Jamal Jack had a typical 20-something decision to make: chase a dream and its uncertainty or settle with security.
Jack picked risk and committed to his passion - soccer - a choice that has benefited the Colorado Springs Switchbacks some eight years and more than 3,000 miles later.
“No disrespect to the other centerbacks we’ve had throughout these first three years, but for me, he’s the best one,” Switchbacks coach Steve Trittschuh said Thursday.
Jack’s decision was made in his native Tobago, a small Caribbean island northeast of its more populated partner, Trinidad, which is just off the coast of Venezuela.
He balanced a construction job through an uncle with his preferred craft when time permitted in his hometown of Charlottesville, a picturesque fishing village of roughly 2,000 people.
“It has a lot of togetherness,” Jack said. “Once you come to the village, it’s love right away. People open the door for you. It’s like that.”
While comfortable at home, he found he could only get so far with one foot in both fields.
“I told him I want to do what I love best, which is soccer,” Jack said.
With the help of a local coach who took a liking to his strong and aggressive play, the 6-foot-3 Jack moved to Trinidad for numerous stints in the TT Pro League, Trinidad and Tobago’s top league, before stops in Guyana and El Salvador.
Last year, Jack made his first official move stateside, starting 28 matches for Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. With the Switchbacks focused on building an improved back four in the offseason, he became a priority.
“Watching him last year in Pittsburgh, I thought ‘He’s someone that I really want,’” Trittschuh said. “When his name came around, I jumped on him.”
Jack has delivered, starting the first eight matches at center back and playing all 720 minutes. He leads the team in clearances (40), blocks (7) and tackles (17) while marking opponent’s best aerial threat on set pieces. He also scored his first goal with the club in a 4-0 win at Reno when he headed in a Josh Suggs' corner.
The team has allowed six goals, none off set pieces or restarts, including three clean sheets split between two goalkeepers.
“Hopefully we can keep that defense nice and sound back there because he’s a big part of it I think,” Trittschuh said.
Jack has two appearances for the Trinidad and Tobago national team, most recently in 2015, but was in Pittsburgh when the Soca Warriors helped eliminate the United States from World Cup qualification with a 2-1 win in October. While Trittschuh mentioned a hope that the sturdy defender could return to international play, that’s not Jack’s focus.
“If I get called, I will represent my country, but my goal is to just keep going forward, keep building,” the 30-year-old said. “Every day keeping getting better, you never know who is there looking.”
While he can’t take too many risks in his current gig on the last line of defense, it wasn’t new to Jack. As a kid, he would tell his mom he was headed to his grandmother’s or the library when he happened to end up at the local playing grounds.
“The soccer field is kinda far from where I was living. So my grandmother, she’s living just exactly by the soccer field,” Jack said.
“I kept doing it over and over, and I turned out to be a soccer player for 10 years.”