October 11, 2012

Morris: Lions’ towering lineman no longer on guard

Rebecca Rempel - BC Lions

At six-foot-five and 262 pounds Brandon Jordan is not a small guy. The thing is, the B.C. Lions rookie defensive lineman used to be a much bigger man.

Jordan spent two years at the University of Illinois where he tipped the scales at 326 pounds while playing offensive guard. A slimmer, trimmer Jordan made his first CFL appearance last weekend, recording a pair of tackles while filling in for the injured Eric Taylor in B.C.’s 27-22 victory over the Calgary Stampeders.

“A lot of people said it would be overwhelming,” Jordan said about his first taste of three-down football. “I thought I was in the right place at the right time.

“It felt good. It was fun. I look forward to having many more experiences of that nature.”

Jordan will get that chance Friday when the Lions, who lead the CFL standings, take on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

Most people getting their first look at the 23-year-old from Joliet, Ill., notice his size and speed. Old friends wonder what happened to the 300-pound plus behemoth they used to know.

“It’s weird,” said Jordan. “People who first meet me think I’m big. When I meet people I used to know they say ‘you’re tiny.”’

Jordan made the decision to lose weight after college. For most people pairing off over 60 pounds requires a strict diet and exercise regime. Jordan did it while working at Best Buy, looking after his child, and playing video games. After dropping from a 52-inch waist to a 38, Jordan spent two years as a defensive lineman with the Chicago Slaughter and Wichita Wild of the Indoor Football League.

“When I lost all my weight I vowed never to get that heavy again,” he said. “In order to play offensive line you have to be that heavy.

“When I was 326 I would get out of bed and would feel heavy. I could feel the weight on my knees. It was like my body compressing itself. Now I feel like a little guy.”

There isn’t anything little about the way Jordan plays. Against the Stampeders one of his tackles was for a loss. He also was flagged for unnecessary roughness and roughing the passer.

“Brandon showed me a guy who was amped up, who was athletic, who is very physical,” said head coach Mike Benevides. “The game wasn’t too big for him.

“He played with a bit of an edge which was good to see but you want to see him stay in control.”

Veteran defensive end Keron Williams was impressed by what the rookie showed.

“He’s filled with energy and passion,”  said Williams, who heads into the weekend tied for the CFL lead in sacks with nine. “He’s very intense, very fast. He’s always in the middle of the pile. Getting to the ball is a gift he has.

“He’s a young guy which means he has a lot to learn about the professional game. Some of his energy needs to be channelled down.”
Jordan said the penalties were a result of “pent-up aggression.”

“I’m trying to fight my way back onto the roster,” he said.

Jordan played both offensive and defensive line in high school. He was recruited to Illinois as a defensive lineman.

“Their numbers were short on the offensive line,” he said. “They knew I was a person they could easily convert back.”

Transforming back to a defensive lineman at the professional level isn’t something everyone can do.

“I couldn’t do it,” said veteran centre Angus Reid. “Defensive line is such an athletic position. Offensive line is very mechanical.

“The mindsets are completely opposite. It’s pure aggressiveness on the defensive line where the offensive line is very methodical. It (switching) is not done very often.”

The more Jordan plays, the more he realizes how much he has to learn.

“I’m finding out now it was more difficult than I had fathomed,” he said. “When I first made the transition I figured this would be a lot easier.

“It takes a different mentality and also a different presence. You move differently when you play defensive line.”

Jordan and B.C. wide receiver Ernest Jackson were playing indoor football last year in Chicago when they heard the Lions where holding a free agent camp in Dallas.

“We drove down there and that was my shot,” Jordan said.

The Lions liked his size but were amazed when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds.

“Not a lot of guys have that,” said Williams. “You have the best of both worlds. The speed of a defensive lineman with the strength of an offensive lineman.”

Jordan spent three weeks at training camp in Kamloops, B.C.. He was released in June but told to stay near and remain in football shape. He stayed in Kamloops and took a job with a construction company.

“I needed the money and the Lions were talking like they were going to call me back,” he said. “I thought I would get more accustomed to the Canadian lifestyle.”

He was re-signed by the Lions in August.

With Taylor and fellow defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell still hobbled by injuries, Jordan will get another chance to impress this week against Hamilton. The defending Grey Cup champions already have a playoff spot wrapped up but know they can’t take the Ticats lightly.

Jordan also knows it’s another chance for him to prove he can play big.

“I’ve watched every game . . . so when my number was called I would have an idea what was going  on and wasn’t walking in all wide-eyed,” he said.