Former NP Jet is 10th pick in the NFL draft

Former NP Jet is 10th pick in the NFL draft

NORTH PROVIDENCE - Things have always happened fast for Eric Ebron.

Last week, as the National Football League was about to conduct the first day of its annual draft, Ebron knew that he was going to be selected as a top choice.

So he took his girlfriend to the top of the Empire State Building where he proposed. His girlfriend, University of North Carolina basketball player Brittany Rountree, said yes.

A few hours later, the Detroit Lions made Ebron a potential multi-millionaire when they selected the tight end with the 10th overall pick in the draft. He was the first tight end selected in this year's draft, and was the first tight end taken in the top 10 since Vernon Davis in 2006.

Ebron is a stout 6-foot, 5-inch athlete with great speed for someone who checks in at 250 pounds and has great hands.

But it wasn't always that way.

Back in 2006 and 2007, Ebron was living in Rhode Island and was a member of the North Providence Jets Rhode Island Pre-teen Football League Varsity team, coached by Glenn Williams.

As confident and gregarious as Ebron is at 21, his path to the draft was paved with turns. And for a long time, football wasn't even on his mind.

"I played youth football, and I kind of lost touch when my grandfather passed away, pretty much lost touch on life," Ebron stated in an online interview.

Ebron's maternal grandfather, Oling Jackson, was an early role model for him, sharing his experiences from the Marines in World War II and the Vietnam War, as well as general knowledge about life.

"He was the only guy to never miss anyone's birthday, the only guy to wake you up and put a smile on your face," Ebron said. "My grandfather was everything."

Although Ebron has a good relationship with his father, Eric Sr., his parents divorced when he was an infant, and his grandfather was a strong male mentor.

Jackson died from pancreatitis when Ebron was 10, after his mother, Gina Jackson, moved Ebron and his two older brothers from Newark, N.J., to North Providence, to be with the grandfather as he suffered from Parkinson's disease.

His mother eventually moved the family to North Carolina in the middle of Ebron's freshman year of high school. When Ebron arrived at Smith High in Greensboro, N.C., he had to sit his sophomore season because his transcript arrived late.

The summer before his junior year, Ebron received an invitation to a camp in Chapel Hill, N.C., despite never playing a snap of high school football, because coaches were impressed by his size. Being fast, 6-foot-4 and already more than 200 pounds was enough to earn a shot, and Ebron started that summer day with the wide receivers before moving to tight end an hour later.

Once Ebron started playing tight end and defensive end as a junior, the college offers flooded in - Duke, Arkansas, Clemson and North Carolina State, among them. By the spring of his junior year, though, Ebron committed to North Carolina.

When Ebron arrived in Chapel Hill, there was a brief consideration to have him play defensive end, but with current and soon-to-be NFL players Robert Quinn, Quinton Coples and Kareem Martin among the pass rushers, tight end made the most sense. Ebron did, however, play some snaps as a defensive end in a 2012 game against North Carolina State. He decided after his junior season to leave school and made a run at the NFL.

"I've been coaching football for more than 30 years and this is the first time that anyone I've coached has been drafted into the NFL," said Williams, who scored a unique double last season when he coached the North Providence High School football team to its first perfect season and a Super Bowl Division IV title, and also coached the North Providence Jets Varsity to a Super Bowl title.

"I think it's great and it says a lot for the type of football and programs that we have here in Rhode Island and with the Jets," said Williams.

As a youth player, Ebron was more of a defensive-minded player.

"I always thought of him more as a defensive end than a tight end because he really was not that fast at the time," said Williams. "He needed time to grow into his body."

Williams sent Ebron an instant message following his NFL selection, but has not heard back.

"I remember him as a happy kid who was always busting everyone up, keeping them loose," said Williams. "He still wears the same number, 85, as he did back then."

Ebron is from an athletic family. His brother, Jamie Jackson, was a star basketball player at North Providence who went on to play at Quinnipiac College.

"He played on two Super Bowl champions for the Jets," said Williams. "I knew right along that he had potential, but he really opened up eyes at the NFL combine and the scouts were shocked that he did so well. It's pretty exciting and we put the news up on the Jets website."

Although he did not keep in touch with Ebron over the years, Williams has a keepsake, one that will be soaring in value. He has Ebron's autograph on a football, one that all members of the 2008 North Providence Jets signed and presented to Williams.

And the Ebron selection wasn't the only good North Providence football news. Last week, Joel Diaz, who quarterbacked the North Providence High School football team in 2012 and 2013 before attending prep school, signed a letter of intent and will be plying his football talents at nearby Bryant University.

"Put those two together, and it's easy to see that there is some quality football going on right here at home," said Williams.