FAIRBANKS—Alaska must have made a good impression on Fairbanks Grizzlies right guard Nick Thornton-Jack because he’s still here.
At the end of the Grizzlies’ 2011 season in mid-June, the 6-foot-3, 320-pound lineman made up his mind to stay in Fairbanks rather than return to Bismarck, N.D. — he went to school at the University of Mary — or back to his native Seattle.
But, he’s not just here to enjoy the scenery. The 24-year-old is making his living as an assistant coach under David DeVaughn for the Eielson Ravens high school football team..
“DeVaughn helped me get better and progress as a football player,” Thornton-Jack said.
DeVaughn was part of the Grizzlies’ coaching staff this past season.
“We were talking one day, and he mentioned they were thin staffed out there,” Thornton-Jack added, “so I thought I could return the favor and help them out.”
The initial plan for Thornton-Jack was to head back to Bismarck, but he found it harder to part with the place he’d called home for about six months.
“I fell in love with Fairbanks and North Pole and the whole Fairbanks North Star Borough community,” he said.
DeVaughn is about as equally excited about adding Thornton-Jack to his staff.
“I got real excited when Nick approached me about staying around,” DeVaughn said. “I knew he’d be a good coach. He had the head and was good with kids. It’s a natural fit for him.”
Thornton-Jack is working primarily with the offensive and defensive lines at Eielson. For him, though, the position doesn’t much matter; he’s just excited to be working in an atmosphere that surrounds him with kids and football.
“My favorite part is working with kids again,” he said. In college, Thornton-Jack worked with the local high schools in Bismarck, volunteering on the football field.
“It’s good to be around kids whose only motivation is to play ball,” he continued. “It’s not about making news or making money with these guys. They’re out here only because they want to play football.”
So far, things have been going “fantastic,” Thornton-Jack said, and DeVaughn agrees.
“He’s doing awesome,” DeVaughn said. “I’m not that young anymore, and being the energy guy is tiring. Nick’s that guy now. His knowledge about football and relating with these kids is invaluable.”
Thornton-Jack said he thinks it’s his own success as a football player that makes him a good coach.
“All my years of experience with the game — on offense, defense, as a student athlete — all that experience gives me the ability to provide these kids with insight on how to be a successful player,” he said. “I’ve been a college football player. I’ve been beyond that. I’ve been where a lot of these guys want to go.”
It’s not just his football skills and knowledge that make him beneficial to the Ravens’ program.
“I guess I’m a little comic relief, too,” Thornton-Jack said.
As the 2011 Alaska high school football season gets under way, Thornton-Jack said things are looking good at Eielson so far, and he’s eager for the perks being an Alaska coach will bring him.
“I’m most looking forward to the traveling,” he said. “We get to go to Barrow and Seward and all over. I get to actually see Alaska, and I’m pretty stoked about that.”
Contact staff writer Renee Thony at 459-7583.