Eric Jack, right, talks to his junior varsity team during a timeout of a recent game in the RAC. (Herron photo)
First-year Rio Rancho High School girls basketball coach Lori Mabrey certainly “knows Jack” this season.
Varsity assistant Jack Cadman is one her staff, former University of New Mexico football player Eric Jack coaches her freshman squad, and Daysia Jack — Eric’s eighth-grade daughter — is an up-and-coming cager already seeing time on the varsity.
“He got involved with that because he wanted to coach his daughter. Obviously, she’s going to be an incredible talent for us — she’s got Daddy’s DNA,” Stephenson said.
The former Lobo, a three-sport student athlete at Eastwood High in Dallas and the son of an Air Force career man, is vested in the future of girls basketball here.
He was a running back at EHS, wearing No. 20, like one of his heroes (Barry Sanders), although he also idolized University of Texas legend Earl Campbell.
“(Football) was my best playing sport; the sport I loved the most was basketball,” he recalled. “I just wasn’t that good back then. I didn’t really hone my craft in basketball, because I was so athletic in football.”
Having worked with at-risk youngsters for more than a decade and a current staffer at Youth Development Inc. (YDI) in Albuquerque, the Rio Rancho resident also coaches a girls’ club basketball team, the New Mexico Goats.
Jack, 50, is a soft-spoken type of coach, one more concerned with his girls’ development athletically than winning games. He cares more about that aspect of the game — maybe even more than his lone NFL touchdown.
It came in New Orleans’ Superdome in a 1994 game.
“That was the highlight of my career,” he said. “I remember that ball bouncing off a guy‘s hand. … I picked it up, you know, and saw the end zone. It was awesome.”
Jack started all but one of the Lobos’ games in his four seasons (1990-93); the first game he played in, his freshman season, was the only time he didn’t start. He played for two head coaches — Mike Sheppard and Dennis Franchione — after a fractured fibula at practice “took me out for the majority of the season,” curtailing a lot of Division I interest, which had included the Longhorns and Texas Tech.
UNM called after Jack’s success at the state track meet.
“(I) never had a recruiting visit with (Sheppard); never even talked to them; never been to Albuquerque,” he said. “I didn’t even know where Albuquerque was.”
He took a campus visit and liked what he saw.
As a non-drafted free agent after the 1994 season, a few teams saw him at a Pro Day.
“I had my best workout that day. I ran a 4.35 40 — that kinda helped, put some eyes on me,” he said. “That’s when I guess they started looking at film (and realized) I could play.”
The Steelers, Giants and Falcons became options — he believed Deion “Prime Time” Sanders was going to leave Atlanta, which would give him a better shot at making the secondary there.
He lived down the street from Sanders, who “showed me the ropes, bought me my first couple of suits to wear,” he said, laughing. “So it was good.”
As he suspected, Sanders left the Falcons and signed with San Francisco, but was still available for advice for awhile.
“They’re not going to keep five corners with Deion there,” he said, and Jack played the whole season. “Me and his brother became real tight.”
Before the 1995 season, “I tore my knee up; tore the other one up in ’96.”
That ended his playing days, although he spent time as a football assistant at Cibola High, and then at RRHS for this past season, working with the cornerbacks and safeties.
He moved to North Carolina, opened up some group homes — “I had always worked with kids. I had my foundation in Atlanta — that’s been a passion of mine, working with kids.”
He was back in Atlanta to care for a sick sister, was back in Albuquerque to complete his degree, also assisting Lobo head coach Rocky Long in the 1997 season.
Honoring a promise he made to his first daughter in 2000, returning to Albuquerque, where he met her mother, he returned to New Mexico in 2005.
“I started working with at-risk youth again,” he said, which he’s still doing.
“I didn’t like the fact that, in Rio Rancho, when it came to girls and sports, Rio Rancho has never won a state (basketball) championship,” he said. “I saw a lot of these young girls, my daughter included, that I wanted to bring them together, get them playing well together, so that we can possibly have a chance at winning a state title in basketball.
“So I took those girls from all the schools in Rio Rancho,” he said, getting access to a church’s gym — which Jack paid for out of his own pocket — last season, and took the Goats to tournaments in Texas, Las Vegas and the Albuquerque metro area.
He met Mabrey, a girls’ basketball coach down the hill.
“He was an EA when I was at Cibola; he’s worked a lot with special education kids,” she said. “I think he’s gonna be a great asset for me on that end of the floor. He’s just a real positive guy that works hard, coaches hard, and because he’s played college athletics, I think he knows how to read situations in games, and also knows moments when he can gives kids fast advice that works on the floor.”
Looking ahead, she said, “We have a good eighth-grade group coming up, and many of those kids have played on his AAU team … and they’re all going to feed to us.”