As Utah football coaches and players prepare in earnest for the 2021 season during spring practices, they do so with the memory of their fallen star close to their hearts and minds.
Last Christmas night, 19-year-old freshman phenom Ty Jordan, who rushed for 597 yards and six touchdowns in five games for the Utes in 2020, died tragically after an accidental shooting in Denton, Texas.
Texas transfer quarterback Ja’Quinden Jackson was scheduled to work out with Jordan for the first time as Utah teammates in Texas shortly after Christmas. The workout was supposed to take place just days after Jordan’s death, the following Monday.
“It was another blow,” Jackson said. “2020 was a tough year.”
Jackson had known Jordan since Jordan was in the eighth grade and they played against each other growing up.
“When I first saw him, he was short, stocky and fast. I hadn’t seen nobody like him,” Jackson recalled. “I called him ‘Little Hercules’ because he was so big and fast.”
One of the reasons Jackson had decided to transfer to Utah after spending a season at Texas was because of Jordan.
“I didn’t know what it’s going to be about,” Jackson said. “Ty broke it down to me and explained that it’s a family. From that point on it was like, ‘I’m coming to Utah.’”
Jackson announced his intention of enrolling at Utah just five days before Jordan’s death.
Before making that decision, Jackson didn’t know much about the program and had never even been to Utah. But he took note of how much Jordan loved being part of the Utes’ program and witnessed for himself the success Jordan enjoyed on the field.
“I saw him out here doing his thing,” Jackson said. “I was cheering for him. I’d text him.”
Jackson arrived on campus in January, and he’ll compete for the Utes this season — only without Jordan.
But Jordan’s spirit abides with him. Like a lot of Utes, Jackson is dedicating this 2021 season to their friend and brother.
“It gave me a lot of motivation. He’s not here to do it. So I’ve got to do it for him,” Jackson said. “We’re going to keep grinding. We’ll keep him on our minds.”
The Utes will always remember Jordan’s playful demeanor and his bright smile — which he even displayed while running for touchdowns.
Coach Kyle Whittingham continues to feel the weight of the loss of Jordan on a daily basis.
“It’s as painful as anything I’ve been through as a football coach. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Ty,” he said. “As far as his memory, we have some things in house to honor Ty and keep him at the forefront of our minds. … His personality and his charisma and the way he lit up the room is what I’m going to miss the most. … It’s a situation where Ty is on all of our minds still. It’s been a few months but he was such a dynamic person. I personally miss him every day.”
On Jan. 6, Whittingham, coaches and players attended a celebration of life in honor of Jordan at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
That day, Whittingham spoke about Jordan and recalled some tender moments they had shared together.
Running backs coach Kiel McDonald also eulogized Jordan, recalling his “million-dollar smile, from cheek to check, you could barely see his eyes. He would light up the room. He loved life to the fullest.”
At the end of the two-hour service, Utah players carried Jordan’s casket to the end zone at the home of the Dallas Cowboys and cheered for him one final time.
The school has taken steps to honor Jordan in several ways and will continue to do so throughout the year. For example, it established the Ty Jordan Memorial Scholarship, Utah athletic director Mark Harlan announced in January.
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 a secure online portal accessible at ugive.app.utah.edu/designation/3944.
The scholarship “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.”
Jordan’s mother, Tiffany, died last August after a battle with cancer. Last fall, Jordan, motivated by his mother’s memory, earned Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors and was named Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year by The Associated Press.
Since Jordan’s death, Utah teams representing a variety of sports have worn patches on their jerseys in his honor.
Jordan wore No. 22 for the Utes. Defensive back Aaron Lowe, who has known Jordan since they attended high school in Texas, is demonstrating his love for Jordan by switching his jersey from No. 2 to No. 22 this season.
“I remembered watching you, and I remember my first impression of you thinking — ‘Dang he fast,’” Lowe wrote. “You were always just Ty. Always smiling, everywhere we went you were adding light to the room. Since the day I met you I knew you would be a good person. And it was because people always looked up to you. People always wanted to be around you.”
Lowe wants to ensure that Jordan is remembered forever — not just for what he accomplished on the football field but also the lasting impact he made on others.
“My friendship with Ty means a lot because he was always pushing me to be my best,” Lowe wrote. “He never let me settle for less. It is Because of You that I am changing my number to 22. The impact you left on me and all of your friends will be something we will never forget. I WANT TO MAKE SURE YOUR LEGACY LIVES ON THROUGH ME.”
Quarterback Cam Rising recalled learning the news of Jordan’s passing in December. “My heart dropped,” he said.
Months later, “it still gives me a sour feeling. It hurts me to the bone, just thinking about it,” Rising said. “Just knowing who Ty was and how he always pushed the team to be better, it shows in the work that we’re putting in. That’s how Ty’s affecting us and helping us with our goals this year.”
Like a shooting star, Jordan’s time at Utah was brief. But those in and around the program are determined to remind everyone what he means to them. No doubt, his memory will be palpable — and his memory will propel his coaches and teammates leading up to, and throughout, the fall.