Nov. 7, 2002
by Ken Kleppel
Thursday evenings before home football weekends are quite an experience at the house of senior offensive tackle Jordan Black.
Each home game, Black’s parents – Dwayne and Vivian – journey from their Dallas suburb of Rowlett to South Bend.
Along the way they pack enough food to feed about 20 hungry men – literally. Vivian prepares a pre-game meal every Thursday – with courses ranging from homemade enchiladas to barbeque brisket with beans – for the Notre Dame offensive linemen and others to enjoy, while celebrating the end of another week of practice and begin the final drive towards the opening kickoff at Notre Dame Stadium.
No one is happier with the choice of menu than Jordan.
“She tries to bring a little Texas flavor up here for every home game,” says Black of his mother.
Although the food is exquisite, not everyone is so pleased.
“We’re supposed to be there at 8:00 p.m., but I get there at 9:00 p.m., and most of the food is gone,” says senior fullback Tom Lopienski.
“Then there is Jordan sitting in the corner of the room with all the plates near him. It’s pretty hilarious; he eats almost all the food himself.”
And thus the Jordan Black tales begin. Just talk with any offensive lineman and you will spin through a revolving door of stories about Black that go on and on and on.
Like the time he ate over three pounds of refrigerated fudge, in less than 20 minutes, in response to a friendly dare made by a group of teammates.
Or the number of collapsing chairs and couches, a weekly occurrence according to one report from senior center Ryan Scarola, that fail to support Black’s massive frame.
How about Black’s ‘leaning Chevy Tahoe’ that now permanently tilts towards the driver’s side, proving that the most dependable, long-lasting trucks on the road may be able to handle rugged terrain and inclement conditions, but can’t quite come to grips with a 300-pound Texan?
Better yet, a nickname given to Black by his teammates that was borrowed from the Back to the Future trilogy. In honor of the device that allows the DeLorean to operate on garbage, the offensive line dubs Black the ‘Flux Capacitator.”
“Because will eat just about anything,” says senior offensive guard Sean Milligan, holding back laughter and more than willing to offer examples.
Few are able to elicit such a rise from his teammates like Black does. Or bring out a story, complete with whole-truths and half-truths, as well.
But there is good reason for such a string of responses. Black exhibits qualities much more exceptional than his 6-6-inch frame— he possesses a knack to serve as the chemistry-builder among the Irish offensive linemen.
And the players respond to Black’s tremendous sense of humor along with his ability to put others at ease in the most opportune instances.
“I always like to consider myself a leader on the field, but I think off the field I am probably the person that kind of keeps the guys entertained,” says Black.
“The role off the field – joking around and making sure I am always doing something with other offensive linemen – that’s primarily my role on this team.”
“He has a lighter side to him,” says offensive guard Sean Mahan.
“He always brings a smile to everyone’s face. Whenever you come into the lockerroom, he always has something up his sleeve. If you’re ever feeling down, he’ll make you feel a lot better.” No one would know better than Mahan, close friend and occasional sidekick to Black in clubhouse humor.
Since rooming together as freshmen during two-a-day practices in the summer of 1998, Black describes Mahan as the person that has had “the biggest influence” on his development at Notre Dame.
“We have always been there for each other,” says Black.
“We have the same thoughts on everything. We are just real similar people.”
About as similar as a Texan and Oklahoman could be.
Mahan, who is from Tulsa and led powerhouse Jenks to back-to-back high school state championships in 1996 and 1997, contrasts sharply with Black, who hails from Dallas and advanced Dallas Christian to the private-school state title in 1995 and again in 1997.
“Jordan’s a typical Texan with a lot of state pride,” says Mahan.
“But he hasn’t been too happy with Oklahoma beating Texas the last few years.” Black still wears his state colors with pride.
His bedroom is a shrine to the city of Dallas, complete with the Texas state flag and a poster of the city skyline. His younger sister, Rebekah, is a sophomore at the University of Texas and a longhorn decal adorns the back of his car.
Black also enjoys the outdoors. Each year he and former Notre Dame offensive guard Casey Robin go duck hunting. Last January, the two ventured to Robin’s home in Louisiana and this January they will return to Texas.
To complete the Texan stereotype, Black drove a pick-up truck in high school, regularly wears cowboy boots and pulls for the home teams.
“Everything is Texas with him,” agrees Scarola.
But Black took an indirect route to the Texas high school gridiron, and in doing so found a way to break the binds of biology.
His father owns the college bookstore at Amberton University in Garland, Texas, while his mother works as a bill collector for a dentist’s office—two professions that aren’t typically known for regularly violent outbursts of speed and aggression. Black also stands more than a full six inches taller than his father and 14 inches taller than his mother.
“My parents were small people. Who would have ever thought that they would give birth to someone that became massive?” says Black.
“I can’t point to single reason why this happened to me. To be totally honest, I don’t think anybody ever expected me to play college football.”
Expectations changed quickly.
Black became a three-sport star at Dallas Christian, earning four letters each in basketball and track, while boosting the basketball team to a state championship as a sophomore. He received numerous accolades for his work on the gridiron as well, including becoming a rare three-time, all-state pick as an offensive lineman by TAPS AAAA.
“Texas football is different than everywhere else,” says Black.
“People go crazy for it and the fans are great too. The talent is unbelievable there. It is one of those things you get addicted to and can’t stop playing. Everybody would almost die for the game of football.”
To the disappointment of college football loyalists throughout Texas, Black left the Lone Star State for the Golden Dome.
“A lot of people weren’t too happy with my decision to come to Notre Dame but, hey, it really doesn’t bother me,” says Black.
“I wanted to go to the place that best suited me and my future. People go to places for a football program and some people go to colleges for great academics, so I decided to go to a place where I can get the best of both worlds.”
He did not exactly turn his back on his home state completely, though. Black continues to remind his Notre Dame family just how deep his roots in Texas really are.
“He’s a cowboy, complete with the boots,” says junior quarterback Carlyle Holiday, a San Antonio-native himself.
“I think he loves it and I think we all love it too. He’s a great character right now for us up front. He’s a good one for the young guys to follow.”
Thirty-nine career starts provide an equally impressive example on the field. Today, Black is the most experienced player on the Notre Dame roster in terms of games played, games started, and minutes played.
“All that is a sign of is the ability to endure and stay injury-free,” says Black.
“It shows that you can take a beating and keep on going.”
Black recorded his first career start against Kansas in the 1999 season-opener and would start the next eight games before tearing his medial collateral ligament in his right knee against Tennessee. The injury forced him to sit out the remainder of the season. Surgery to repair an injured shoulder that had plagued Black throughout his rookie season would then sideline Black for spring drills.
Black returned to the field in time for the outset of the 2000 campaign against Texas A&M—of all teams—and has since made 30 consecutive starts.
Over the course of his collegiate career, every game in which Black has played he has started. He even transitioned seamlessly from left tackle to right guard to replace an injured Milligan for the final three games of the 2001 season.
From the perspective of lining up behind and to the right of Black each contest, Holiday comments on his left tackle’s senior leadership.
“Especially this year, he’s up there in the front as a leader,” says Holiday.
“He continues to be vocal. He’s a senior and continues to step up his game. He leads by example with the younger guys and that’s what made the season so positive thus far. He’s got the character that linemen should have, and that’s going to carry us a long way.”
“Just being on the scout team, I know he is someone everybody respects and wants to make a good impression on,” says senior quarterback and fellow Texas native Dan Novakov.
Black places an increased emphasis in helping freshmen adjust to the rigors of the college season. What he credits as simply following the example set forth by former Irish linemen Mike Rosenthal and Luke Petitgout, both of whom start at tackle for the New York Giants, Black plays an active role with this season’s rookies.
“I try to be the fifth-year guy who makes sure to talk with the freshman and joke around with them,” says Black.
“That is really important for older guys to do because that really brings the whole team together when you have old and young guys together.”
Black does so by leading through both actions and words.
“He definitely leads by example with the way that he practices and with his footwork,” says Scarola.
“Everybody realizes how quick his feet are and everyone tries to model their game after that.
“He is a good guy to watch.”
“When you’re a freshman it is really hard coming in because you are not playing,” says Milligan.
“Jordan just comes in and does the most off-the-wall stuff to make you laugh. That really loosens up the younger guys.”
Yet Milligan, who rooms with Black during away games in 2002, credits Black as an ultimate team player who finds the right time to change gears on the field.
NBC made this known to a national television audience during the opening to the Notre Dame-Pittsburgh match-up on Oct. 12. A camera and the sound crew found Black shouting in the middle of the huddle as the full squad prepared to come out of the tunnel and onto the field for pre-game warm-up drills.
“HEY, HEY, HEY,” commanded Black.
“Start thinking about winning right now. Win on three. 1-2-3- WIN!”
The concept of team is so very important to Black.
“Believe it or not, the thing I look forward to most is coming in the lockerroom and being able to celebrate with the guys after winning a game,” says Black.
“There is a special connection between everyone on the team after a win. The atmosphere is a great thing. That is my favorite experience since I’ve been here—sharing a win with the fellows.”
Like most Notre Dame student-athletes, Black finds time to share such emotions with his greater community.
Black regularly volunteers his time with children from inner-city neighborhoods. Every Tuesday this past winter, Black, along with Scarola and many other student-athletes, played basketball and volleyball at Notre Dame’s Stepan Center with the youngsters. He even lowered the basketball hoops to allow the children to dunk on him.
“We would have a little sit-down and try to teach them life lessons about their schoolwork and not doing drugs for instance,” says Black.
“Everybody got some enjoyment out of it.”
The day must have been even more fun for the children.
“I try to do the right thing all the time and hopefully people see that,” says Black.
If you look closer, you really do see it.
Behind each story—from the consumption of hardened fudge to a car that leans permanently in one direction—runs a parallel that extends outside sport and provides a greater appreciation for Black’s unique contributions.
Sitting in the glove compartment of that ‘leaning Tahoe’ is a Bible to serve as a visible reminder to Black of his deep faith in God. Black regularly attends services as a member of the Church of Christ and keeps the Bible in his car at all times.
His bedroom may be colored with Texas paraphernalia, but inside his locker he proudly keeps a family photograph taken on Jordan’s high school graduation day. The image motivates Black to play for his family each game.
And those Thursday night dinners are occasions for good food and good humor to be had by all.
Yet they also serve as a mark of the camaraderie that defines the 2002 Irish and a welcomed rallying point for the offensive linemen.
“Jordan brings the offensive line closer together as a group,” says Lopienski. “That’s what he does with his personality.”
“I aim to please and meet everyone’s expectations,” says Black.
“Every person I know has a certain expectation of me. I feel that is my responsibility to make sure I get to the point where people see me as what they thought I would be.”
Sure, Black likes to kid around.
But this time it is the court jester that wears the crown for the Irish. And we all laugh last.