ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Cleveland sensation Jordan has found a home his senior year
RIO RANCHO – Trying to wrap your brain about the hardscrabble life of Romell Jordan is about as simple as trying to wrap him up in a tackle.
But as the Cleveland High tailback sets sail on his senior football season, this much is abundantly clear:
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He’s survived and endured, and even thrived, through turmoil that might emotionally cripple most other 17-year-olds.
“The kid is such an amazing kid,” said Arlan Swihart, Jordan’s guardian.
The football half of the Jordan equation is rather straightforward.
The 5-foot-8, 165-pounder is arguably New Mexico’s finest running back. Aside from his slender build, he’s the complete package – a sprinter’s speed combined with 20-20 field vision and being as slippery as ice.
He is most certainly the most effective offensive weapon for the Storm, and the University of New Mexico already has extended Jordan a scholarship offer.
“He’s a really dynamic kid,” Storm coach Heath Ridenour said. “I told him that with or without the ball, people are going to follow you.”
Cleveland will deploy Jordan plenty in passing sets – Ridenour said he’s every bit the receiver that he is a running back – and on kick returns.
He is coming off a junior season in which he accounted for about 2,000 all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving, returns), and he didn’t even play a full season.
With the graduation of quarterback Cole Gautsche and receiver Reece White, Jordan is about to become Exhibit A inside the film room of every defensive coordinator from Rio Rancho to Las Cruces to Clovis.
“I don’t think there’s more pressure on me,” said the likable and well-spoken Jordan. “I still have people around me. People just don’t know them as well.”
Jordan and the Storm open the 2012 season Friday night at Wilson Stadium against La Cueva.
And that takes care of the football.
The rest of Jordan’s story is immensely more muddled.
“He’s been dealt a pretty crappy hand overall,” said Swihart.
To say Jordan has bounced around quite a bit in his life would be underselling the obvious.
His family had a handful of addresses in California – he was born in Riverside – and also has had two moves just since high school.
He moved to Denver after his freshman football season at Cleveland to live with his father.
But the two had a fractured relationship. Jordan didn’t feel he was getting much direction there, so he returned to Rio Rancho after his sophomore season and re-enrolled at Cleveland for the second half of the 2010-11 school year.
“I didn’t like the environment I was in,” Jordan said.
His living situation, however, was not entirely resolved once he came back to Rio Rancho. Far from it.
After returning to New Mexico, he was living with his godparents. But last summer, Jordan said, his godparents tearfully had to admit to him that they were struggling financially and that he needed to find someplace else to live.
“It was hard,” Jordan said. “But I was understanding. Money got tight for them.”
His mother lived and continues to live in Las Vegas, Nev., so that wasn’t a viable option, either.
“Me and her were always really tight, but me and her would get into arguments and I would be the one to handle her frustrations,” Jordan said. “I always thought, ‘Why is this happening to my family? Why is this happening to my mom? What can I do to make it better?’ ”
The realization came slowly – there wasn’t a whole lot he could do. And, he said, he almost quit football his freshman year at Cleveland. Asked why he didn’t quit, Jordan said:
“It was God and other people telling me that I had a talent that shouldn’t be wasted,” he said. “I had great support here.”
Jordan did indeed find salvation, and a steady roof over his head. Kacie Swihart, the sister of pro baseball player Blake Swihart, went to her parents and asked them if Jordan could live with them.
And that’s where he’s been since last summer.
“Honestly,” Jordan said, “it’s had a positive effect on me.”
Jordan’s troubled teenage years, he admitted, have led to some dark days and difficult decisions, but he has confronted all those demons head-on.
“I don’t want to be the kid to let everybody down,” he said candidly. “I’ve always been the athlete in my family, and I didn’t want to be that person to let them down. It’s driven me.”
Arlan Swihart said he admires Jordan.
“The thing is, he’s just basically been abandoned,” he said. “I’m not saying the world is roses for him, but he’s shown quite a bit of maturity. Some of this stuff he’s having to learn on the fly.”
Moreover, Swihart did what he did with his other children when they were that age: he made Jordan find a job and carry his weight.
“If we go out as a family, we pay. If he goes out with his friends, he has to pay for himself, just like they did,” Swihart said in a fatherly tone. “He’s had to be the adult (in his family), and it’s been very tough for him to understand that he actually has people now who are responsible for him, and who take that responsibility pretty serious.”
Jordan is a stellar student at Cleveland High and is a member of the student council.
In uniform, the Storm knows it has a rock.
“I would do anything for that kid,” Ridenour said. “He never complains, and (you) never hear sadness from him.”
And for Jordan, this senior season – one that just a couple of years ago he wasn’t sure he’d have – is well timed. He’s battled through his personal issues to find stability and at least some measure of peace.
“This,” he said, “is the year I’ve been dreaming of all my life.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal