'He's a true character': Jack Skahan stars for UNC men's soccer
Jack Skahan was running down the field when he felt a pop.
In a game this season against Jacksonville, Skahan laid on the ground, holding his right knee.
“I knew something was wrong,” he said.
An MRI showed his meniscus was torn, and according to the doctors, Skahan would most likely be out for the rest of the season. During the surgery a week later, doctors opted to remove the portion of the meniscus that was torn, allowing him to get back on the field sooner.
Over the past week, Skahan has scored five goals, including his first career hat trick and game-winners against Winthrop and Duke. He provided the game-winning assist against Boston College, and was named to TopDrawerSoccer and College Soccer News’ team of the week for the week of Oct. 15.
It came as no surprise to Skahan’s friends and family that he bounced back so quickly. That’s just how the junior operates — with determination and a full heart.
A Tennessee legacy
The cheers had died down and the fields were empty.
Jack’s team won a tournament consisting of various Southeastern teams. The Skahan family walked up the hill to retrieve Jack’s medal, but his parents, Gerald and Karen, paused at the top of the hill when they realized their 11-year-old son wasn’t following.
His father looked back over the fields, and there Skahan was — a few fields away, a soccer ball at his feet.
He placed the ball at midfield, dribbled toward the goal and shot. He picked the ball up and repeated the same drill five times. Despite winning the championship, one missed shot was ingrained in Skahan’s mind — a mistake he wanted to fix.
“When Jack did things like that, I don’t know any other kid who would do that,” Gerald Skahan said. “He had the determination to win unlike any other child I’d seen before.”
Skahan was the best soccer player in town. His parents and friends knew this from an early age, but Memphis isn’t a soccer city. In order to play college ball, Skahan had to find a way around that, especially if he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, Joe Mosier, who played basketball and baseball at UNC in the early 1950s.
“The fact he was an athlete here and that I could be one was kind of cool for me,” Jack Skahan said.
The Skahan family looked for different ways to help Skahan pursue his dreams of following in his grandfather’s footsteps. Eventually, a door opened up, one that required a lot of sacrifices.
When Skahan was 12, his team traveled to Atlanta for a soccer tournament. They lost, 9-1, to Sunrise Soccer Club, a team from Florida, but Skahan scored his team's only goal. That lone goal ended up changing his life.
“After the game, one of the parents came up and said, ‘Would Jack ever guest play with us?’” Gerald Skahan said. “This was the best soccer team I had ever seen at his age. I said, ‘Sure, he’ll play anywhere.’”
Over the next several years, Skahan flew back and forth between Memphis and Florida. It got to the point when he could handle himself in an airport.
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That prepared him for his next big step — YSC Academy, an MLS training academy in Philadelphia.
“With each step, he’s become a smarter player, a smarter human being, how to make himself be better,” Karen Skahan said. “He knew he had to make that step if he wanted to play D1, and he felt it was necessary. He persevered at a time that was difficult for our family.”
Between practicing at YSC for a year and working with his home coach Diego Zaltron, Skahan found himself on North Carolina head coach Carlos Somoano’s radar.
After a few campus visits and camps, Skahan was committed to play at his dream school and continue his grandfather’s legacy.
‘Do it right and do it well’
Skahan pulled into the Memphis University School parking lot.
With a deep breath, he got out, grabbed the bag of balls from his car, and walked to "The Wall." The turf field with a big cement wall was primarily used for lacrosse, but Jack used it to practice soccer, escaping from what was unfolding back home.
“I would have a bag of balls, and I would just kick them against the wall and dribble through cones and shoot in a net for a couple hours then go home and do whatever I had to do after that,” Jack Skahan said.
When Skahan was in middle school, his parents separated. When he was almost 16, they officially divorced, right before he left for Philadelphia.
“I don’t think if that hadn’t have happened with my family, I probably wouldn’t have done that (practiced so frequently), just because you use sport as an escape somewhat,” Jack Skahan said.
His sister was going off to college, and his mom was moving into a new home. He compartmentalized what was going on, remaining mentally tough like his mom, and focused on the task at hand.
In the end, it paid off.
“From a young age, I was always someone who wanted to have the mindset of ‘If I want to do something, I want to do it right and do it well,’” Jack Skahan said. “From that, I became more invested in soccer. I used my traveling in soccer to kind of push myself on, to get to a place like this.”
When Skahan arrived at UNC two years ago, he wasn’t expecting much. He would tell the older players he probably wouldn’t play until his junior year. After all, he was on the third team during preseason practice. However, a change of heart forced Skahan to reevaluate his attitude.
“I’m not going to give myself any room to regret anything so I’m just going to go all for it,” Jack Skahan said.
The same mentality applied to academics. Thanks to advice and guidance from his former Tar Heel teammate David October, Skahan was admitted to the Kenan-Flagler Business School — another dream come true.
“He was shocked,” his sister Kaitlin said. “Not that he didn’t try hard, but he was like, 'How did I just do that?' It was a surreal thing, and he was so excited.”
When Skahan was accepted into the business program, he flourished, both on and off the field.
“The way he thinks about things and questions things has worked really well with his transition from a raw athlete that’s willing to learn, to someone who has a platform and foundation to have a really successful career in the business realm,” October said. “I can’t summarize Jack in one word because he’s a true character in many ways.”
This is who he is.
When Skahan was little, he was a goofy kid, running around and annoying his older sister. One Christmas, Kaitlin remembers running around the room with Jack, and they accidentally knocked over a present. It started saying, “To infinity and beyond!” Skahan’s face lit up, recognizing his favorite Disney character, Buzz Lightyear.
When Skahan was in middle and high school, he looked out for those around him.
Even with the busy schedule filled with traveling, he still made time to help his friends. The summer before coming to UNC, Skahan woke up at the crack of dawn to caddy for his friend Parker Sexton. It turned into an all day affair after rain delays, but the blond kid didn’t complain. He helped out his friend, then once the day was over, he hit the gym, taking care of his own business.
Once he got to UNC, he evolved from the "guy who looked like a frat dude playing soccer" to someone who isn’t "one-dimensional and not fully focused on soccer," according to his teammate and housemate Jeremy Kelly.
“One thing I’ve learned in college specifically is that every single day you have is an opportunity to enjoy,” Skahan said. “You’re truly only going to live to a certain age, and if you can’t enjoy some facet of each day, then what’s the point?”
Now, he’s resilient and determined, tackling life with a full heart as he works to carry on his grandfather’s legacy and build a strong future for himself. His family and friends drive him to be all he is, and his athletic ability pushes him on and off the field.
Above all, his heart and positive mentality help him to conquer all that comes his way.