Dion Jordan’s return to Arizona to play in the Fiesta Bowl was going to be just that.
“The whole family is going to be there,” the Oregon defensive end said before Thursday’s Fiesta Bowl. “They’re having a Fiesta in Arizona. I’m coming back home.”
It isn’t as simple as a college player coming back to his home state to play his final game. Not with what could have been. Not with the scars — emotional and physical — that Jordan has.
Back in October of 2007, a few weeks after he helped Chandler beat Desert Vista with a blocked punt, when Jordan was a senior at Chandler, he had an incendiary incident that could have changed everything.
A friend was trying to siphon gas from one of the family’s cars to another by using a vacuum cleaner. When it didn’t work all that well, they walked away. Only they didn’t turn off the vacuum, so Jordan went back into the garage to turn it off.
One pull of the plug and the battle for his life was on.
It started a flash fire that leapt on to Jordan’s body. It was basically a fireball that burned itself out, but not before doing enough damage that he had to be life-flighted to Maricopa Medical Center.
By the time he made his way out of the garage, he had second- and third-degree burns on 40 percent of his body.
Young athletes often view themselves as invincible. Their bodies are young, resilient and, in Jordan’s case, filled with potential.
He had never been in the hospital before the incident. It was hard to process early on, and he was in for an extended stay, getting three weeks worth of painful skin grafts on his shoulders, arms, hands, fingers and lower legs.
Playing for Oregon, where he was an All-Pac-12 first-team selection this year, was far off at that point. So as his career with the Ducks came to a close, it was pretty special that it ended in Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl with a win over Kansas State in the University of Phoenix Stadium.
So yes, the family, including his aunt and legal guardian Yative Tiger, will take time to celebrate the journey.
“It’s a wonderful time of year,” he said. “Who else would I want to spend it with than with my teammates and my family?”
The stabilizing force in his life has been Tiger. Otherwise, none of this might have been possible.
“She’s my angel,” he said. “She came in, took care of me, let me know things were going to be all right. Since I’ve been with her, it’s been wonderful. I’m going to continue to show her that everything she has done for me, it hasn’t been overlooked.
“I’m going to continue to be a better man.”
On the field, as Jordan has continued to grow to 6-foot-7 and 243 pounds, so has his role. He was recruited as a wide receiver, moved to tight end and eventually defensive end.
Now he is a Butkus Award finalist after racking up 44 tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss, and five sacks for the 12-1 Ducks with hopes of an NFL career as a projected first-round pick. ESPN’s Todd McShay ranks him as the 12th overall prospect.
“Dion Jordan’s probably the guy that’s taken the biggest quantum leap from day one to now,” Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti told the Statesman Journal. “The guy is a good student, the guys is a tremendous leader, the guy has an awesome motor, (and) the guys listen to him.”
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.