Life during a global pandemic has taught many of us that patience and mental toughness are key factors to survival. At the same time, there is a certain strength and resolve required simply to turn on the news and process the latest health advice, social distancing regulations and the many questions about how long quarantine will last. While the Bryant Hornets prepare for the Salt Bowl in the midst of this unprecedented time, there are more questions than answers about the upcoming football season. Yet despite the multitude of unknowns, the Hornets are staying strong physically and mentally, thanks to their Strength and Conditioning Coach Chris Jordan, a Saline County native with a rich football history.
While his career path has led him to the Hornets organization, Coach Jordan actually grew up in Benton, where he spent his high school years playing quarterback, wide receiver and on special teams returning kickoffs for the Panthers from 1995-1999. It was during those years that he developed his deep love for strength training and overall conditioning, and unbeknownst to him at the time, was preparing for his future career with student athletes. Shares Coach Jordan, “When I was playing in high school, I tore my ACL, and at that time I had to make my comeback on my own. This is where my love of training and sports performance was born.”
“Benton has always been a successful football team,” said Jordan. “So being a part of it was a huge honor. I feel like the lifelong relationships I developed have been a gift. I’m still close friends with many of my teammates today.”
“I was raised in Benton, and Saline County is home—my family is here,” Jordan said. “I’ve lived away, and while I was gone I always wanted to be back home. I’m so grateful to live and work in a place where people are so great, and everyone feels welcome. It’s incredibly hard to find a role like the one I have at Bryant, and I am so grateful to be a part of this program. Bryant is big-time football, and I enjoy watching the success.”
Despite his current role, there was a fair amount of grit and perseverance on his part to land his current job with Bryant School District. Says Jordan, “I worked with the Hornets football team as a volunteer strength and conditioning coach, while working a full-time job at D-1 in Little Rock. I volunteered for quite some time before my role became a full-time position. The role I have in the Bryant School District is so rare, and I feel so lucky, too, that Bryant made the decision to take care of their student athletes by focusing on strength and conditioning. I believe every top-tier athletic program in Arkansas should follow their lead.”
It is the same attitude of grit and determination that yielded Coach Jordan his current role that he sees the Bryant Hornets displaying now, despite the many unknowns of the upcoming season. When the school year abruptly ended on March 13, he began providing student athletes home workout guides, asking them to be creative during this downtime. Currently, the team is allowed to work out on campus in small groups, maintaining social distance, starting at 5:15 a.m. three days a week. Says Coach Jordan, “I’m so impressed that every single player has returned to be a part of the program, despite all the time off. I personally believe this indicates how much they respect the football program and want to succeed this year, despite the unknowns.”
Coach Jordan believes that Bryant is well positioned for success because they have been willing to train hard during the pandemic. “The athletes that have been on the team for several years—especially the seniors—are expected to set an example for the younger classmen and teach them the ‘212 mentality.’ This is the point where water boils, and is a great example of how we stay focused on working hard for a winning season. Our seniors do a fantastic job of living this out day-to-day.”
While the Hornets gear up for what could be an incredibly special season, Coach Jordan remains focused on the student athletes. He says, “I want them to experience great success and remain injury-free. We have high expectations for the players on the football team, and they must remain healthy in order to be successful.”
Regardless of the outcome of the Salt Bowl, all will consider it a major victory to simply walk onto the field to play the game. Saline County can witness its student athletes’ choosing to grow their mental and physical strength in the midst of the COVID-19 conflict; confident in the grit, determination and perseverance they are developing. And that should make any community proud.