“I really had to understand what my calling was and go with my heart,” said Stevenson. “I had to understand where I was supposed to be. At the time I really didn’t understand, so I just had to sit down with my family, really talk about it and do what’s best for me, and Wisconsin was the best place for me.”
And while other schools continued to come after him, trying to convince him he was crazy for picking Wisconsin for a number of reasons, Stevenson made his college intentions clear shortly before signing day by getting a Wisconsin “motion W” tattooed on his left wrist.
“I just made it official,” said Stevenson, laughing. “That’s what I do!”
Marching to the beat of his own drum has been something Stevenson’s mother, Qy Ross, has noticed since her baby boy was in diapers. The younger of her two children, Stevenson always presented himself as a determined youngster.
“Jordan has always been a very unique person, and I’m not saying that because he’s my child,” said Ross, stifling a laugh. “He’s always danced to his beat. His development was pretty early on and strong. He’s always been a pretty strong-willed kid.”
Stevenson started walking at 7.5 months, was running by the time he was one and skipped the goo-goo gaa-gaa baby talk for coherent words.
“He was really talking and it was weird to me,” said Ross. “I don’t know if it was because he had an older sibling or what, but it was pretty unique.”
And like any true boy, he loved playing with his toys, especially anything that involved athletics. Whether it was swimming or playing catch, anything that had to do with a ball was tops with Stevenson.
Eventually that passion gravitated to football. According to Ross, Stevenson picked up a football and started to throw it around the room as early as three years old. When that tired him out, he plopped down in front of the television and watched old football games on ESPN Classic, further piquing his interest in the sport.
“I loved watching all the old-school games of guys who played before my time because it gave me a vision of what the root of football is and how it started with the different legacies that was developed and how great guys were,” said Stevenson. “It took the tradition of football to another level and made it more into a very exciting game.
“When I was young, I really didn’t understand what football was all about. As time passed, I learned what the game was all about, the dos and don’ts and what it can do for you.”
Watching those games helped give Stevenson a purpose as he progressed through adolescence. A troublemaker growing up, Ross – knowing her son’s growing affinity for football – put Stevenson in sports to give him something to do instead of creating a ruckus.
As he got older, Stevenson had the goal in the back of his mind of being one of the top running backs in the country. It’s a lofty dream that many kids have growing up: being a professional athlete. While she always supported her son, Ross never went out of her way to boast about her son, choosing to leave the t-shirts with player’s faces on them to other parents. It was during that incognito approach, when Stevenson was playing for a seventh-grade select team, that the light bulb went on for her, indicating that her son might be more than just another football player. “I never wanted the attention on me; I wanted to be there for him,” said Ross. “I was at a night game of his and the place was packed for a game full of 12- and 13-year-old kids. There was this couple standing next to me and Jordan walked out as they were about to start the game. The guy goes, ‘Babe, this was the guy I was telling you about, the running back. I want you to see him.’ I was looking around trying to figure how who he was talking about, and he was talking about Jordan. “It was just weird that this guy was there to see my son, and people were coming to see Jordan play early on. I am there because I am his mom, but other people were there for him. That’s when it resonated to me that this might be something.”
“It turned my whole life around,” said Stevenson. “I never knew anything about football. It just came at a point in my life where here’s a football, learn and play football, and put me in little league football teams to help me build discipline, self-control and help me get to where I am today.”
****R.J. Bond – the defensive coordinator at Dallas South Oak Cliff – vividly remembers when he first saw Stevenson, too. Seeing this powerful-looking eighth grader down in the blocks at a track meet, Bond watched the young athlete run away from everybody in the 100-meter dash. He knew nothing about him, but he was impressed by Stevenson’s sheer size, a physical presence that reminded him of a young Leroy Burrell. Burrell – in his 16th season as the track and field coach at the University of Houston – twice set the world record for the 100 meters in the early 1990s and won a gold medal in the 1992 Summer Olympics in the 4x100 meters. “He (Stevenson) was put together just so well for being an eighth-grader,” said Bond. When he was at Dallas Skyline, Bond ran into Stevenson – then an incoming freshman – again. It was the same kind of impression, and then some. “I was very impressed with the young man, just by talking to him,” Bond recalled. That trait carried on through his high school career. While becoming the Dallas Independent School District’s all-time leading rusher, Stevenson always put the team before himself, with a smile on his face. “He wants to do everything he can to help his team win,” said Bond. “If we tell him we need 10 yards, he’ll say that he’ll try to get 12. That’s just the type of person he is since he’s been here.” Recognizing that the competition he was facing in games, not to mention in practices, was the perfect stepping stone to prepare for the next level, Stevenson developed into one of the team’s leaders in his final season. He preached self-accountability, consistency, hard work and leaned on his teammates, who all demand perfection from one another. “It’s about everybody going in and working hard, pushing each other and excelling to the next level so we reach our potential,” said Stevenson. “Going into the season, we all had work to do and realized what needed to be done to take things to a whole other level. For myself, it’s important for me to be a team leader on and off the field and be accountable for everything that I do.” It’s a personality that’s become infectious with his teammates. As soon as he arrived at South Oak Cliff, Stevenson began forming friendships with the defense. Before workouts on Saturday morning, he’d buy his offensive linemen breakfast. If he couldn’t make breakfast on Saturday, he’d make sure to make it up to them with food on Monday. “Since he’s been here, he’s been nothing but A-1 positive team leader,” said Bond. “He’ll get on himself as quick as anyone else. Boys immediately gravitate to him. You would have thought he would have been at SOC (South Oak Cliff) for all four years the way him and the boys immediately clicked. I’ve never got a mean vibe from him. He call guys out and turn it right back on himself, saying while I’m pointing the finger at you I’m pointing the thumb at me. He’s never been too big for the team.” Having eyes on him from an early age, Stevenson acknowledged that the recruiting process was long and tiring. While completing his varsity career with 4,991 yards of total offense (4,550 rushing and 441 receiving) and 53 touchdowns, Stevenson had offers from Alabama, Arkansas, Louisville, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, SMU and UCLA, to name a few. But none of those schools compared to the combination of athletics and academics offered by the University of Texas, the school to which he gave his verbal commitment to in the fall of 2013. “You grow up knowing the value of our colleges,” said Ross. “You know the difference between Texas A&M, the Baylors, the TCUs, all of that. Texas has always been a premier school for Texas, regardless if you are talking about sports or academics. There’s always been a little difference between Texas and the other schools. The fact that (then head coach) Mack Brown and other coaches were excited about Jordan the person, not just Jordan the athlete, through the conversations we had and the many visits we took. I thought it was going to be a great fit for him.” Stevenson felt so, too, especially since the school has a political science program, and he got to meet former Texas tailback and 1977 Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell on one of his trips. Ross never placed pressure on her son, saying she was fine with whatever school he chose as long as he was happy with the fit. “If he wanted to go away from home, I didn’t want to feel he couldn’t because of me,” said Ross.
****Wisconsin started to get involved with Stevenson’s recruitment last spring, but neither Stevenson nor Ross knew much about the Badgers. He recognized that Wisconsin, like Texas, had a strong academic background to go with a championship-caliber football program. Still committed to Texas at the time, and even though former Louisville head coach Charlie Strong was now in charge, Stevenson took an official visit to Wisconsin the final weekend of September. His mom didn’t go on the visit because of a work conflict, but she certainly felt like she was there after Stevenson told her about the academics, the people and getting an opportunity to hold the Heisman Trophy and talk to its former winner, Ron Dayne. “Anytime your kid says something was a life-changing experience, you’re like, ‘Well, OK!’” said Ross. “It was more than I expected. I knew he was having a good time based on the feedback I was receiving, but I could tell he was torn because it was a life-changing experience. He knows what the school offers. He has positive things to say about Madison. He had positive things overall about the staff, the University and the city itself. I knew that there was more to it there.” Stevenson thought about it for more than two months. He discussed it with his mom. He prayed about it. In the end, playing running back and getting an education at Wisconsin just made too much sense. “I can’t honestly say that it was one thing (that caused me to switch),” said Stevenson. “Texas is a very good school, don’t get me wrong, but I just felt like Wisconsin was the place I was meant to be. It felt more real to me. Texas felt like everybody was spaced out, everybody was their own self, nobody was collaborating down there, everybody was in their own little world.
Even after he announced his commitment, the recruiting process didn’t stop as schools continued to stop by his high school, send him mail and try to make him an important target as signing day approached. Stevenson decided to take an official visit to the Oklahoma State campus two weeks before signing day, but returned knowing that his heart was set. “It was really good, but no place felt like Wisconsin,” said Stevenson. Part of the reason Oklahoma State fell short was because of the relationship Stevenson had forged with the UW coaches, who seemingly handed off their relationship from one person to the next. It started with secondary coach Bill Busch, who made the initial contact and stayed active with Stevenson. Running back coach Thomas Brown jumped into the mix later and was the point man after Busch was not retained by Chryst. Brown, who later was hired by Georgia, his alma mater, on Feb. 17 for the same position, also helped Stevenson develop relationships with head coach Paul Chryst and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph, both of whom stopped by South Oak Cliff high school with Brown to visit Stevenson. “The coaches have very high expectations of me coming in June,” said Stevenson. “The bar is set high. It’s all about what you can do, and they’re going to give me every opportunity to win that starting spot.” Although she never set foot on the campus her son committed to before his announcement, Ross had little worries about the move thanks to the Wisconsin coaching staff. It started with Busch’s reassurance, followed by Brown’s approach and Chryst’s demeanor. “As a staff collectively, they’ve done a wonderful job addressing my concerns as a parent,” said Ross. “I couldn’t ask for more. They went above and beyond addressing everything.”
“When I went to Wisconsin, it seemed like everybody networked together. Everything was all together. It was very family-oriented. Everybody understood each other. I hung out with Melvin (Gordon), Corey (Clement) and all the other running backs and they all clicked together, they eat together, and it just felt real. I could see myself being there, and I felt it was better for me to get away from Texas anyway and experiencing something new.”
****Stevenson adds an immediate spark to Wisconsin’s running back room. With Gordon gone to the NFL, junior Corey Clement is the only scholarship tailback on the roster with a collegiate carry. The opportunity to play early is there, meaning a fierce camp battle likely will commence in a group that includes redshirt freshmen tailbacks Taiwan Deal and Caleb Kinlaw. “I’m really not worried about the competition because I know what I bring to the table,” said Stevenson. “Anywhere you go, you are going to run into a lot of great guys that have the same ability as you. From the competition standpoint, it really doesn’t bother me.” It also doesn’t bother him that Wisconsin added a second running back in the 2015 class. Committing a little over a month after Stevenson, Hoover (AL) High Bradrick Shaw took his official visit to Wisconsin the same weekend as Stevenson. By himself on his visit, Stevenson hung out with Shaw and his family. “That’s my homeboy,” Stevenson said of Shaw. “That’s my partner. We’re real tight. It’s good to have him up there with me. If I ever needed anything, his family was there for me and we’ve built a relationship from there.” There are few people Stevenson hasn’t developed a connection with. An infectious, motivated character, Stevenson is headed to Madison for the complete college experience. And as usual, Ross will be quietly cheering, watching her son grow into something more than an outstanding tailback. “I’m still going to get to be mom, but I think it’s from a different viewpoint now,” said Ross. “Who I am turning Jordan over to is really important because I am concerned for his development as a young man. I think him going to Wisconsin that he’s going to grow up, meet some more diversity of individuals and develop into a man. I like the values Coach Chryst has instilled into the program, so he’s going to learn a lot from him, but the academics are going to help him mature also as a person because he’s going to see things in a different perspective.” She has no doubts. After all, her son has always marched successfully to his own beat.