Don't Look Back
A LONG TIME AGO, Stanford presented its football recruiting class of 2015.
It was a good one: Bryce Love, Justin Reid, Jake Bailey, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Trenton Irwin, Quenton Meeks … and Jordan Fox.
Fox and fellow linebacker Gabe Reid are the last of that class in Cardinal red. Reid went on a two-year mission to American Samoa, but Fox's journey was an uncertain one. Now, six years later, Fox will leave The Farm with a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's in communication, and a lasting impact on the football program.
Letters of intent to Stanford come with academic agreements. There are no guarantees if a recruit does not fulfill their end of those agreements, such as maintaining a high grade-point average. Fox, a three-star recruit out of St. Peter's Prep in Jersey City, New Jersey, did not do his part and found his Stanford enrollment in jeopardy.
Should he switch programs, or double down with the Cardinal and hope for the best? With the support of his family -- parents Daniel and Donnette and brother James – Jordan chose to recommit himself to Stanford, not knowing if Stanford would do the same.
While his fellow recruits were winning a Pac-12 championship and Rose Bowl, and witnessing Christian McCaffrey's historic season, Fox remained home in Plainfield, N.J. He worked six days a week at two jobs, and took classes online at a community college to make up those grades. He also wrote to the Stanford administration on his own behalf.
"I took ownership," Fox said. "I wasn't going to let it stop me. I just had to apply myself and grind. Just study, study, study.
"It was a growing stretch for me, a lot of self-reflecting on what I needed to do to get to where I wanted to go. What goals should I set for myself? What was most important?"
Photo by Bob Drebin/ISIphotos.com
* * *
IN THE END, the 'lost' year "was a blessing in disguise," he said.
Fox earned readmission. And he wasn't the same person this time around.
"I had a lot of responsibilities, and I had to mature very quickly," he said. "Maybe, coming in freshman year, I was not ready for college. Maybe I would have lost myself. Maybe I wasn't ready for the rigorous course load."
David Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, noticed Fox's transformation.
"He walked in with so much maturity, so much dedication," Shaw said. "He worked so hard. He earned the respect of the locker room and the coaching staff. No one around here will ever question Jordan's toughness, or his resolve."
Fox redshirted in 2016, saw action off the bench in 2017, and worked himself into the starting lineup at outside linebacker by 2018, leading the team with 9.5 tackles for loss and had 4.5 sacks.
The following two seasons, however, ended prematurely because of injuries. Given the opportunity to return for a sixth year because of altered eligibility rules related to COVID, Fox didn't hesitate, choosing to end his college career on his own terms.
"I want to help this team to a Pac-12 championship and try to get to a national playoff game," Fox said. "That's my No. 1 motivation."
* * *
Photo by Bob Drebin/ISIphotos.com
AS AN ELDER statesman, Fox is glad to be a mentor and leader, while also playing a key role as a starter or rotational player among a healthy and robust linebacker group.
"He's inspiring to those young guys around him," Shaw said. "He speaks with certainty, makes calls very loud. He grabs the young guys and tells them what to do. He's been around here a long time, but the day he graduates I'm going to be a little sad because he's been so steady for us, on the field and off."
Fox still has a thesis to write, but otherwise is done with his academic commitments. He is considering research on how professional athletes use their platforms to respond to racial injustices in the world. How are they talking, what traction are they getting, and what causes are they supporting?
For someone whose existence at Stanford was in jeopardy, Fox has made the most of his second chance. Just as he promised himself.
"I knew it was going to be a long road," he said. "I knew deep down I could do it, I could achieve the goals I set for myself. There was no doubt in my mind."
And what lessons did he learn? What can Fox pass along?
"You're going to face challenges," he said. "You're going to mess up in life, but there's always room to grow. Focus on the next opportunity and make it the best opportunity you can. Don't look back."