Defensive tackle Jaylen Jordan will play the first game of his senior season Saturday against rival Jackson State.
Obviously, the first six weeks of his final season at Southern haven’t been ideal. Especially for a returning starter.
While on his trip from Houston to Baton Rouge to report to preseason camp, he was involved in a car crash. A concussion along with minor back issues forced him to miss the first week-and-a-half of camp.
After recovering and being medically cleared for the season opener, he was one of many deemed ineligible because of Southern’s certification issues. He found out just hours before the Aug. 30 season opener at UL-Lafayette. In the A.W. Mumford Field House, just before the team bus was to leave, he learned he wouldn’t play because of a discrepancy dating to his sophomore year.
“They got together a team that could travel, and my name wasn’t called,” Jordan said. “At the time I thought, ‘Why would somebody go back that far, and why would it affect me now — especially if it wasn’t my mistake? Why am I being punished for something that I knew nothing about?’ ”
Jordan spoke with Jason Baum, Southern’s director of institutional compliance, and found out he’d miss six weeks. Once he knew he’d miss nearly of the season, he couldn’t focus on it. His heart wasn’t in the game.
“I came to the Monday practice (following the UL-Lafayette game) and my mind was just away from it,” he said. “Even though I was there, I was the furthest thing from actually practicing and doing stuff on the field like I knew I could.”
He weighed the option of practice only but was hurt by the idea. He said if he could only practice for six weeks, he would just rather not play at all in 2014 and consider last year his senior season.
For five weeks, Jordan separated himself from all football-related activities: no practices, no team meetings and no hanging out with teammates. He considered himself a regular college student, completely changing his routine that’s been set for the past two years.
“I just shut everything down,” Jordan said. “I stayed to myself. I went to class by myself. I went to the (cafeteria) by myself. Then I went back to my room closed my door. Those were my days. I shut myself out from everybody.”
Jordan returned to practice the week of homecoming, as the team prepared to play Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Oct. 4.
He wanted to return to practice two weeks in advance, hoping he’d be clear after six weeks off the field, to get his body back into football mode.
He was happy to finally play the game he’s loved since age 6, with his best friends since his freshman year. But Southern coach Dawson Odums was even more thrilled to have a returning starter available on a short-staffed defensive line.
“(At his first practice), I looked out there and saw him on the field, and he was doing some things that you expect him to do, but you probably haven’t seen it in some of the guys,” Odums said. “We’re bringing a starter now off the bench, so that really gives us more depth. We’re excited about having him back.”
Jordan said the time away from the game gave him a different mindset. He put more emphasis on preparing for life after football.
“Of course (football) is not forever, and it can be taken away from you like that — even without an injury,” Jordan said. “So that made me focus even more on my schoolwork, to make sure I don’t leave Southern with just a SWAC championship ring, but I leave here with a degree as well.”