SALT LAKE CITY — Donned in his Utah football uniform from head to toe, the casket of 19-year-old Ty Jordan was wheeled to the end zone of the field at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Wednesday.
The breaking of that white plane, that difficult barrier to cross in an effort to score on one's opponent, traditionally evokes strong emotions of praise and celebration during a game. But on Wednesday, it became a symbolic end to a life gone too soon.
Ty Jordan's final touchdown.
"The simplest thing I can say is that I love Ty, and I miss him," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said as he fought back his emotions on a day when friends and family, and those who never even really knew the young star personally, honored him in a celebration of life in person and virtually.
"As the head coach of the football team, you really have 120 adopted sons — you care for them like your sons," Whittingham said. "You love them, you hurt when they hurt, and it's just a special bond. That's probably been why I've been in this profession so long is the relationship with these young men, and you end up loving them all. Some of them it takes a little longer to connect with than others. I connected with Ty on day one; that was an immediate connection."
To Jordan, Utah became a second home, and not just out of convenience because it was the place that offered him a scholarship. His high school coach Corey McDonald said he got a text from Jordan during his official recruiting visit to Utah that said: "It's home."
"He never had this feeling — he never had it before. He didn't have it. He just said it's home," McDonald said. "... Well Ty, you're home now; you're home with your mom; you're home with Jesus Christ; you're home. We're going to hold the fort, carry the torch and keep it moving. Your legacy will live on forever and we'll continue to carry the torch. I love you."
The 19-year-old was more than a football player, but his short collegiate career allowed others to see a humble and selfless man that just wanted to make his mom, who died of cancer in August, proud. And while difficult for a then-18-year-old college student to handle, McDonald said Jordan showed who he was through his "perseverance."
"I don't want you to remember Ty as a football player; remember him as who he was, what type of person he was — how caring he was and all that," McDonald said.
Many spoke about Jordan's infectious smile and his ability to befriend everybody. Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said he quickly found out after Jordan's untimely passing that he was a friend to student-athletes of all programs. As a result, the university will wear a patch on their jerseys in all sports to honor his legacy and what he meant to all he came into contact with him in his short time there.
"He was remarkable. Many of our student-athletes are suffering right now," Harlan said. "I got to know Ty, as well, but when I talked to our other students on other teams, I learned quickly he was the mayor of the residence hall. So that's why as you see our teams compete this spring, you'll see a patch honoring Ty — our basketball programs, our soccer programs, our lacrosse programs — because he knew everyone. As you know, he was social."
His great aunt Dr. LerLean Johnson spoke about a fortuitous trip in which she decided to make an unplanned trip to Texas and happened to see Jordan on the night of Christmas Eve, just a day before his death. She said she called him to see if he'd be close to her during her visit but that he was an hour away. He pleaded with her to come to Frisco and be with him, but she said "I didn't have plans to go." She instead would spend the night with other family.
"As I passed the exit to where I would have exited to visit him, the car just turned, and I went to visit Ty on Christmas Eve," she said. "And when I got there, that incandescent, passionate smile, and that big, beautiful heart is what greeted me at the door.
"We embraced and we sat and we talked for about 20 minutes," she added. "And the gifts that I saw that Ty exude are the gifts that you all saw him exude each and every day. He had a big heart; he was kind; his smile was full of passion and emotion and just incandescent, as I said — infectious and contagious."
Johnson said she was likely the last relative to see Jordan before he died and was grateful to see him as a "humble human" and somebody that was obviously gifted athletically but was equally a great person.
"These are the things that I want to pass on to you that was put on my heart: Let us continue Ty's legend by not only honoring him for his athletics, because we know he was quite a gifted athlete, but also by creating during a pandemic our own positive pandemic.
"Continue it, be kind to strangers, love like Ty did with that big heart and those big, beautiful incandescent smile that was infectious."
Ty Jordan's future was bright, but he lived like one who knew he was part of a bigger family — a full embrace of all that meant. And in return, his team and those who loved him most honored him.
"A Utah Man am I! A Utah Man, sir, Will be 'til I die."