Utah’s football program suffered an unimaginable loss Christmas night.
Freshman running back Ty Jordan, a breakout star for the Utes, and the Pac-12’s Offensive Freshman of the Year during the truncated 2020 season, was killed in what police believe was an accidental shooting in Denton, Texas. He was 19.
Days after rushing for 154 yards and three touchdowns in Utah’s season finale against Washington State, the 5-foot-7, 200-pound speedster was spending the holidays in his native North Texas.
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said those in the program were “devastated” by Jordan’s death.
“Words cannot express the devastation and heartache that our team is feeling right now upon learning of the tragic death of our teammate and brother, Ty Jordan.” — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham
“Words cannot express the devastation and heartache that our team is feeling right now upon learning of the tragic death of our teammate and brother, Ty Jordan,” Whittingham said in a statement posted to the school’s website Saturday morning. “Ty’s personality and smile were infectious and he made a huge impact on our program in the short time he was with us. He leaves an indelible mark on each of us and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. From the bottom of our hearts, all of us in the Utah Football Family want to say we love you Ty and may you rest in peace.”
Waves of grief-filled Twitter timelines in response to Jordan’s tragic death followed.
Clyde Marks, the father of Utah freshman defensive back Faybian Marks, wrote that he woke up his son to give him “this horrible news.”
“We are deeply saddened and shocked to learn of Ty Jordan’s passing early this morning and our thoughts and prayers are with those who loved him dearly, including the young men in our football program,” Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said in a statement. “Our priority is on supporting his family and the student-athletes, coaches and staff in our football program who are so deeply hurting right now. Coach Whittingham and I are working closely to provide support and resources for our Utah Football family in this extremely difficult time.”
Denton police responded to a report of a shooting at 1100 Block of Avenue B about 9:38 p.m. Friday, according to Denton police officer Allison Beckwith. Denton is about 50 miles from Jordan’s hometown of Mesquite, Texas. Both are communities outside of Dallas.
“Officers responded to a shooting call and located a single gunshot victim, who was transported to a local hospital,” Denton police said in a press release. “Following a preliminary investigation, it is believed the gun was accidentally discharged by the victim.”
About two hours later, the public statement was updated to announce that the victim died from his injuries. Police did not identify the victim.
While social media posts filled Twitter and Facebook almost immediately, the Utah Football official Twitter account shared the news at 10:05 a.m. Saturday.
“At a loss for words right now. Absolutely devastated. You made your mom proud!” wrote Utah wide receiver Britain Covey. “Sometimes the ‘family on 3’ chant sounds repetitive, but it’s real and the whole state/country feels it today. Please pray for the Jordan family, it’s been a tough year for them. Love you Ty.”
At a loss for words right now💔 Absolutely devastated. You made your mom proud!✊ Sometimes the “family on 3” chant sounds repetitive, but it’s real and the whole state/country feels it today. Please pray for the Jordan family, it’s been a tough year for them. Love you Ty #LLTJ pic.twitter.com/lcAknvR42x— Britain Covey (@brit_covey2) December 26, 2020
Jordan’s mother, Tiffany, died in August after battling cancer. During interviews in his brief time at Utah, Jordan frequently mentioned his late mother.
For example, after scoring three touchdowns in his final game, a 45-28 victory over Washington State, he was asked about being the first Ute to score three TDs in a single game since Zack Moss.
“It means a lot actually to be mentioned with the name Zack Moss. He’s done so many great things for the program,” he said. “I know I’ve got some big shoes to fill. I haven’t really gotten there yet. So I’m just going to stay hungry, stay humble. It just feels great, though. It feels like I made my mom proud, and that’s all I want.”
In the wake of Saturday’s news, Utah offensive lineman Nick Ford suggested that Portal 22 of Rice-Eccles Stadium should be renamed to honor Jordan, who wore No. 22.
At West Mesquite High, Jordan starred both in track and in football. He finished his prep career with 2,589 rushing yards and scored 35 touchdowns. Jordan was named Co-District 7-5A Offensive Player of the Year as a senior. As a junior, he ran a personal best 10.52 in the 100 meters.
During the recruiting process, Jordan received scholarship offers from schools around the country, including Texas, USC, Tennessee, Missouri and Mississippi State.
Jordan committed to Texas but he decommitted and ended up signing with Utah last December. He enrolled on July 21.
“We are deeply saddened and shocked to learn of Ty Jordan’s passing early this morning and our thoughts and prayers are with those who loved him dearly, including the young men in our football program.” — Utah athletic director Mark Harlan
During the shortened season, Jordan made an immediate impact and captivated Utah fans.
He burst onto the scene and his performance figured to be a harbinger of a bright future, the latest in a long line of dynamic, prolific Ute running backs.
Jordan rushed for 597 yards and 723 all-purpose yards in five games. He concluded the season with three straight 100-plus-yard performances, including a career-high 167 yards against Oregon State.
“He’s got great balance,” Whittingham said at that time. “He’s a tough guy to tackle with a low center of gravity. He’s got good vision. He’s going to do a lot of good things for us during his career. He’s just getting started.”
In Utah’s final game just a week ago, Jordan ran 22 times for 154 yards and three touchdowns. He scored a fourth-quarter touchdown with 6:29 left that gave Utah the lead for good in an epic 21-point comeback win against Washington State.
Jordan took a handoff from quarterback Drew Lisk, made a jump cut, picked his way through blockers, spun and did a nice pirouette into the end zone.
Jordan finished the season ranking ninth in the FBS, and first among freshmen, in rushing yards per game (119.4) and is 11th in the FBS (first among freshmen) in rushing yards per carry (7.2).
Jordan became the first Utah player to earn conference freshman of the year honors since Jason Kaufusi accomplished the feat in 2000 in the Mountain West.
He was very humble about his success! When he received the game ball after the OSU game, the first thing he did was share it with the oline! Never a show off, just a hard worker! He was a good man with a good soul! We will pray for your family brother! https://t.co/avTbhh5hpU— Jaren Kump™ (@jarenkump68) December 26, 2020
In Utah’s first win of the season, over Oregon State at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Dec. 5, Jordan scored his first TD as a Ute.
Jordan, who had fumbled in the loss the previous week at Washington, worked hard to shore up his ball security.
“One thing that impressed me most about Ty, his fumble against Washington, he took that to heart and basically you could see that he made it up in his mind that something like that wasn’t going to happen again. He’s got an amazing mentality. He works hard,” Covey said after the win over OSU. “He’s like a little rock. I’m little but I feel I’m tall next to him.
“It’s like being on my mission in Chile where I was taller than people. But then you put your hand on him and your hand hurts because his muscles are so freaking stiff. If I were a recruiter, the first type of player I would recruit is someone like Ty Jordan, someone who is dynamic out of the backfield but also has great hands and you can motion and do so many different things to keep the defense on its toes. The best part is he doesn’t have a big head.”
For Jordan, it had taken some time for him to acclimate to the speed of the game at this level.
“It was a little bit of a process to get used to that. He’s starting to get confidence. He maybe wasn’t sure early in the season how he fit in here. But now he’s a guy that can be very productive,” Whittingham said. “One thing we have to do a better job of is, we have to throw him the ball more. He has exceptional hands. We’ve got to do a better job of getting him involved in the throw game because he can bring something to the table there and add even more than what he’s doing right now.”
When asked about his performance against Oregon State, Jordan humbly credited the offensive line, his coaches and the other running backs for helping him along the way.
Lisk, who came off the bench to help lead Utah to the come-from-behind victory over Washington State, tweeted, “Grateful to have gotten to share the field with such a talented and kind spirited young man. His personality, passion and unwavering joy were contagious to everyone who crossed paths with him. We’ll always remember you, 22.”
“On behalf of the entire University of Utah, our love and condolences to Ty Jordan’s family, friends, teammates and coaches. We are devastated by this heartbreaking news,” Utah President Ruth V. Watkins posted on Twitter. “To watch Ty on the field was to be thrilled by his athleticism and talent. Rest In Peace, Ty.”
“We share in the shock and sadness felt by our Utah community today upon learning of the passing of one of our family members, Ty Jordan,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement. “Our thoughts, prayers and deepest condolences are with his loved ones. The entire Pac-12 and college football family mourns this tremendous loss.”
Contributing: Amy Donaldson