SAN ANTONIO – When Jim Rackley survived a heart attack in 2009, the legendary Judson High School head football coach knew his days on the sidelines were numbered.
"Good night, I got hit like somebody hit me, it knocked me to my knees," the former Judson football coach said.
Ask any player who worked under him and they will tell you it was his heart that drove him. But it would be his heart that almost killed him. Rackley loves football, he was a one-of-a-kind coach. From the way he talked, to the pencil he wore over his ear.
"Dealing with the stress of coaching, I guess I didn't do that as well as I should have," Rackley said.
Eight years ago, Rackley's doctors discovered five blocked arteries. That led him to the team trainer and then a doctor.
"He said, ‘We found the problem.’ I said ‘Good, I need to get out of here.’ He said ‘No, you ain’t going nowhere. You're going to have to have open heart surgery, sooner the better," Rackley recalled.
Rackley also thought his days of eating red meat were over, until he found a kind of new beef. As he moves cattle into a new part of a field, he comments on them by the numbers pinned in their ears, like he once called out numbers of football players, it is not the field we are used to seeing Rackley roam.
Calves instead of quarterbacks. Fence posts instead of goal posts.
This is his new life, low stress and special cattle, he considers this a "holistic huddle." Shortly after retiring in 2012, Rackley and his wife started Hickory Lake Beef. Now at 69, he is making his living off a different kind of ranching and a different kind of beef. It is grass fed and grass finished. He is concerned about the ranch from the ground up.
"This meat is good for your heart, good for your circulatory system," he said. "If we get the soil healthier, we'll get the grass healthier, we'll get the cattle healthier, we'll get the consumer healthier.”
It’s a different kind of operation, the cows are given no hormones, no steroids and no antibiotics. In the middle of the field sits a traditional feed trough, but it’s full of minerals instead of feed.
"The good Lord has blessed me and given me this opportunity. It’s a stress-free lifestyle and it's changed my health," Rackley said.
The passion does still burn though, he still keeps track of Judson football, but his last coaching decision may well have been his most important.
"I loved seeing kids that were trying to make a dream come true and grit their teeth and fight their heart and soul out to make something good happen,” he said. “I miss that part of that, but what I don't miss is the stress, there’s a stress level there that is not good for me."