|Coach's Orders: The LaMont Jordan Story|
|Written by Mark Grey|
by MARK GREY
It is a little after noon on a 95 degree day in the middle of July in College Park, Maryland and Bryd Stadium is empty but for one man. The man is running full speed up what looks like a never-ending flight of stairs, all while wearing a long-sleeved black shirt. That one man is none other than the school’s all time leading rusher, LaMont Jordan. As Jordan finishes running the stairs and steps down to the field, he pauses for a second and just stares at the grass, gathers his breath and thoughts, then turns and asks, “ready?”. Although new head coach Josh McDaniels is the reason Jordan is in Denver this season, it is the memories of his old head coach that have him ready to play.
It is less than a week before training camp and the 30-year old Jordan can’t remember the last time he was in better shape. After his morning run, he takes off his long-sleeved shirt that could not have been more wet if he was getting out of a pool, then his shoes, and steps on the scale. He waits for the scale to register a number and when it does, Jordan laughs and yells out, “I told you so,” as the scale reads 226. “No one believes me,” he laughs. “All I can say is watch, just watch. I haven’t been 226 since I was in college.” Jordan jumps off the scale with the look of a 16-year-old kid who just received his driver’s license. In order to truly understand how well Jordan’s off-season is coming to an end, one has to know how badly it started.
Jordan returned to his home in Bowie, Maryland on December 30th, marking the first time he had been home in five months. Jordan, who says, “I was just so happy to be home,” had no idea the day would be one he would never forget. Jordan remembers getting ready for a night on the town, but not before stopping to have a bite to eat with his high school football coach, Nick Lynch. “I remember walking in and seeing Coach and just being so happy to see him. I hadn’t seen him in a while and after a long season it just gave me that feeling that I was finally home. We laughed and talked about high school, my season, family - just catching up … it felt great,” says Jordan. After two hours of catching up, Jordan gave his high school coach-turned-friend a hug and told him he would call later. Jordan left and went on with his night. The next morning, Jordan woke up at 8 AM to see that he had an alarming number of missed calls and voice mails. “I just knew something wasn’t right when I saw my call log.” After flipping through his messages, he got the one that explained it all. It was Coach Lynch’s brother Keith informing him that Nick had died in a car accident less than a mile away from his home early in the morning.
Sports were the one thing that always came easy for Jordan. In high school, he was not only a standout football player, but he also earned letters in baseball, track & field, and swimming. He lead the Suitland High School football team to its best record in 20 years and was the Prince George's County champion in the 100 meter dash his senior year. No one ever worried about his on-field abilities, but there were always questions about where his head was. Jordan, who has never met his biological father, always looked to Coach Lynch for guidance on and off the field because “he helped me grow so much as both a man and a football player. He was with me as I went through so many ups and downs just in life, period.”
Mike Lynn, who also coached Jordan at Suitland high school, also saw the impact that Lynch had on his life. “When Nick first met LaMont, he wasn’t trying to be his friend; he was his coach and mentor and as LaMont got older and became a man, that developed into a friendship. As LaMont got older, Nick worried about him the same way you would worry about anyone you loved. He was like that with all of his players. With LaMont, he never worried about him on the field because he knew that came easy to him. He just always wanted to make sure LaMont was okay off the field and doing the right things and surrounding himself with the right people.”
The news of one of the biggest members of his support group passing away hit Jordan hard. “I just remember feeling empty,” Jordan says, adding that he went into a “funk” in which he stopped working out and watching what he ate and saw his weight go north of 250 pounds. Two months later, the Patriots signed Fred Taylor, which meant they wouldn’t be bringing Jordan back. The off-season was only two months old and Jordan was overweight, without his high school coach, and without a team.
The fact that Jordan is here today at Maryland and working out on his own is nothing short of ironic. Jordan is doing what the Maryland coaching staff tried to get him to do his whole four years at Maryland: work out on his own. Jordan, who grew up just miles away from the campus, calls his college experience “the worst four years of my life. When I was in college, I just hated it. It felt like no one wanted me there.” Jordan said he thought about quitting but was often talked out of it by Coach Lynch. “I just wanted to play football and win. That’s it. I didn’t care about the Heisman, or my jersey being sold - none of that. It just seemed like everyone was worried about everything except winning.”
Although Jordan was unhappy in college, he was very productive on the field while playing for the Terps. He established himself as one of the top running backs in the country and was one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy going into his senior year. Jordan impressed NFL scouts with a combination of speed and power. At his pro day, he ran a 4.39/40 time while being a 230 pound rock of muscle. He bench pressed 225 pounds 24 times and showed off his 37 inch vertical. Despite his impressive athletic ability, his work ethic was a concern for a few teams. Jordan was drafted by the NY Jets in the second round and pegged to be the running back in waiting behind future Hall of Famer Curtis Martin.
When the Jets drafted Jordan, they were preparing for the aging Martin to enter the twilight of his career. Martin apparently had other plans. In Jordan’s four years in New York, Martin never missed a game and even won his first rushing title in 2004. After proving to be one of the most effective back-up running backs in the NFL, Jordan was rewarded with a 27 million dollar contract from the Raiders and a starting job. Remembering, Jordan says, “the first person I called after I got my contract was Coach Lynch. I told him I wanted him to fly to Oakland with me to sign my deal. He was so proud of me and it just made me feel happy to make him proud.”
In Jordan’s first year in Oakland, he was one of very few bright spots on a terrible Raiders team. In 14 games, he rushed for over 1,000 yards with 70 catches and 11 touchdowns. His next two years in Oakland, he was hampered with injuries while playing in three different offenses in three years. Jordan’s tenure in Oakland was nothing different from just about every star that has ventured to go there in the last six years: disappointing. After months of begging the Raiders to release him so he could sign with another team, Al Davis finally granted Jordan his wish at the start of training camp last season. Less than 24 hours after being released, Jordan was in New England taking his conditioning test. Reflecting, Jordan says, “it just felt great knowing that a team like the Patriots wanted me.” Jordan fit in well in the Patriots' backfield and even scored four touchdowns in the final three games of the season. However, the loss of Tom Brady in week one was too much for the team to overcome as they missed the playoffs despite winning 10 games.
After the season, the Denver Broncos fired their head coach and hired Patriots assistant Josh McDaniels. Shortly after McDaniels was named head coach, he expressed interest in Jordan. “I always liked Coach in New England,” Jordan says, “and he stuck his neck out to get me here so I told him I wasn’t going to let him down. I told him I wasn’t where I was supposed to be weight and condition wise, but I would be come camp time.”
One night, while thinking about the lesson his high school coach had taught him, Jordan decided it was time for a change. Thinking along those lines, Jordan says, “I have spent my entire career just getting by on my God-given talent. God has given me so much talent and I just want to do more with it. I realized I’m tired of being average.” This was the first professional challenge he had to do without Coach Lynch, so he decided to do it for Coach Lynch. “Coach used to give the best pre-game speeches. He would always say it’s just a matter of who wants it more. I’ll always remember that: who wants it more,” Jordan says. While many who know Jordan are skeptical about him changing his habits so late in his career, he is ready to prove them wrong.
For the first time in his nine year career, Jordan arrived for the first day of voluntary workouts. Not only did Jordan arrive on time, he remained in Denver for the entire off season program. “I decided I was going to dedicate my season to Coach and I know how proud he always was, so I can’t let him down," Jordan says. Case in point, when the team broke for its final rest before camp, Jordan had already lost 20 pounds.
Less than five days before training camp started, Jordan was working harder than ever. He stood in the Maryland weight room and, for a change, was happy to be there. The former Terp sat, stretching underneath a plaque on the wall that read, “Nothing is more common in life than unsuccessful men with talent.” Jordan, finishing up his workout, took off his "Rest in Peace Coach Lynch" T-shirt, the same one he ran in everyday for the summer. He was now sitting on the weight bench changing his shoes where the plaque above his head read, “Good is not enough when better is possible.” Although all the plaques were put in place to motivate today's current players, they read like testimonies of Jordan’s new outlook on life.
Jordan walks out of the gym carrying the same black duffel bag he has had since his rookie year in the NFL, feeling good and at peace with himself. He has lost almost 30 pounds since he gave coach McDaniels his word that he would not let him down. His off season and time home in Maryland have both just about come to an end and he couldn’t be more ready to get back to work. As he leaves the facility, he runs into one of his old trainers from college who looks shocked to see him on campus, and working out at that. The trainer jokingly asks Jordan why he is running in the heat. Jordan smiles and says, “It’s all a matter of who wants it more.”
Follow LaMont Jordan all season long by listening to "LaMont's Locker " every Wednesday on PlayersVoice.com