Jeffrey Mack had finally made his decision. Well, the performance did for him, at least.
Nov. 22, he ran for 393 yards and scored seven touchdowns in a historic, 48-35 upset over juggernaut St. Anthony’s in the CHSFL Class AAA championship game, snapping the Friars’ six-year league reign.
“I should just play football,” Mack, a Bronx native, thought to himself that night after the breathtaking effort.
The next day, he dished out 10 assists in a scrimmage for the Iona Prep basketball team and was told by coach Vic Quirolo, who also runs the football program, he would be an integral part of that team, too.
“I thought why not build on that,” he said.
So, in a nutshell, that’s why Mack, a 5-foot-7 specimen with legs like tree trunks and well-defined arms, is still juggling the two, football and basketball, working on running drills in the morning, playing AAU basketball in the afternoon and lifting weights at night.
He is the better football player – Maryland and Pittsburgh have offered him scholarships – but he is expected to be the starting point guard for the defending CHSAA Class A champion Gaels on the hardwood. He is an important piece to Hassani Stewart’s Raising Champions, a high-profile program that takes part in showcase tournaments across the country. Xavier and Holy Cross have shown interest.
“His speed,” Stewart said, “changes the game.”
Stewart credits Mack with his team’s recent turnaround. He is the first player off the bench, but sees starter’s minutes, as the team’s lead guard, orchestrator and playmaker. Teammate Mike Poole, a rising senior at St. Benedict’s Prep (N.J.), calls Mack a natural leader.
“He always impresses me,” Poole said.
Poole wasn’t aware of Mack’s many football accomplishments. He was in awe.
Stewart, who has seen plenty of Mack’s exploits on a football field, thinks it would be a mistake to pick one sport.
Mack picked up basketball first, at the age of six, a year before taking to football. He was always exceptional on the gridiron, one of the hardest hitters on his team. He was also naturally gifted in basketball; his quickness led to frequent fast-break layups.
When college coaches call Mack’s Bronx home, his father, Rev. Jeffrey Mack, has to ask which sport they are calling for.
Athletics isn’t his only forum of excellence. Mack is an honor roll student at Iona Prep and a drummer and choir singer at his local church. Somehow, he finds time for everything – his studies, his sports and even his musical pursuits.
Iona Prep has tutoring sessions, before and after school for athletes. When he comes home, Mack eats dinner, studies and then works out while watching TV.
Mack said he knows there may come a day when he has to make a choice between the two. He will ultimately choose football; it’s the sport with the better upside, albeit far more dangerous. For now, he is happy juggling between the two.