Where there’s a will
By Parish Howard
Will Jordan knows how bad breaks can tug at you, cling to your spirit like a linebacker with a fist locked in your facemask and in life, there’s no ref to throw a flag. No penalty is going to let you replay the down.
Of course, his time on the football field has also taught him how to stand back up, that injuries heal and that when you do win, nobody can take it away from you.
In the last three years Jefferson County High School’s quarterback has broken his arm, torn an ACL and lost his mother. Despite all of these challenges, he came back his senior year to lead his team into the playoffs, set five school records and earn a scholarship to play college ball.
“If there’s ever any kid who deserves anything in life, Will Jordan is one of them,” said Head Coach J.B. Arnold. “That’s the reason you’re in the coaching and teaching business, to see success stories like Will, a kid who had every right to quit, to choose things he had no business doing, but chose not to, even though that was the tougher road.”
Although he has played football since he was 8 years old, it was the last game of his seventh grade season that Jordan first played quarterback. He immediately felt at home, he said. He loved the control it offered and the responsibility, while heavy, it was a burden he was comfortable bearing.
“Everything that happens is on you,” Jordan said. “If we lose, it’s my fault.”
Playing quarterback, he said, is about accepting that responsibility for yourself, your team and your fans, whether or not they appreciate it.
“When I’m on the field it’s like a zoned out moment where what other people are saying doesn’t matter. It’s all about me and the team communicating,” Jordan said.
Still, it wasn’t always easy for him. Not only has the challenge of playing a physically demanding sport taken its toll, but the negativity of fans has also been difficult.
“I’ve had people tell me I wasn’t good enough, that I was too slow, that I wasn’t tall enough. Fans and people in the community, they’ll say it to your face and behind your back,” Jordan said. “After I got hurt, after my arm and then my knee, they’d tell me to stop running the ball. They said to just throw it and get rid of it. But that’s not me. I wasn’t going to let my injuries stop me.”
Jordan started rotating in as a varsity quarterback his sophomore year after his predecessor was injured.
“We like to pick at him because the first play I put him in a varsity game he fumbled the ball and lost 11 yards. But it was all up from there. He went out and played like he was a senior,” Arnold said. “He wasn’t rattled. It’s hard for a sophomore to get playing time, but Will earned that. When we rotated him in, we knew we had something. We knew he could play. “
Seven games into that season, Jordan had his first major injury just a handful of plays after scoring his first rushing touchdown.
“I saw a hole so I hit it,” Jordan said. “A linebacker met me. I couldn’t get out of bounds so I just lowered my shoulder. His helmet hit me on my left arm. I tried to get up but it felt like my arm was laying in my lap. Before I looked down, Coach Arnold had my head and wouldn’t let me look at it. He tried to tell me it was dislocated, but I could tell something was really wrong.”
The big bone in the top of his arm had snapped.
“My first thought was I couldn’t play anymore, period,” Jordan said. “I was scared. All kinds of things go through your mind.”
It was the end of that season for him and as soon as the cast came off he started working out right away. That spring and during the summer camps he tried to limit his contact.
“My junior year started and I thought it was going to be the year,” Jordan said. “Our goal was to win the championship.”
The Warriors were five games in and undefeated when Jordan hurt his knee.
“It was another running play,” he said. “I was going to the right and everything got jammed. So I broke a tackle and came back to the sideline and was going out of bounds when my knee just went out.”
He thinks he stepped wrong.
“I didn’t know it was torn,” Jordan said. “I took a week off and tried to come back, but it buckled on me twice after that. It’s like it’s not even there. You can feel it move or shift and it’s like there’s nothing there. And then the pain, it just throbs.”
After his MRI, the doctor told him it was a torn ACL.
“I was scared that I wasn’t going to be able to play anymore. I thought my senior year was going to be a bust. I thought I was done, that high school sports were over for me.”
There were people in the community who told him as much, who told him, with stitches from the corrective surgery still in his leg, that he would never be as good as he had been.
And it was with all this in his head, just two months after the end of the season, as he was beginning rehab that his mother, his biggest fan, died.
It had been hard at home for a long time, he said. His mother had been in and out of the hospital for over a year wrestling with diabetes and dialysis and complications from both. That left him at home with his sister who is just a year older than he is.
“With her in and out of the hospital, she couldn’t work regular hours,” Jordan said. “There were times she wouldn’t eat so that my sister and I could.”
He said he learned a lot from her, about doing the right thing and about keeping his cool when times were hard.
Coach Arnold said that he could see Jordan’s mom’s influence in the man he is becoming both on and off the field.
“He has such a discernment between right and wrong and that’s not an easy thing for a teenager, heck it isn’t an easy thing for some adults,” Arnold said. “He can reel things back in. He doesn’t get too high or too low. He’s got a real even keel to him. Even when he has every reason not to, he keeps his emotions in check. I think that’s what has helped him prevail.”
As he got older, Jordan could see just how sick his mother was. He said that when money was tight he would tell her to eat and he would find something for himself at a friend’s house.
After she died, leaving him and his sister alone, Jordan said he matured a lot.
Jordan’s coaches said they saw him rehabbing his knee at the same time he was dealing with the most emotionally difficult time of his life.
“It made me train harder,” he said. “I was so angry I had to take it out on something.”
His mother had been at all of his home games his sophomore year and as many of his junior year as her health would allow.
“She was a real fan,” he said. “She couldn’t, but she said that when I ran the ball she wanted to run down the sidelines with me. My mom liked watching me play football. Football was like a time away from everything else.”
Jordan was back for the spring game in May of last year.
“I wasn’t as good as I expected to be. I had the motivation off the field not to think about it. But it was different on the field. I couldn’t get into my throws for worrying about my knee,” he said.
The team’s summer camps helped, but when the season started Jordan admits, he was nervous.
“People were telling me to stay off my knee and not to run,” he said. “Some people try to bring you down and some people will tell you that because they care about you. But they really don’t know how hard it is to not do something that you love. I even had people tell me not to play. They told me since I’d gotten hurt two years in a row, I ought to just quit. I wouldn’t say anything back.”
He wondered if they were right, but he says it was his commitment to his team that would not let him quit.
“I couldn’t be on the sidelines or in the stands when they were playing,” Jordan said.
He had done it enough during his injuries. He knew what that felt like and he didn’t want to do it again.
“And plus my mama always liked coming to the games and I wanted to imagine she was still in the stands with me,” Jordan said.
Coach Arnold said that he knew Jordan’s potential, but after the injuries the previous two years, he decided to restructure his offense to offer his quarterback a little more protection.
“It was a huge mistake,” Arnold now admits. “Once we cut him loose, we averaged 50-something points a game. The second half of his senior year, he was unreal. That may be the best six or seven games I’ve ever seen a player play. We scored 35, 27, 49, 56, 56, 52, 50, and that may be the best run I’ve ever had a kid do for me.”
Over the first few games Jordan said he regained more confidence in his knee and once the coaches let him step back from under the center and open up their offense it all started clicking again.
“It’s a lot easier to read the defense from the spread,” Jordan said. “We weren’t a power team, but we had an advantage of speed. We could out run just about every team on the schedule.”
Jordan says he believes his biggest strength as a quarterback is in his ability to read the defense, find their weaknesses and exploit them.
“Coach Arnold trusted me to change the play if I needed to,” he said. “Sometimes you can look at a defense and tell who isn’t ready to play, and you can attack them.”
“He’s not the most gifted athlete I’ve ever had. He’s semi-fast. He’s gotten very strong. He doesn’t really have a rifle for an arm. But when he plays, he makes the best of the abilities he has,” Arnold said. “Everybody thinks a great athlete makes a great player, but I can tell you the 6 inches between your ears is as important as anything else. And I’ll add this, he has a big heart. He’s no-quit. He never takes his head out of the game. Never pouts. Always stays positive and that made our team better. It really did.”
His senior year, Jordan set school records for most yards passing in a game (343); Most completed passes in a game (24); Most passing yards in a season (1,823); Most passing touchdowns in a season (24); and Most passing career touchdowns.
It was during an All Star game that he got the attention of a coach from Concordia College in Alabama who eventually offered him a full scholarship he signed just days after his late mom’s birthday.
The echoes of the voices of those people who told him he was not good enough have faded to a hush, to a background noise that have been drowned out by what matters.
“Since my mom died, I don’t know, it’s like it helped me, like nothing can hurt me anymore. Nothing can happen to me that can be worse than that,” Jordan said recently. “I still think about it every day but you can’t let it hold you down. You have to go on.”
He recognizes that now there are other guys, teammates and kids coming behind him, that look to him as an example and he wants to offer them hope.
“Know your goal,” he tells them. “Whatever it is, find out what you have to do and do it. People are going to talk. Be strong mentally and physically. Keep your faith in God and if you do, then when it’s over, there is nothing but joy left.”