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'Little Hercules': As Utah begins spring camp, the legacy of Ty Jordan lives on through its players

Utah Utes running back Ty Jordan (22) runs with the ball as Utah and Oregon State play a college football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020.

(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)



SALT LAKE CITY — The Monday after Ty Jordan's tragic death, new Utah quarterback Ja'Quinden Jackson was supposed to workout with the star freshman running back. The two were "trying to get a feel for each other" after Jackson transferred from Texas to Utah a day after the 2020 season ended.

The informal practice was going to be the first time the two would actually prepare as teammates and not as competitors on the field after a relationship dating back to the eighth grade.

But the practice was suddenly off. Jordan was gone — a friend that had so much promise ahead of him.

"The relationship with Ty was actually about to start getting even closer than it was," Jackson said Monday. "It just — that was another blow to the stomach because I lost three people in one year last year, so 2020 was a tough year. But that was my boy."

Jordan's death sent shockwaves through the football program, as would be expected. Just weeks earlier, Jordan was celebrated for his talent and up-and-coming status among the elite running backs in college football. But in an instant, all had changed.

Cameron Rising said his "heart dropped" with the news. "It just gave me a sour feeling and still hurts me to the bone just thinking about it."

"His death was surprising, like, it caught me off guard," Jackson said. "I actually woke up from my sleep from the news."

It was a similar experience for anyone that new Jordan, or even watched him play. A sudden death is always hard to comprehend, but when it falls to a 19-year-old with such a bright future, there's nothing substantive to grasp onto to explain the loss.

"Yeah, it was obviously as painful as anything I've been through as a football coach," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday as his team opened up spring camp. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about Ty.

"We definitely miss — not only as a football player, his personality and his charisma," he added. "The way he lit up a room is the thing I'm going to miss the most. ... He was such a dynamic person and I personally miss him every day."

For Jackson, Jordan was always "Little Hercules" — a demigod that possessed incredible talent and ability, even as an athlete in eighth grade when the two first met.

"I had first seen him, I was like, bruh. He was short and stalky and fast. I had never seen nobody like that," Jackson said. "I called him Little Hercules because he was so big and fast."

Their relationship grew over time and eventually the pair took an official visit to the University of Texas together — a dream for any Texas kid looking to play collegiate football. "We had a conversation about him committing to Texas, which he ended up doing." Jackson, too, committed to Texas and was expected to be with his friend before Jordan flipped his commitment to Utah.

"He told me about why he flipped, which I totally understood," Jackson said while fighting back emotions as he thought back to the moment. "I see him out here doing his thing, so I was like cheering him on from the side because I wasn't playing last year, so I'd text him every other game — I see you doing your thing and stuff like that."

Jordan had found his home at Utah. The family environment, the support — everything was attractive to Jordan and he wanted Jackson to be a part of it, too.

"I actually talked to Ty. He broke it down to me. Once he broke it down to me, explained to me that it's a family and everybody's being together in this unit, I just fell in love with it then, so from that point on I was just like, 'I'm coming to Utah,'" Jackson said.

Jackson is now on Utah's roster as one of four quarterbacks competing for a starting position. And while competing for the position will be of vital importance to him during the spring and fall, the thought of Jordan will always be present as a motivating factor, a guide for how Jackson and his new teammates will approach the season in honor of their fallen friend.

"It gave me a lot of motivation, cuz I know that he's not out here to do it, so I've got to do it for him," he said.

Ahead of spring camp, defensive back Aaron Lowe announced his decision to switch his jersey number to No. 22 — Jordan's number. The two met during their high school years in Texas and became friends. The two never talked about committing to Utah together, Lowe said, but "I knew Utah could be a great opportunity for you to really be yourself."

"It was your personality that influenced me. I had someone in you. Someone who came from where I came from," he added. "Ty made everyone around him better. He made me better.

"My friendship with Ty means a lot because he was always pushing me to be my best. He never let me settle for less," he added." It is because of you that I am changing my number to 22. The impact you left on me and all of your friends will be something we will never forget. I want to make sure your legacy lives on through me."

The stories are limitless, but one thing is constant: Jordan's legacy and the way he pushed people to be better will forever live at Utah. And though the team will have to move forward without him, his legacy will never be forgotten by those who knew him best.

"We've got to do it for the ones who's not here," Jackson said. "So we're going to keep pushing, moving forward and keep grinding — grind it out till the wheels fall off."

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