“Dark Days Are in Rearview Mirror,” read the headline of a 2012 Albuquerque Journal feature story on Cleveland High School star running back Romell Jordan.
Yet, darker days for Jordan, a young man admired by friends and teammates more for his character than for his athletic talent, lay ahead. After overcoming family difficulties as a teenager, he lost his mother in 2016 and had his college football career at the University of New Mexico dramatically shortened by injury.
Then, Wednesday morning, Jordan was found dead in a Hobbs hotel room. He was 23.
His former coaches mourned his passing.
“I’m just dumbfounded,” Cleveland football coach Heath Ridenour told the Journal. “I’m really struggling with this. Romell has always had a special place in my heart. He was one that I wish I could have done more for.”
While at Cleveland, because of family problems, Jordan lived with the family of Blake Swihart, now a Boston Red Sox catcher. Jordan became a brother to Swihart and his sister, Kacie.
Wednesday, after learning of Jordan’s death and out of respect for Swihart, the Red Sox canceled the team’s daily media availability.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Swihart was still at Red Sox camp in Fort Myers, Fla., and told the Boston Herald that Swihart was considering whether to play in today’s exhibition game against Washington.
“He feels that being around his teammates right now is good for him,” Cora told the Herald. “… (Swihart) kind of like said, ‘My brother would probably love me to show up and play.'”
Lobos football coach Bob Davie praised Jordan as one who had overcome multiple hardships to become an inspiration to his teammates.
“(Jordan) was a great teammate and friend and his successful career at UNM was a huge source of pride for him, his family and this community,” Davie said in a statement. “The entire Lobo Football family will have the Jordan and Swihart families in their thoughts and prayers through this very difficult time.”
Brian Dunlap, Hobbs Police Department deputy chief, said the department was conducting a “welfare check,” likely in response to a call from a concerned friend or relative who had been unable to reach Jordan, and found him dead in his room. Dunlap said he could provide no cause of death before hearing from the Office of the Medical Investigator in Albuquerque.
Ridenour said Jordan was working for a Hobbs-based company and was spending at least a couple of days a week there, commuting to and from the Albuquerque area.
At Cleveland, Jordan rushed for 1,649 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior. As a junior, he rushed for 1,131 yards on a Storm team that went 13-0 en route to a Class 5A state title.
Ridenour, whose first season as Storm head coach coincided with Jordan’s senior season, said he was proud of Jordan for having pushed through his difficult high school years.
“We had our own individual talks, where he was struggling with things,” Ridenour said. “He’d cry sometimes, and he’d get through it, and then he’d get back to the Romell I knew him to be. He could light up a room. He loved being around people.”
Jordan sat out the 2013 season at UNM as a redshirt. As a redshirt freshman in 2014, he rushed for 223 yards on 34 attempts, a glossy 6.6 average per carry. A 72-yard touchdown run at Utah State was the highlight.
In 2015, Jordan was injured in the season opener and missed the next four games. He finished the season with 61 yards on 15 carries.
On the final day of 2016 spring practice, Jordan suffered a torn ACL and missed that entire season. That fall, his mother, Tamela Denise Cade-Manning, died at age 50.
In a November 2017 interview, Jordan said the loss of his mother had sent him into a deep depression.
“I stopped eating. I stopped sleeping,” he said. “I just stopped caring. It was 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.”
Jordan had come back in 2017 to finish with 281 yards on 56 carries and two touchdowns. In that same 2017 interview, Jordan said he hoped to be granted another year of eligibility because of the 2016 injury — he was not — but added he had no regrets.
“I’m just trying to see the positive in everything,” he said. “I don’t want to feel cheated, because I’m not. I’ve been blessed to do what I do.”
He graduated in May 2018 with a degree in liberal arts.
“The Swiharts took him in,” Ridenour said, “and he fulfilled his promise to his mom to go to college and graduate. That was a big deal with him.”
Throughout his years at UNM, Jordan was liked and respected by his teammates. Many of them paid tribute on Wednesday via social media.
“A great talent, smart, and driven individual,” former Lobo wide receiver Dameon Gamblin posted on Twitter. “I met you in 2013 and you’ve changed my life since then just like you’ve changed a lot of lives.
“Love you brother. R.I.P”
Staff writer James Yodice contributed to this report.
A Statement from the Boston Red Sox: pic.twitter.com/CSnmFhK5lf
— Boston Red Sox (@RedSox) February 27, 2019
Red Sox manager Alex Cora addressed the news during a Wednesday press conference.
UNM released the statements below from head football coach Bob Davie and athletic director Eddie Nuñez:
“The news of Romell Jordan’s sudden passing is heartbreaking. Romell was one of our first recruits from Cleveland High School, and he was a great young man. Romell went through many hardships, from a devastating knee injury to his mother’s passing, while with our team. He was a great teammate and friend and his successful career at UNM was a huge source of pride for him, his family and this community. We will all miss Romell’s positive attitude, and his spirit. The entire Lobo Football family will have the Jordan and Swihart families in their thoughts and prayers through this very difficult time.”
— Bob Davie, Head Football Coach
“We are saddened to learn of the passing of Romell Jordan. He was a wonderful ambassador for our football program who overcame tremendous adversity in his life to not only play football, but to earn his degree. Our hearts go out to the Jordan and Swihart families at this very difficult time.”