TUCSON, Ariz. — As he takes his diploma Wednesday night on Marana (Tucson, Ariz.) High School’s football field, Tariq Jordan might shed a tear.
A tear of triumph, of gratitude. And not just because he made it through high school.
It’s an emotional moment, because he will be literally walking with his classmates, when six months earlier he didn’t know if he would still have his left leg after a horrific football injury.
“I’ve passed my first step of adversity,” he says. “I stayed committed. I buckled down when it really mattered to make sure I never gave up.”
‘I knew it was bad’
On Nov. 2, after making a catch in the fourth quarter of a loss to Vail Cienega in the first round of the state playoffs, Jordan felt a pop as he hit the hash mark and was tackled.
Jordan’s legs swept out from under him. He lay in anguish. His grandfather, Cecil Jordan, who brought a prematurely born Tariq home from the hospital and raised him, ran over to him on the field as paramedics began working on him.
“I seen him get hit, and the only thing I could say was, ‘Get up, Tariq, get up,’ ” Cecil said. “When I seen them take the cart out, I knew it was bad. By the time I got to him, he said, ‘It’s over Poppy, it’s over.’ I tried to console him. I said, ‘Life goes on, kid. We’ll get through this.”’
The day before the game, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Jordan, who had 27 catches for 416 yards and six TDs in his final high school season, was talking to Wyoming, excited to hear a scholarship could soon be offered to him.
Then, all of that was on the back burner.
He tore the ACL, PCL, MCL, dislocated his knee, fractured bones and ruptured the popliteal artery of his left leg. His leg was at risk of being amputated.
He underwent an emergency nine-hour surgery to restore blood flow and save his leg. Surgeons opened up the right inner thigh to take a vein to put into his left leg.
“That was the longest 13, 14 hours of my life, watching this kid get hurt like that, knowing what he’s been through his whole life, to see it happen like that,” Cecil said. “It was hard to swallow.”
Jordan spent two weeks in the hospital. The community got behind him and his family, starting a meal train and a GoFundMe page.
He told doctors he didn’t want to hear anything about his football future. He said he was told he wouldn’t be able to walk for eight to 12 weeks, then he’d be on crutches for another three months, before resorting to a cane.
In June, he will undergo surgery to repair the torn ACL.
“In my head, I’m saying, ‘I’m going to do something about that. I’m not going to sit here laid up for that long,’ ” Jordan said. “I just went to work.”
Kelsey Majerus, Jordan’s physical therapist, said it was rare to see an athlete with the type of destruction to a leg that Jordan had, with vascular surgery involved.
“That stuff is a little complicated,” she said.
It started with three days a week of physical therapy to twice a week to now once a week. After he has the ACL surgery in June, it will be back to three days a week.
“I think in the beginning it was a little harder,” Majerus said. “You had to push him more. You don’t see the light in the beginning of the process.
“You don’t want to push it too quickly. We didn’t have a timeline. You don’t want to put a timeline on it. Everyone is different. The main concern was building the strength and getting the range of motion. Once there is more strength, you can do higher levels. Now he’s at the point he is feeling strength.”
‘A lot of colleges went off my radar’
Jordan pushed himself through physical therapy, “trying to prove a point.”
As he started doing squats, deadlifts, began jogging in a straight line, the sweat poured off of him, and, he said, “a lot of colleges went off the radar.”
“They thought I would break down and not play again,” Jordan said.
Marana coach Louie Ramirez was not surprised to see the progression Jordan was making, how he was able to walk normally, get his strength back, have that bounce back, that smile lighting up a room again.
“Tariq is by far the epitome of resilient,” Ramirez said. “Having the opportunity to coach him and see how far he developed on the field, in the classroom, and in the community has been an honor. Since the first day I met Tariq, he has always expressed his desire and passion to play college football and continue to play the game he loves.”
‘A no-brainer to offer Tariq’
Three weeks ago, Western New Mexico offensive coordinator Paul Hansen called Ramirez, asking about Jordan.
The NCAA Division II school had signed Jordan’s teammate, linebacker T.J. Cephers.
“I let them know he still had one more surgery, but if they were willing to take a chance, there is no one more deserving,” Ramirez said.
Western New Mexico offered a full scholarship to Jordan, knowing he would redshirt his first year as he rehabs from the ACL surgery.
Two weeks ago, Ramirez arranged a signing ceremony at the school. There was a football helmet on one side of the table. And the Western New Mexico letter for Jordan to sign on the other. He signed the letter and faxed it over to coach Frank Tristan.
“My heart is that I always want to see a young man overcome,” Tristan said. “The odds are stacked against him, which will make him work even harder. With God’s help, he will overcome.
“As a coach, this was a no-brainer to offer Tariq. We will all have to be patient in the process, but we believe in him.”
Jordan said his dorm-mate will be the guy who delivered the hit on him in that playoff game, safety Robert Webb Jr. From his hospital room, Jordan said he called Webb to let him know he held no grudge against him, acknowledging “things happen.”
Jordan feels the next challenge, ACL surgery, followed by more rehab, will be easy after all he’s already been through. And now he’s got extra incentive.
A chance to fulfill his dream of playing college football.
He can’t stop smiling.
“I’m so thankful someone was still out there, waiting for me to have this opportunity,” Jordan said. “It’s lifted my spirits.”