I will say this for the second time I met Coach Jackson, the man looked cool. He stepped toward me with purpose, his black shirt, black shorts, and black baseball cap absorbing the sun. As Coach Jackson neared me, his signature grin—the one I would learn to associate with the face of someone who cared deeply for me—spread across his face. We were both at the University of Michigan attending a summer football camp for high school players. Coach Jackson, then an assistant at Princeton, was coaching while I was a rising high school senior just hoping to not embarrass himself at camp. On this day, I wore knee high black and orange striped socks.
“What is on your feet?” Coach barked when within earshot of me.
“Princeton colors man,” I replied.
“You look ridiculous!”
“Ha! I knew you would have something to say!”
We exploded in laughter and embraced. In only our second meeting, Coach Jackson and I had already formed the natural rapport that became a hallmark of our relationship.
Two months after that encounter, life threw me a curveball. At the start of my senior year, I was a recruited athlete considering options to play football and run track in college. By the third week of school, though, I had endured my second knee reconstruction in 18 months to repair a torn ACL and meniscus in my knee. Recruiting calls halted and letters stopped. The once abundant well of coaches inquiring after my college choice went mostly dry.
Except for Coach Jackson.
Coach Jackson remained for me a positive and encouraging voice. He urged my continued exploration of Princeton (academically first and then in both football and track), he encouraged me in my recovery throughout a grueling rehab process, and his consistent advice and presence helped shape my college decision.
I did attend Princeton, and although I did not play football, Coach Jackson and I remained close, our exchanges always coated in our familiar, humorous banter. Throughout college, whenever I saw Coach Jackson he asked the right questions: How are classes? How are your mom and dad? How are you doing? He cared about me on a personal level and showed his interest by helping me maintain perspective on school and life while I navigated Princeton.
As important to me, though, is that we have remained close since I graduated college—something that highlights the strength of the bonds Coach Jackson forms. An example of that bond occurred in 2010. I had just lost my father to a massive heart attack at age 56, and one of the first calls I received came from Coach Jackson. I will never forget the first thing he said: “How are your mom and sister doing?” This simple moment question showed the depth of his caring. It means more to me than I can place into words.
Coach Jackson cares to know the important questions. And he’s invested enough to ask them.
I have now known Coach Jackson for 15 years. The relationship that started when we laughed over my multi-colored socks at a football camp has evolved into one of considerable respect and friendship. Coach Jackson is honest, sincere, prepared, and committed. He is a man of integrity and a mentor who cares.
Thank you, Coach, for your support.
About the Author
Kelly Lytle attended Princeton University from 2001-2005. He has worked on Wall Street and in the NFL and currently works for a digital content and technology company in Cleveland, Ohio. Kelly is a published author whose first book, To Dad, From Kelly, reflects on the lessons he learned from his late father, former University of Michigan All-American and Denver Bronco Rob Lytle.