Fittingly for a guy who’s about to become “big time,” Dion Jordan’s life has been hectic.
Won the Rose Bowl in January. NFL Combine in February. Workouts, prospective NFL teams’ visits and exhaustive interviews, constant media requests, school, and more workouts. He was in California last week doing media appearances and training, drove back to the East Valley on Thursday, went to Las Vegas beginning Friday with a couple high school friends, then heads to New York City on Monday.
The former Chandler High football standout’s NFL draft prospects soared following a strong showing at February’s combine. He’s since had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder, but with recovery smooth thus far, the temporary setback has done little to distract the first 10 NFL teams from zeroing in on him as a high first-round pick in this week’s NFL draft.
Jordan and former Notre Dame quarterback Sean Renfree (Duke) are among those with Valley ties who could be taken in next week's draft
Many of the mock draft publications (NFL.com, ESPN.com, SI.com, CBSSportsLine.com) have differing opinions about which team will select him in the top 10, but they all agree the 6-foot-6 defensive end/linebacker will be on an NFL team within the first 90 minutes of Thursday’s first round.
“He had a shoulder injury last year, he’s going to be 100 percent ready to go and that’s the extent of his risk,” wrote ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay. “When you line his measurables up with (former Miami Dolphins All-Pro defensive lineman) Jason Taylor, you can see he has the length and the explosiveness. I think Jordan is one of the best four or five players in this draft and I think he has the chance to be an absolute star.”
In 2007, he suffered third-degree burns across 40 percent of his body when he tried (oddly enough) turning off a vacuum used to siphon gasoline, and it cause a spark and giant flash of light. After being air-lifted to the Maricopa County burn center, doctors told the family he might not walk again, and football was likely out of the question.
This week, his family postponed draft party plans at Whiskey Rose because a hoard of them — including former Chandler receivers and cousins Javon Williams and Michael Jordan — will be watching Jordan’s future unfold live at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, where he has a good chance of being the highest Arizona-native ever drafted.
“It’s still all the way not a reality,” said Yative Tiger, his aunt and legal guardian since middle school. “I don’t know. I can’t believe what’s going to happen when his name is called.”
A few years before he played in the 2011 national championship and 2013 Fiesta Bowl at Oregon, the 6-foot-6, 215-pound tight end/defensive end single-handily beat Highland on Oct. 5: six catches for 124 yards and a touchdown, seven tackles and a blocked field goal on defense in the 14-13 Wolves’ win.
The next day after practice, while watching friends siphon gasoline into a friend’s car, his life changed in, literally, a flash.
He was air-lifted to the hospital, where he apologized to then-Chandler coach Jim Ewan (who was the last to leave the hospital that Saturday night) that night stayed for three weeks. Fortunate to be alive and able to move after surgery and skin grafts, he was supposed to be in rehab for 4-6 weeks. He cut that timetable down to less than three weeks, without using a walker. The hospital even agreed to let him out for a couple hours when Chandler played Hamilton in the last regular season game of the 2007 season, as he sat in a golf cart on the Chandler sidelines. By mid-spring of 2008, he was back running track.
“It gave him motivation to believe differently,” Tiger said. “It was his drive to get out of there and get back into the weight room. He was all about, ‘How can I get back into the weight room?’”
Oregon stayed with him, and though he began his college career as a receiver, the Ducks moved him to tight end, and, eventually, defense as a junior because he kept growing.
“He didn’t care,” Tiger said. “His whole philosophy was to be on the field.”
He was a finalist for the Dick Butkus award, given to college football’s best linebacker, but the shoulder injury hampered him late in the 2013 season.
Now close to 100 percent healed following shoulder surgery, most draft experts cite Jordan’s physical growth (he’s listed at 240 pounds) and pass-rushing skills as his strengths, so a 3-4 defense could be a boon in playing professionally (possibly even the Cardinals at No. 7).
One of the emergency personnel, the “first responders” who descended upon Jordan’s friend’s house back on Oct. 6, 2007, recently wrote an email to Tiger, and plan to present him with a gift in honor of his recovery and future NFL career. But since the NFL is sending him to NYC, it’ll have to wait until after the draft.
For better or worse, Jordan’s plans often change quickly.
“Everything you hear about burn victims and rehab, mentally he may be the toughest person I’ve been around,” Ewan said. “He just kept persevering. You just knew he was going to be successful, the work ethic, he cares about others and team more than anyone, then the accident, and he turned the tragedy into what should be a happy ending.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.