither an introvert nor an extrovert. Don’t ask him about his Myers-Briggs type either – he couldn’t care less.

What he’s listening to could be anything from Muse or Queen (his favorite bands) to show tunes or Céline Dion. He has countless Spotify playlists that he usually chooses from based on his mood of the day.

Schilly knows himself very well – something that really came to fruition when he got to college. “What you like and what’s important to you says a lot about you, I realized,” he says. “Since I got to UNC, I’ve been starting to come into my personality. Embracing the fact that I love Broadway musicals and meeting my best friends who have the same sense of humor as me, all of that combined has taught me about myself.” He’s pretty much always having a good day and loves making people laugh with his sarcasm. The fact that his interests stretch over such a wide spectrum makes “Renaissance man” one of the first things people associate with him.

Daniel Petrucci, one of Schilly’s housemates, has only known him for a few months, but he already agrees with that classification. “I think he’s very versatile – I thought Colin might be very straight-edged and ROTC-focused, and not have many other interests,” he says. “But I was surprised to see that he loves Hamilton; he was in a musical his senior year of high school. I also grew up playing baseball, so we connect on that. So, he’s a modern Renaissance man, I think.”

“He’s like, ‘if something is challenging, then I want to try it and master it,’” his sister Haley says.  “That kind of feeds into the whole Renaissance man thing – if he does something, then he wants to be good at it, and he is. He competes with himself more than anyone I know. Like when he ran a marathon a few months ago, he sees this version of himself. He’s like, ‘I could know more, I could learn more, I could be better, stronger, faster.’ And he is going to keep working until he gets there.”

10:10 a.m.

Schilly is off to class, which is a mix of biology, Spanish and Air Force courses. Science classes have always come easy to him, but Spanish takes a little more work, which is fine, because he likes the challenge.

After graduating in 2020 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology (that comes with a chemistry minor) as well as Hispanic Studies and Aerospace Studies minors, he will begin his career with the military, then hopefully transition into being an astronaut. At some point during his career, he may go to medical school. Nothing is off the table.

Ultimately, Schilly’s final destination career goal is to be a high school biology teacher — something that stems from his love for teaching, longtime interest in animals and plants and a fascination for how things work in nature.

In between classes, he sneaks in a workout at the gym (because PT earlier was clearly not enough) and then heads back to class.

4 p.m.

ROTC meetings take up the first half of Schilly’s afternoon, but then it’s time for his favorite part of the day – baseball. A full hour and a half to do what he loves and practice with his club baseball teammates is exactly what he needs after a long day. Don’t be fooled, though, because Schilly and baseball haven’t always had the rosiest relationship.

“Growing up, baseball was a staple in my life and always my favorite sport. But me and baseball have a love-hate relationship,” he says.

The Schillys are a baseball family – Colin and his brothers all played in recreational leagues growing up and they follow Major League Baseball. He started playing when he was three, constantly practicing in his backyard when he wasn’t playing rec ball. When he tried out for the middle school team, he didn’t make it and was devastated, but decided to keep playing in the rec league.

High school tryouts in ninth grade were another swing and a miss. Schilly ended up playing travel ball instead, frustrated by the popularity contest and favoritism that made up his high school baseball team. He wasn’t giving up yet though, reluctantly trying out again in tenth and eleventh grades after the coach encouraged him to, but still didn’t make it. At that point, he was playing for fun, but wasn’t in an organized league. “I didn’t hate the sport, I hated the system,” he says. “But I kept playing, kept hitting off the tee and throwing from time to time. Grew a few inches, which is nice.”

Haley first witnessed her brother’s love and dedication for baseball at an early age. She’s impressed with how it has grown over time, remembering when he would spend summers practicing in the driveway with a training net and going out to hit and pitch with his older brother, Tyler. She took it personally when the politics of their high school athletic department got in the way of him making the team. “Colin worked so hard and loved it so much, but it didn’t have to do with passion or skill or anything. It was this hierarchy of our high school. He had this fire lit for baseball and then he just wasn’t able to play, and it was the saddest thing ever.” She admired his dedication to keep trying out year after year. “He knew he was good enough the whole time, but I know that shaped him and how he approaches failure and perseverance. And now, I’m so glad he plays on the club team [at UNC] because he just wanted to play baseball, and now he can.”

Senior year of high school came and went without a tryout, and then Schilly was a freshman at UNC, where Tyler was the president of the UNC Club Baseball team.

“I almost didn’t try out for the club team, but then I was like, you know, I’m going to try it out. There’s a chance I don’t make it, and then I can go with one of my other interests, like musical theatre,” he says.

He felt a little rusty during the tryout, but he made the team (without his brother’s help, he might add) and began to rapidly improve. Now, he’s at the top of his game – and he loves it more than ever.

UNC Club Baseball is a student-run organization. Some of the players could play NCAA Division II or III college baseball, but they’d rather have fun playing in a more relaxed, yet still competitive setting. The team is part of the National Club Baseball Association, playing in a conference with schools from the east coast with 10-12 series in the spring and a few out of conference games as well. Their biggest rival is the East Carolina University Pirates, who consistently finish at the top of their division – but Schilly and the UNC club team beat them this year at their matchup.

Schilly began his role on the team as a first-baseman, but has recently pitched as well. In addition to that, he runs the team’s social media accounts, which give him an outlet for his clever wit. His teammate, Jackson Cabell, says the team appreciates him for his multifaceted role. He was impressed with Schilly from the start, when he saw him play during tryouts. He had no idea that he didn’t play in high school until Schilly told him.

“In club baseball we do a lot of joking around, but we all want to win too, so Colin gets involved with the shenanigans, but he’s also a great baseball player on the field,” Cabell says. “This is his first year pitching and he’s doing really well as a lefty pitcher, which is exciting to see. He’s always been strong at the plate, but he’s just made a really good transition from playing the outfield to first base. Very supportive of his teammates and friendly with everyone too, and new guys on the team feel more comfortable because of him.”

UNC Club Baseball beat two top ten-ranked teams in the 2019 regular season (Maryland and Florida), which helps their playoff chances for a potential wild-card bid. The jury’s still out on whether or not they’ll make a postseason appearance, but they have high hopes. Even if they aren’t able to keep playing, for them it’s mostly just about having fun. Like Schilly, most of the guys on the team are not just involved in baseball on campus.

“That’s why we don’t take it super seriously, because people prioritize school and are able to stay involved with other things on campus…but when we get onto the field, we want to win, and Colin is definitely one of those people [who can do both],” Cabell says.

His current walk-up song to bat is “Tom Sawyer” by Rush, because “it’s filthy. I do it to feel cool. It gets me hype.” And when he’s pitching, it’s “What’s Up Danger” from “Into the Spider-verse.”

Other than his walk-up music to get him hyped up, Schilly says the guys on the team are really good about supporting each other. “I made a pretty awesome catch about a month ago, and it got super hype and they were all high-fiving me. But we also make fun of each other,” he says. “When it comes down to it, you are by yourself out there, but everything is still as a team, you’re moving for this team. We’ll scrap for each other.”

Schilly is glad he decided to try out and gets to do what he’s passionate about in college. When asked what he brings to the team, he has to think about it for a second, but reluctantly and humbly says, “I think I’m one of the best fielders on the team, if not just a pure set of hands. I don’t know if there’s anyone better than me at catching balls in the outfield and stuff.”

“I love being on that team,” he says. “It’s nice to go to baseball and be with a bunch of people who like the sport too, and who will know what I’m talking about if I make a sports reference. And baseball is just a beautiful game – it requires a very unique skill set. I feel like it just takes a natural hand-eye coordination and ability and that just kind of fascinates me.”

5 p.m.

Time for dinner and some more time to himself.

While he eats he might check up on the latest baseball news, especially with his hometown team, the St. Louis Cardinals. Schilly was born in St. Louis, but moved to Charlotte when he was six, where his family still resides. He is one of five kids – he has two older sisters, Kelci and Haley, an older brother, Tyler and a younger brother, Caleb. He loves the Cardinals so much that he regularly sports special-edition Vans sneakers printed with their logo.

Growing up as Schilly’s older sister (by one year), Haley knows him better than almost anyone – and she thinks his loyalty is his most prominent value. “He has loyalty not only to his family and friends but also to his country…just this dedication. He will not ever let you down, he’s such a good listener and such a loyal brother and friend. He’s super empathetic and good at knowing how people feel – he cares really, really deeply about his friendships, his family and different things – and he always, always wants to do the right thing.”

He’s not always serious, though. In fact, Haley says that “even though he has become more thoughtful and a matured guy, he has always been a goofball and a weirdo.”

6 p.m.

Schilly usually can’t focus on homework in the afternoon, so he waits until the evening to get started. Sometimes he works at home, but today he’s headed to the Newman Catholic Student Center to get some studying done. The activity center at the church serves as a great study spot for students, and it’s a particular favorite of Schilly’s. While he’s there, he might even sneak in some time to pray in the chapel.

His faith is extremely important to him, something that has only grown during college with the help of Newman. Schilly got involved with Newman and campus ministry during his freshman year when he was encouraged by his siblings, Tyler and Haley, to come to one of the social events. Since then, he’s been on the annual retreat every year, serving as a leader for the past two years. He co-hosts a small faith group every week, which focuses on reading and discussing Scripture as well as connecting with other Catholic students. He doesn’t stop there – he also sings in the choir at Sunday mass and occasionally leads the congregation as a cantor.

“Religion gives me my purpose in life,” he says. “Newman is great because it allows me to connect with people on that level and have people to talk to about faith.”

Sophomore Alex Pinder, a member of his small faith group, says that Schilly was integral in making his transition to college a smooth one. Pinder immediately connected with him over their similar Catholic school backgrounds.

“Colin sticks out to me at Newman because he takes his faith into his own hands,” he says. “He shows not only me, but the people around us, that it’s okay to practice your faith in your own way.”

“He does a lot of different things but they all fit together into one person…he’s a jack of all trades,” he says. “He’s a very unique guy – active in the Newman community, skilled on the baseball field and a man of many talents. There is probably nothing he can’t do.”

9 p.m.

Home again, and time to relax. By now, all of his housemates are most likely home and all hanging out together. Depending on the night, he’ll watch “Brooklyn 99” with his housemate and best friend Jeffrey Davidson, catch up on hockey (the St. Louis Blues are his favorite) or scroll through Twitter to get his daily dose of baseball news and other happenings.

“He takes his schoolwork seriously, as well as his commitments to things, like religion, baseball and ROTC,” Davidson says. “But he’s a funny guy too, has a very sophisticated sense of humor similar to mine – which is why we get along so well.”

Davidson shares a room with Schilly, whom he considers to be very low-maintenance and easy to live with. They talk about anything and everything, including Schilly’s baseball games and Major League Baseball current events to random, hypothetical comedy bits they like to make up. He’s the first person that Davidson wants to talk about his life with.

He hasn’t been to a club baseball game yet, but he jokes that he’s heard Schilly has “quite an arm” on the the pitching mound. “In all seriousness, his passion for baseball is unparalleled,” he says. “I know he really loves baseball, and it’s cool that it makes him happy.”

“My friends that I live with are home base – I never get tired of hanging out with them and I’m able to be the most myself with all of them,” Schilly says.

Because of his jam-packed schedule, Schilly is early to sleep, early to rise. He has to be well-rested to keep up with everything on his to-do list.

As for how he balances everything he’s involved in, Schilly says it’s all about prioritizing. “It’s committing to actually doing stuff when you say you’re going to do it,” he says.

So what’s the next activity for the Renaissance man to take on? He could learn another language like he did with French two summers ago. Maybe he’ll pick up a musical instrument – though he has already dabbled in bass guitar. “If Colin told me tomorrow that he was learning to play the tuba, I would not be at all surprised,” says Pinder. If he had the time to try out a new hobby, he says, he would probably try dancing or explore musical theatre more. He’s been drawn to that ever since his theatrical debut as Papa Bear in “Shrek: The Musical” senior year of high school. Maybe he can squeeze it in his schedule somewhere, but if not, he’ll continue listening to Broadway soundtracks and busting a move with his friends. There aren’t many hobbies he wouldn’t be interested in trying, except for golf – he’s not a huge fan of the sport and not naturally inclined in it, according to his own assessment.

He’s heard the Renaissance man term before, and he knows that he’s good at a lot of things – but he keeps those thoughts to himself.

“I’ve been blessed with a combination of abilities and I want to make the most of them,” he says. “I’m confident, but I never go anywhere with that arrogance.”

Schilly may not know exactly how the next few years will pan out, but if it ever stresses him out, he knows he has baseball to turn to.

“There’s nothing more relaxing to me than just watching a baseball game or going to throw,” he says. “No better feeling in the world than hitting a baseball.”

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