Even in a time of tragedy and sorrow, Ty Jordan found a way to score one more time.
Clothed head-to-toe in his Utah uniform, a place that symbolized Jordan's "home," he was wheeled across the white line and into the end zone at AT&T Stadium. There waiting for him were members of the Utah football program, a group that embraced Jordan as a brother, a son, a family member for life.
"The simplest thing I can say is that I love Ty, and I miss him," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said on Wednesday. "As the head coach of the football team, you really have 120 adopted sons — you care for them like your sons. You love them, you hurt when they hurt, and it's just a special bond. That's probably been why I've been in this profession so long is the relationship with these young men, and you end up loving them all. Some of them it takes a little longer to connect with than others. I connected with Ty on day one; that was an immediate connection."
Whittingham was one of two Utah athletic members to speak at Jordan's celebration of life, joined by athletic director Mark Harlan. Nearly the entire football team was also present, with some flying on the team charter and others flying from their respective homes.
As many know, Jordan's life was tragically taken from this world on Christmas night due to what is being described as a self-inflicted gunshot wound due to accidental discharge.
Just 19 years old, Jordan had this charisma that attracted nearly everyone around him. His smile and beaming eyes revealed his youthful exuberance, his energy permeating throughout the program. On the field, Jordan was dynamic, blessed with incredible power, vision and intelligence.
But what he did without the ball in his hands was perhaps more remarkable. Jordan's mother passed away in August due to cancer. He committed to Utah while she was sick and began his freshman season during one of life's most devastating moments.
It would've been understandable if he had stepped away for a while. After all, there are things more important than football. But Jordan never sulked. He kept working and not only climbed the depth chart, he spent that time uniting Utah athletes of all sports.
"He was remarkable. Many of our student-athletes are suffering right now," Harlan said. "I got to know Ty, as well, but when I talked to our other students on other teams, I learned quickly he was the mayor of the residence hall. So that's why as you see our teams compete this spring, you'll see a patch honoring Ty — our basketball programs, our soccer programs, our lacrosse programs — because he knew everyone. As you know, he was social."
He finished the season with 597 rushing yards on just 83 carries with six touchdowns, an average of 119.4 rushing yards per game that ranked ninth in the country and No. 1 amongst freshman.
Jordan capped off his sensational debut season when he was named the Pac-12's Offensive Freshman of the Year. Jordan was just the second Ute to win a conference yearly award, joining the man he replaced in Moss.
Jordan began to shine in just his second game of his career when he was electric against Washington, perennially one of the top defenses in the nation. Despite suffering a 24-21 heart-breaking loss, Jordan showed why he was dangerous with the ball in his hands when he ran for 97 yards on just 10 carries — and that was while still sharing carries with Brumfield and Wilmore.
If Utah fans thought that was good, they had no idea what was in store for them over the final three games of the year when he was elevated to starter.
Jordan averaged 156 yards rushing and two touchdowns per game in leading the Utes to victories over Oregon State, then No. 21 Colorado and Washington State. That number rushing would've ranked third in the nation and second in the Pac-12.
One of the most touching and heartfelt moments of Wednesday's ceremony was when Jordan's high school football coach Corey McDonald spoke about Jordan's love of Utah. McDonald was often seen as a mentor to Jordan and somebody who was there for him throughout his mother's illness.
"He never had this feeling. ... he never had it before. He didn't have it. He just said it's home," McDonald said. "Well Ty, you're home now; you're home with your mom; you're home with Jesus Christ; you're home. We're going to hold the fort, carry the torch and keep it moving. Your legacy will live on forever and we'll continue to carry the torch. I love you."
With every touch of the ball, Jordan gave Utah football fans hope about a brighter future. Every step he took and word he spoke would've made his mother proud, and in doing so, he created his own legacy.
Whenever people feel down and out, whenever the moment seems impossible, always remember what Jordan did. Not just on that run with the snow lightly falling in Colorado, but with the way he ran through life. Let his legacy be something that unites us all and provides light during the darkest of times.
"These are the things that I want to pass on to you that was put on my heart," said his great aunt Dr. LerLean Johnson, the last relative to see him alive. "Let us continue Ty's legend by not only honoring him for his athletics, because we know he was quite a gifted athlete, but also by creating during a pandemic our own positive pandemic.Continue it, be kind to strangers, love like Ty did with that big heart and those big, beautiful incandescent smile that was infectious."
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