If anyone deserves a sixth year of college football, it’s Romell Jordan. The NCAA rules that govern such matters say he’s not eligible.
Jordan, though, remains optimistic — optimism being a trait that’s helped him get through hard times before.
“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to do what I did in the time I had,” Jordan, a UNM senior running back and a former Cleveland High School star, said after Tuesday’s practice in preparation for Friday’s season finale at San Diego State. “That’s the only thing I can do, is look forward and look to the future and just be thankful.”
There have been times in Jordan’s life when it seemed he had little to be thankful for.
His last two years in high school, because of family problems, Jordan did not live with his parents. He was taken in by the family of former Cleveland baseball star Blake Swihart.
After a sterling career at Cleveland — he helped the Storm to an undefeated season and a big-school state title as a junior — he accepted a scholarship offer from UNM.
After redshirting in 2013, he became a contributing member of a strong running backs corps in 2014. He broke a 72-yard scoring run during a 28-21 loss to Utah State that November.
Injuries, though, limited him to just eight games and 61 carries as a sophomore. Then, on the final day of spring practice in 2016, he tore an ACL. The injury would sideline him that entire season.
Far worse, that September, his mother, Tamela Denise Cade-Manning, died at age 50.
The tragedy, Jordan said, sent him into a tailspin.
“I stopped eating, I stopped sleeping,” he said. “I just stopped caring. It was just a real low point in my life, and I just didn’t care about much. I didn’t have football, and I didn’t have my mom.”
Time, and the support of family, friends, teammates and coaches, helped him rally.
“I just had to realize how blessed I was,” he said.
This season, through 11 games, Jordan has rushed for 243 yards with an average of 5.2 yards per carry — highlighted by a 44-yard run against Abilene Christian and an 8-yard touchdown run against UNLV.
He’s done this while weighing less than 170 pounds. Before his mother’s death, he said, he weighed 188.
“(The weight loss) didn’t stop me from throwing my body in there and selling my body for the team,” he said. “I feel like I’m 190 pounds, even though I’m (closer to) 160.”
The season has not gone well. After 7-6 and 9-4 records the past two years, the Lobos go to San Diego State with a 3-8 record — 1-6 in Mountain West Conference play. They were listed as 20-point underdogs to the Aztecs (9-2, 5-2) as of Tuesday evening.
Again, the Jordan optimism peeks through the gloom.
“It could all be worse,” he said. “… When I came here my freshman year, it was sort of like this, but the team wasn’t as tight. We’re still relying on each other. Back then it was division, ‘I’m for myself.’ Now, it’s for the team.”
As for Jordan’s football future, NCAA rules state that, to get a sixth year having had a redshirt year and having missed another year with an injury, a player must have had a second season-ending injury. That’s not Jordan’s situation.
But, he points out, this season is only the third in which he has competed. And he missed four games in 2015 because of injury.
During his career, with one game remaining, he has played in only 27 of a possible 48 games.
“I’m hoping they look at the facts, and see that I have not had a full four years to play football, and I’m hoping they feel for my case and they approve me,” he said.
And if not?
“I’m just trying to see the positive in everything,” he said. “I don’t ever want to feel cheated, because I’m not. I’ve been blessed to do what I do.”
UNM at San Diego State
1:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network, 770 AM/94.5 FM