Curtis Flakes was unfazed by inheriting a 39-game losing streak in his first job as a head football coach.
After all, he already had escaped near death in a serious motorcycle accident, then beat stage 2 cancer.
He told MaxPreps philosophically, "For me, they were in the same situation like I was. I was fighting every day to get my body right. I'm blessed and in remission. That's what drew me to the job. For me it was a match made in heaven - definitely a great fit."
Though his Albuquerque (N.M.)
team did lose its first four games this fall for a state-record 43-game losing streak, it made big headlines over the weekend with a resounding 47-8 rout of city foe Highland to end the string of losses.
The 32-year-old coach has become somewhat of an overnight celebrity.
He cautioned, however, "It (winning) is not our main objective. We're not just here to focus on wins and losses. We're here to make better men."
Flakes is a 2000 graduate of Lufkin (Tex.), a high school football hotbed, where he stood out as a defensive back and as a top-flight hurdler in track. The 5-foot-10, 155-pounder had several Division I college offers for track, but opted to play football at the University of New Mexico, where he used his great speed (4.39 seconds for 40 yards) to start at wide receiver his final year before partially tearing his MCL.
He graduated from college in 2005 and played one year of Arena League football (2007) in Dallas for the Frisco Thunder.
During his third of four years (2011) while coaching defensive backs at Manzano (Albuquerque), Flakes had his first mishap.
He and a friend were riding motorcycles on a loose gravel road when his cycle slid, went through a guard rail and down a steep embankment. He was spotted by a passing motorist who helped him up the hill. He was shaken up, but thought he was OK.
"A week later I woke up in the hospital," he related. "At one time they didn't know if I was going to make it. They had to wake me up slowly. The doctor told me I was really lucky."
During his three and one-half weeks in the hospital, doctors removed his right kidney, gall bladder, some pieces of his intestines and a small piece of his liver. He also had multiple fractures and a lacerated liver. Incredibly, only two months after leaving the hospital, Flakes ran a 5-kilometer race.
"I did pretty good but my wife (Josie) beat me," he said.
He spent at least six months doing rehab with Dave Binder, now-retired head athletic trainer at the University of New Mexico.
"We worked mostly on conditioning and trying to get some strength back in him," Binder said. "He was very fortunate that he had probably the best trauma surgeon in the state of New Mexico. Most of the stuff is pretty boring. It's the athlete who gets himself well. He's got something special in him - a young man of faith. We all believe in prayer. I think that had more to do with it than anything else. I was a trainer for 40 years and only a handful (I know of) who could have overcome what Curtis has done."
During his rehab with Binder, however, Flakes continually had chest pains and finally had to take a break.
He recalled, "The fourth time I went to the emergency room I said that I wasn't leaving until they found out what was wrong. There happened to be a cancer doctor there and he saw the color of my skin. He asked if I had night sweats (I did). I had been coughing for six or seven months, but I thought it was a bad cold that just wouldn't go away."
The culprit was a grapefruit-sized cancer in his chest. And it had been overlapping his heart.
Flakes started chemotherapy a month and a half later. He went through six treatments - one every 21 days for eight hours at a time. That continued for about six months and he was forced to take 2013 off from his coaching job at Manzano.
Today he is in remission and has checkups every six months.
Albuquerque Athletic Director Doug Dorame couldn't be happier to be working with Flakes and his staff.
"What coach Flakes has done has been amazing," he praised. "I don't think when I hired him we really discussed (the losing streak). He just keeps working. He's an extremely positive coach - a very popular coach."
Flakes wisely has surrounded him with a top-flight staff, composed mostly of personal friends, several who played with him at the University of New Mexico. Most had been assistants at other schools and one is a former head coach.
"I feel comfortable," he said of his veteran staff. "They're not only friends, but they are overall good guys. They make my job easier because I trust them."
Flakes is not a teacher, but he continues to help others outside of the school.
He has a federal job with the New Mexico Forum for Youth and Community. It's a statewide program called Public Allies in which adults between ages 17 and 30 from underserved communities are brought in for a 10-month training program. The goal is to produce individuals who will step into management positions in the nonprofit sector.
Positively affecting others wherever he goes, Flakes appears to have a bright future.
Binder, who has known him since college, predicts, "There's a higher calling somewhere. There's something else on the horizon."