A lot of things weren’t supposed to happen. The car wasn’t supposed to be out of gas. His skin wasn’t supposed to erupt into flames. He wasn’t supposed to recover. He wasn’t supposed to compete again. He wasn’t supposed to play defense. He wasn’t supposed to become one the best players in the country.
The Ducks’ standout defensive end, Dion Jordan, knows better than to rely on suppositions.
“You have to take advantage of every day, that is what I have learned,” Jordan said. “That is what I try to do when I come to what I call work.”
Jordan showed up for what he calls work (football) on Friday, Oct. 5, 2007. But on this night it was no typical visit to the office. Jordan stood above the rest, both in physical form and performance. The senior receiver out of Chandler High School in Chandler, Ariz., towered over defensive backs, grabbing six passes for 124 yards and a score. It was one of his best games — one of many standout performances.
At 17 years old, he had scholarship offers from half of the then-Pac-10 programs. His future looked secure. But in less than 24 hours, all of that changed.
“Pulling the plug” on a life is a figurative phrase. Fewer than 24 hours after his stellar performance on the field, Jordan almost accidentally pulled the plug on his own life in the most literal sense.
Standing in a friend’s garage, Jordan watched as his buddies attempted to siphon gasoline from one car in order to fill an empty one. The gas was sucked from the car’s tank with a vacuum cleaner. The teens took a break from their effort and left the garage with the vacuum running. That’s when Jordan reentered the garage and decided to turn off the gasoline-filled vacuum. He walked to the wall socket. He pulled the plug. He was on fire.
A spark from the socket caused the vacuum to explode. Minutes later Jordan was in a helicopter, speeding to a hospital; second and third degree burns covered his body.
At 6-foot-7, 215 pounds, with the ability to run the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, Jordan was an unstoppable force on the high school football field. He now laid in a hospital bed. Doctors performed skin grafts and treatments for the burns that tested the limits of Jordan’s pain threshold.
When asked if football was on his mind while he was in the hospital, Jordan said “I just wanted to get out of the bed.”
He was in the burn unit for a month, inpatient rehab for more than a week. On Jan. 9, 2008, about two and half months after he was sky-high, flesh aflame, Jordan committed to play receiver at Oregon.
“I’m proud of myself for being persistent and sticking through the tough times,” Jordan said. “My injury, it was a major setback for me at the time but I went through the recovery process and took my time to be all right.”
In 2008, Jordan redshirted for Oregon. In 2009, he switched to tight end but didn’t play much. In 2010 he was moved to defensive end, where he made 33 tackles and recorded two sacks as a reserve. 2011 is when Dion Jordan arrived.
In his junior season, Jordan burst onto the scene as a starter for the Ducks. He brought down the opposition on 42 occasions, 13 of which were for negative yards. He sacked the quarterback 7.5 times, which was a team-best. At the end of the 2011 campaign, Jordan was named to the Coaches’ first-team All-Pac-12.
“The process, I wasn’t expecting it, but you got to be ready for just about anything,” Jordan said. “Coach Kelly came to me and told me they wanted to try me on the defensive side of the ball, and I accepted that challenge. I have become a better listener, a better learner, since I have been on the defensive side.”
Jordan grew in the four years since his accident. His stature is bulkier and stronger, having added nearly 30 pounds. His character was tested and proven through his recovery from his tragic incident as a 17-year-old. His talent and notoriety have burgeoned.
The results of change? Jordan was named to four major, nationwide, defensive award watch lists before the 2012 season. In six games played this season, he has recorded 24 tackles, five for a loss. He has sacked the quarterback three times and forced two fumbles. He is on pace to set personal bests in each of those categories this year.
This week, the Ducks will play in Sun Devil Stadium, less than 12 miles from the house in which Jordan’s football career almost ended on that October day.
But on this October day, when Oregon faces Arizona State, Jordan will look to show how he has emerged from the flames to lead the Ducks’ defense. He recorded his first collegiate sack in Sun Devil stadium two years ago, another marker in his journey to where he is today.
After this season, many expect Jordan to be a lock to be picked up in the 2013 NFL Draft.
“I am finishing up my degree here and I hope to keep doing this football thing,” Jordan said.
When asked what he thinks of what is supposed to happen down the line he said, “You never know.”