It sounds like a tremendous undertaking. But Jonathan Orr comes off as the type of individual who will accomplish it all.
Humble, devoted and physically gifted, Orr has been a lot of things to the University of Wisconsin campus in the past five years. Saturday, he will make his 22nd career start for the Badger football team (5-1 overall, 2-1 Big Ten) as it takes on Minnesota (5-1, 2-1) in Minneapolis. Orr is fourth in UW history in career receiving touchdowns (17) and 10th in career receiving yards (1,434), but the gridiron is unlikely to house his legacy.
Orr is deeply involved in the campus and larger Madison community. In addition to football and school, the largest chunk of his time is dedicated to Worship, Word and Fellowship, a student organization he founded and helps run. Every Saturday night "WWF" holds a Bible study and an alcohol-free social gathering. Orr said anywhere from 15 to 50 students attend.
"He does it all," senior receiver Brandon Williams said. "He's not just a football player. The guy, he is a student, he tries to be a community leader. He tries to do everything. It's not a lot of people like that in this world."
Orr met his fiancé through campus ministry. "We work side-by-side," Orr said. The Badgers' travel schedule for road games sometimes keeps Orr from attending his Worship, Word and Fellowship meetings. When he is not available, his fiancé directs the events. "It's in good hands if I can't be here," he said.
Faith is at the heart of Orr's life, and his aspirations. The son of a minister, Orr conducted his first sermon two years ago at a local church, and now speaks semi-regularly at churches and community organizations. God, he says, gives him the strength to handle all of his duties.
"I just kept doing what He wants me to do," Orr said. "Making sure that I'm being led by the spirit of God."
Start small, dream big
For Orr, all of his dreams are intertwined. He strives to translate his UW football experience into a career in the NFL. He also plans on eventually going into a business venture with his father, Larry, and his brother, Jeremy, who is a sprinter on the Michigan State track team. Through those avenues, Orr hopes to garner the financial and other resources to achieve his primary goal of returning to Detroit and helping to build that community.
In Detroit, Orr said, alluding to poverty and the public school system, "it's not really going good right now, as far as the education and stuff like that. I think a lot of it has to do with the mentality." Orr wants to try to reach students at a younger age, "and then just try to change their train of thought… Show them, you know, there's different ways."
Orr has not decided if he wants to become an ordained minister, but he said that ministry will be a part of everything he does. However, he feels that taking care of people's basic needs goes hand in hand with having conversations of faith.
"I don't feel like you can just go preaching at somebody when they need money or they need to eat," he said. "A lot of time they don't want to hear it. So attending to all their needs. Spiritual, their physical needs too, whether it's emotional, just the whole person. That's the kind of work that I would really have a heart for doing, tending to the whole person."
He has put that spirit to work in Madison through ministry, taking part in the Badgers' community service projects and working with youth at the Fountain of Life Worship Center on Madison's south side.
"He's the kind of guy where he's going to be a millionaire one day, whether he plays a down (in the NFL) or not," wide receivers coach Henry Mason said. "He's just that type of young man. He has outstanding convictions and now he's old enough and mature enough to put those things to the forefront and be himself. That's fun to see."
Man of action
Last summer, Orr thought of yet another way to put his ideals into motion. He came to athletics communications director Justin Doherty with an idea to showcase the good works of UW athletes off the field, through a form of reality television. Instead, Doherty and Orr decided to create a community service project.
Orr approached senior tight end Joel Nellis, a Madison native, about getting their football teammates involved. They then broached the idea to defensive backs coach Ron Lee, the coaching staff's liaison for community service.
The result was the "Yes, We Can!" program, a food drive in Madison Elementary schools that benefits area food pantries through the Community Action Coalition of South Central Wisconsin. The food drive began Sept. 15 and officially ends Saturday.
"He's really an action guy," Nellis said of Orr. "That's why I give him all the credit in the world. Because he's the one who came to me and said, ‘Look, I think we can do something. Let's go talk to Coach Lee.'"
Next Friday, Orr and Nellis will be among the Badger football players who will visit two or three of the schools to gather donations, thank the children for their support and discuss community service with the students.
"It was fantastic," Lee said. "Really, it does your heart good to see how people want to help."
"It's always an experience talking to kids," Orr said. "We're fortunate enough to be in this town where they really like football players. Just to see how much attention you get, I guess it is kind of fun."
Back in the groove
In 2002, Orr hauled in 47 passes for school-freshman records 842 yards and eight touchdowns. But prior to the Indiana game, Orr had caught just 28 passes in the 29 games since his prolific redshirt freshman campaign.
There has been no questioning Orr's talent, work ethic, or desire to succeed. But the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder, one of the fastest players on the team, struggled with inconsistency his sophomore and junior seasons, and often lacked opportunity. In 2003, Lee Evans returned and understandably was the focus of the passing game. Last season, the passing offense floundered, and Orr slipped to being the No. 4 receiver.
Back in the starting lineup this season, Orr is thriving. He caught four passes for 128 yards and a touchdown against the Hoosiers, and stretched the field with a pair of 47-yard receptions. In last week's 51-48 loss at Northwestern, four of his five receptions resulted in touchdowns.
"I guess this is probably as well as I've been playing in my career here," Orr said. "A lot of it has to do with just maturity and just the knowledge that I've gained over the years and just the experience. Just more comfortable out there, seeing things differently and just being able to play with composure and poise… I'm enjoying it a lot more. I'll tell you that."