Former Utah safety Steve Tate knows all about dealing with grief and loss. 

His 20-month-old son, Hayes, passed away in December 2016 after a battle with brain cancer. Tate shared his family’s experiences during that ordeal on Instagram while Hayes underwent treatment. 

Four years later, on Christmas night in 2020, the Utah football program suffered a devastating tragedy when freshman running back Ty Jordan died suddenly.

Having played for coach Kyle Whittingham, and having gone through his heart-wrenching experience with Hayes, Tate has a keen perspective on how the Utes have handled, and are handling, this most recent adversity.

Utah players and coaches have said they are dedicating the 2021 season to Jordan, who rushed for 597 yards and six touchdowns in 2020. 

“Coach Whittingham is an excellent mentor. The adversity I’ve faced in my life, playing football helped me, in some regards, prepare for it. You never prepare for tragedy like what I faced or what the Jordan family has faced,” said Tate, who played for the Utes from 2004-06. “Coach Whittingham does a great job of creating perspective and forming that family-type feel at the University of Utah. It is a family there. When one player hurts, everyone’s hurting.”

In January, Utah players and coaches traveled to AT&T Stadium in Dallas for memorial services for Jordan. 

In this Dec. 19, 2020, file photo, Utah running back Ty Jordan scores against Washington State during game in Salt Lake City. Authorities say Jordan died at a hospital in the Dallas area after accidently shooting himself. University officials announced Ty Jordan’s death Saturday, the day after he was named Pac-12’s newcomer of the year. | Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

“It was evident in the rally behind Ty’s family, having the funeral services at AT&T Stadium, it shows how special that program is and how close it is. Sometimes in the midst of tragedy, you prevail in the end by going through that tragedy,” Tate said. “I’m sure as a program, as a team, they’ll be closer after having gone through this year. Who knows? Maybe it’s poised for a special season.

“More importantly, they’ve gained perspective that most teams don’t have,” he continued. “Sometimes that perspective in life makes you work hard and appreciate the things around you more and not take those things for granted. In my personal life experience, that kind of perspective and tragedy propels you for excellence in the future.”

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Hayes was a triplet and the youngest of six children born to Steve and Savanna Tate.

The Tates have established the HayesTough Foundation, a charity that provides support for children battling cancer and their families. 

“It’s been remarkable. My wife and I started it as a way to give back. The first family we helped, we sent them on a trip to the beach. It felt so good. I never imagined where we’d be today, raising the money we’ve been able to,” Tate said. “More importantly, we’ve been able to help thousands and thousands of families. It’s helped us emotionally. It buoys us up from our despair and sadness.

“What I’ve learned in life is, there’s always someone out there who has it worse off. You have to find that situation and help that situation. It makes your reality seem less severe. We look around to families that are hurting and we focus on helping them. That’s how we’ve been able to find some hope through the tragedy we’ve experienced.”

TheHayesTough Foundation provides a way for the family to honor their son. 

“It’s also a legacy for Hayes and his short, brief life and our lives that represent him — his brothers and sisters,” Tate said. “We’re really fortunate to have something like this that creates this legacy that’s going to be forever. Our hope is that people continue to find the means to contribute and help these families going through childhood cancer.”

Hayes’ triplet siblings are now 6 years old.

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“They’re good. They never got a chance to grieve. Hayes passed away when they were 20 months,” Tate said. “They’re in the grieving process now, which is challenging as a parent. It’s hard. It’s never-ending. It’s also fun to tell them, reliving the stories when they were little. It makes for an open conversation of Hayes daily. That helps keep his legacy alive even more. It keeps him alive in our hearts. And the support of the community has been outstanding.”

Utah’s football program has received a lot of support from the community in the wake of Jordan’s death. 

The school established the Ty Jordan Memorial Scholarship, which “will be awarded to a student-athlete in the football program who exemplifies the inspiring qualities that Jordan displayed through his work ethic, positivity and perseverance through adversity.”

Whittingham and his wife, Jamie, made the first gift to the fund in the amount of $100,000.

Those desiring to donate to the Ty Jordan Memorial Scholarship may do so through this link.

Through personal experience, Tate knows how the Utah Football family comes together to support each other during difficult times.