WACO — Long before he before he earned three All-Pro nods in 13 NFL seasons.
Long before he was voted the 1987 Southwest Conference player of the year.
Long before he earned five All-America honors and a couple of national long jump titles.
And long before he competed in the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials.
Long before all of that, Eric Metcalf was just another kid hoping to be great.
“I wanted to be famous,” Metcalf said. “It wasn’t about the money. I wanted to be known.”
Mission accomplished. Metcalf, the University of Washington’s sprint coach and married father of three, added yet another honor to his outstanding résumé on Tuesday when he was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
“(My kids) won’t think I’m a scrub anymore,” he said to the audience of 800 at the Waco Convention Center. “When I’m at home, I’m just Dad. It takes nights like this for them to understand I was OK at what I did.”
OK is an understatement. Phone booths were readily available back in the mid-to-late 1980s when Metcalf was cementing his status as a Texas sports great, but unlike Clark Kent, UT’s resident Superman on campus didn’t need a quick change since he was a running back in the fall and a sprinter/jumper in the spring.
“He could have also played defensive back or option quarterback,” former Texas head coach David McWilliams told me. “I’ve never seen a guy like him who could stop on a dime and be back at full speed in a split-second.”
One of the best all-purpose players to ever don a Longhorns uniform was a constant nightmare for opposing coaches.
“Do you see these gray hairs I have in my head? A few of them are there because we had a heck of a time trying to keep him hemmed up,” former Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum said. “He was an amazing player.”
An amazing player who almost didn’t make it to Texas.
The University of Miami teams of the 1980s were known for winning national championships, but were famous for being college football’s band of renegades. The Hurricanes were just that, a storm of a program built on intimidation, swagger and quite a few brushes with local Dade County law enforcement.
Miami, which won its first national title in 1983, had gotten the attention of Metcalf, a 17-year-old star running back and track standout for O’Connell High School in Arlington, Va., where he lived with his father, former NFL running back Terry Metcalf. Eric took a weekend recruiting trip to Miami and was sold within minutes. He returned home with news that he’d committed to the Hurricanes.
“I was blown away,” said Metcalf, now 49. “I would have stayed down there (after the visit) if I could have.”
Terry Metcalf was only 16 when Eric was born. He’d met his girlfriend, Christina Jefferson, in high school in Seattle. They never married, but remained friends and shared in the raising of Eric, who moved across the country from an all-boys school in Seattle to Virginia, where his dad was finishing up his pro career with a one-year stint with the Washington Redskins.
The move from out West came with Jefferson’s demand that Eric enroll in a Catholic school. The plan was to send Eric, an A/B student with dozens of scholarship offers, to Notre Dame, where Gerry Faust had already offered him a scholarship. The Texas Longhorns weren’t on his front burner.
My parents wanted me to go to Notre Dame and I was hell-bent on going to Miami,” Metcalf said. “If you’ve seen the (ESPN) 30-for-30 (documentary), you can understand why they didn’t want me going to Miami.”
A chance meeting with UT track coach James Blackwood at a New Jersey meet put the Horns on Metcalf’s radar. Blackwood didn’t even know about his football exploits; Metcalf had scored 35 touchdowns over his final two high school seasons.
Eventually Metcalf made it to Texas for a recruiting trip. This time — unlike the time he went to Miami — he brought his father with him.
Unranked Texas A&M spanked Texas in Austin that weekend, a 37-12 regular-season finale with the Metcalfs standing on the Longhorns’ sideline. Terry turned to UT assistant Ken Dabs — the guy who recruited Earl Campbell to Texas — and said, “Man, you guys really need my son.”
The Texas recruitment reheated after the Longhorns lost a running back two months later to another school. Miami’s loss was Texas’ gain. Fred Akers landed a game breaker who went on to become a three-time all-conference selection and one of the most dangerous open-field runners in the country. He was the Cleveland Browns’ first-round pick of the 1989 draft, was the NFL’s top kick returner in 1990 and was All-Pro three times.
This week, Metcalf recalled that people would approach him in his early Texas days and express respectful disgust for his father, who gave the Dallas Cowboys fits when he was a running back with the St. Louis Cardinals.
“Well, Pops, the state of Texas hated you,” Metcalf told the crowd. “But becoming one of the new inductees to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, I can say they love me. And the feeling is mutual.”