Sept. 14, 2009
This story originally appeared in Cal's Kickoff Game Day Magazine, Sept. 12, 2009
If you passed Cameron Jordan walking down Telegraph, you would immediately guess he was a football player. The 6-4, 287-pound junior defensive end looks like a natural to be out on the gridiron, fulfilling a lifelong destiny. As the son of a 13-year veteran of the Minnesota Vikings, he has football in his blood.
"When Kevin Garnett was drafted by the Timberwolves, that was who I knew I was going to be," said Jordan with a smile, reliving his basketball dreams. "But basketball stardom never went any further than the dream stage."
"I was decent at basketball, but I wasn't good at it. I could hold my own in the post, dribble a little bit, but in seventh grade, I got put on the B-team. I was shot down. The B-team? Wow. I thought I was the Nike endorsements and everything."
Even then, Jordan didn't immediately turn to football. His father, six-time Pro-Bowl tight end Steve Jordan, continued to hold off pushing his son onto the football field. His mother, Anita, was adamant Cameron would not be playing the game at too early of an age. She kept him active in a variety of non-football activities including soccer, taekwondo, ballet and tap dancing.
"Luckily I don't remember ballet and tap dancing lessons that well as I was six at the time," said Jordan.
But he does remember how he finally came to find football.
"It was when I was in eighth grade. My dad threw me in football. He was like, `I don't want to be that dad, but I am going to have to be that dad. You are 13 now. It's time to see if you like the sport or not. All I am asking is that you do the sport one year and just try it.'"
Even then, Jordan resisted, feeling football wasn't for him. He acquiesced and agreed to join a Pop Warner team and started working out with his father.
"He made me put pads on, made me practice. We went through like three or four weeks of practice beforehand."
His first game did anything but win him over. He sat until late in the game, getting thrown in on the offensive line and other random positions to make sure he got in his minimum five plays per game.
"I got hit in the chest one time. These kids, they were all like 14 or 15. I was just this chubby 13-year-old and I got hit. And you know when you lose your breath for the first time and you just freak out? I was not prepared for that. I was thinking, Am I really sitting here at this game? Getting beat up for the past few weeks, and I'm not playing."
Just when it looked like Jordan and football were never going to truly jell, a switch abruptly turned on inside him. It was a very quick process where he suddenly thought, I can be an athlete here. I can work with this.
By the middle of the season, he was starting. Since then, Jordan has been a dominant force on the football field. He earned All-State honors at Chandler High in Arizona, coming to Berkeley as a highly ranked recruit.
As a true freshman at Cal in 2007, he served primarily as a third-down specialist, but his rookie year he did a little bit of everything, including being in on kickoffs and kick returns. As a sophomore, Jordan worked on refining his game to be able to contribute more to the defense.
"I got real, real focused on playing the run" he explained. "I gained a substantial amount of weight that I thought was going to help me play the run, which it did, but it limited my movement as well."
This season, a more toned Jordan is a starting defensive end for the Bears, responsible for outside contain, defending against bootlegs and reverses.
"This year, I feel I am coming in with a better balance of being able to play against the pass and the run." No matter his position and responsibilities on the field, the one thing that has been consistent through Jordan's Cal career has been the support of his father.
"My dad makes it to every home game and half of the away games. He always wears a pair of argyle Cal striped pants, the ugliest pair of pants I have ever seen in my life, but other people seem to like them. He is known for the pants now."
Just as his son is known for his defense instead of his hook shot.