Johnny Jordan made the slow walk to the stage in front of the packed pews at New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore. No college-aged kid should have to deliver a speech at a funeral service, much less one for his teammate, roommate, and best friend, but that’s exactly where Jordan found himself.
Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair stepped on the football field for the last time on May 29, 2018. He passed away at the hospital two weeks after collapsing from a heatstroke during an outdoor team workout. A week later, Jordan was tasked with addressing the grieving audience amid his own pain.
He searched in his soul and brought those in attendance into a part of his own life with McNair. Jordan made sure everyone in the audience would remember McNair by taking part in the Thursday routine that the two had shared throughout their time together as teammates.
“One thing he and I would do, we would always go to Chipotle on Thursdays,” Jordan said. “I still do that three years later. It’s just my little memory of him.”
“Johnny spoke at Jordan’s funeral and made it a point to tell everybody at the funeral that every Thursday was Chipotle Thursday,” added his father, John Jordan. “2,000 people there at that service know that Thursday is Chipotle Thursday.”
This is the essence of Johnny Jordan.
“Johnny is a great friend no matter what the circumstance is,” John said. “He will do whatever is needed to help a friend, help a family member. He will hold true to his word. If he tells you he’s going to do something, by God, he’s going to do it, no matter what.”
Johnny Jordan never makes it about himself. There’s a selflessness that’s apparent to those around him. It’s part of the reason the offensive lineman has come in as a graduate transfer this offseason and fit in so well with the Hokies.
It’s almost like he never opted for Maryland over Virginia Tech when he began his football career after high school.
“Johnny’s been great,” head coach Justin Fuente said. “I couldn’t be happier with him. He seems genuinely very happy to be here, he’s fit right in with that group, he’s one of those guys, there hasn’t been any issue with acceptance, he’s just jumped right in there. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think he’s been here for four or five years.”
“Johnny Jordan, it’s like he’s been here with me for the past five years, to be honest,” redshirt junior offensive lineman Silas Dzansi said. “He fits perfectly in our group and I feel like he’s going to be a big factor in our offense.”
For Jordan, it’s not about playing for his own accolades. It’s about playing for important people in his life that didn’t get the same chance.
“The opportunity to compete is a big one, but also I owe the people in my life who didn’t get a chance to live out this dream completely,” Jordan said. “Doing it for those guys and trying to be what they want me to be.”
The first person Jordan named was his grandfather on his mother Rebecca’s side. Jordan’s ‘Pap,’ who passed away a year and a half ago, never played football because of a strict father who wouldn’t allow him. Instead, he became the waterboy and ballboy so he could be closer to the game.
“He grew up to be a phenomenal football fan, especially college football fan. Then, became Johnny’s biggest fan,” Rebecca said. “Johnny and his grandfather were very, very close. They did a lot together. They just bonded from the get-go, and I think Johnny felt, ‘My Pap couldn’t play because of my great grandad, so I’m going to do it for you.’ They just shared a lot in their football.”
The next person Jordan named was his father, John. At a young age, John developed slipped epiphysis, a disorder he describes as his two hips coming apart. Pins were put into his hips in the third and fifth grade, and therefore, football wasn’t a possibility.
“I wasn’t able to play any contact sports until I was actually in my senior year of high school,” John said. “At that point, I was not going to be able to take up football. I wish I was able to. It’s refreshing and heartwarming to hear he has that perspective that he’s playing for me.”
And then, of course, there’s the part of Jordan that always keeps McNair’s legacy alive by playing for him.
“Jordan and I were best friends, so we would talk about what we wanted to do with football and with the rest of our lives,” Jordan said. “I haven’t forgotten any of that. It doesn’t weigh on me, but it’s on my mind constantly as I’m doing anything. I’m like, ‘Alright, this is what he would have wanted me to do,’ or, ‘this is how he would have wanted me to do this.’ It’s constantly on my mind as I’m going through life and through football.
“It’s been over three years since he passed and a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about him. I just try to live my life the way that I know he would have lived his and he would have wanted me to live mine. That’s just getting out of bed, going to work, working hard, putting your head down, competing.”
Johnny Jordan and Jordan McNair played with or against each other dating back to middle school. In fact, McNair was a big reason why Jordan chose the Terrapins over the Hokies in the first place.
Growing up in the DMV area, Jordan, McNair and a group of guys developed a camaraderie and decided that Maryland would be the right fit for them. What was a devastating loss for Jordan was as big a loss for his whole family, who had come to know McNair personally over the years.
“Jordan was this great, big, fun-loving, teddy bear kind of personality,” Rebecca said. “You loved him. He was just a great kid. I have so many pictures of Johnny and Jordan standing together because when they stand together, the back of their shirts say ‘Jordan McNair.’ They were just a yin and yang. I know Johnny plays for him on the daily. There’s not a day that goes by where he doesn’t think of Jordan and remember Jordan and know that it’s a privilege to play today because it could have been anyone of those boys.”
Still, how does someone not yet in his 20s walk through such a tremendous loss and continue his career in the sport that brings reminders of that fateful day every time he steps on the field?
John and Rebecca talked over and over with Jordan about leaning on his faith as a Christian, one also held by McNair. They made the hour trek to College Park from Leesburg, Virginia countless times in the months that followed. Jordan’s younger sisters, Madison and Sarah, were there every step of the way, all encapsulating the love and support that could only be found from such a tight-knit family.
“My family is very supportive,” Jordan said. “They come to every game that they can. That’s pretty much every game. They’re always telling me to keep working hard. There might be a day that I’m a little slower rolling out of bed. I’ll text my dad that I’m not feeling it this morning and he’ll tell me to remember my goals and keep working for it.”
There’s also a furry friend who has been a refuge along the way. For his 21st birthday, Jordan brought home Higgins, a 40–45-pound hound mix, from the shelter.
“That dog from the pound has been his lifesaver,” Rebecca said. “It has brought so much joy back into our son’s life. We were able to see that he was starting up the other side.”
Jordan walks around campus with Higgins to clear his mind as much as anything. He’s enjoying the calm before the storm on September 3.
With fall camp underway, Jordan is carving out a role on the offensive line, working at all three interior line positions. Just last year, Jordan was named 2020 All-Big Ten Honorable Mention.
It’s why when the 6-foot-1, 303-pounder entered his name into the portal, his phone lit up with messages.
“The big thing for me was the communication when I went in the portal and [Virginia Tech] contacted me right away,” Jordan said. “It felt like we hadn’t skipped a beat in four years. It just felt like a great opportunity to come here and get a chance to win and a chance to compete right away.”
“When any kid goes into the portal, you’re so vulnerable. You really just don’t know what to expect,” Rebecca said. “When his phone started blowing up minutes after being placed in the portal, we knew things were going to turn around. Virginia Tech came on so strong. It was full circle because they wanted him so badly when he was being recruited. That’s going to be the best fit for him. Sure enough, so far it is. We’re thrilled.”
So far, the Jordan family is thoroughly impressed with Virginia Tech and the football crazy town of Blacksburg. They’ve all been told stories of a packed Lane Stadium and Enter Sandman. Now, the competitive juices that run through the entire household have them waiting to experience it all for themselves.
“The football culture at Virginia Tech is so much better than the football culture at Maryland,” John said. “Playing in that environment will be great for him and also for us.”
The Jordan family preaches the motto of ‘no regrets’ in their home. Yes, there’s learning opportunities, but there’s certainly no regrets. It’s a life that Jordan is living out.
He’ll share a big laugh with you when he talks about the turtle Silly Bandz wristband he dons with pride from his girlfriend. He wears an infectious smile on his face when talking to the media. And most of all, he’s let himself become shaped and molded through the highs and lows of the past three years to bring about a newfound joy as he begins his career at Virginia Tech.
“As a college kid, a 19-year-old, to have that kind of devastation and loss,” Rebecca trailed off. “Johnny lost Jordan and within a year or so, lost my husband’s mother, his Grammy. Six months later, he lost his Pap.
“Johnny’s had such a challenging road, just personally with so much hardship in that aspect and death in his life at such a young age. For me, his perseverance and the fact that he’s come out on top, or at least is getting back to where he’s just loving life again, is what it’s all about.”