Jumping and running with a purpose: Jordan Stephens, now a senior at West Forsyth, has maximized his talents as a football player and track-and-field athlete

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 2, 2024

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By Jay Spivey

For the Clemmons Courier

CLEMMONS — At first glance somebody who did not know better might think the diminutive Jordan Stephens isn’t a prototypical top-notch athlete.  

But that would be the wrong assumption. 

At just 5-foot-8 and 145 pounds, the senior from West Forsyth has more than proven himself as a track-and-field and football star. It’s been quite a meteoric rise since he arrived on campus as a freshman after never really competing in either sport.  

According to Stephens, his friends encouraged him to go out for football, and because of football, he went out for track and field to stay in shape for football.  

“I played soccer in middle school (at Clemmons Middle School), but I didn’t play for the school team, I played for like an outside-organization team (Fusion),” he said. “I played there two or three years. And I remember playing, every time I played, I was the fastest on the field.”

Even at his size he decided that catching balls was better than kicking balls. 

“I decided football would be like a better place to use my speed and athleticism and all that,” Stephens said. 

After his freshman year on the JV football team as a running back, Stephens played wide receiver as a sophomore.

According to Stephens, Coach Adrian Snow, the former head varsity football coach at West Forsyth, went to Coach Nathan Newsome, the head coach for the cross-country and indoor and outdoor track-and-field teams at West Forsyth, and mentioned to Newsome that Stephens might be a good candidate for the track-and-field team. 

But Stephens took a circuitous route to get there. He didn’t even know indoor track and field was even a high school sport, so he didn’t compete until the spring outdoor season as a freshman in 2021. 

“I played football and I found out all the good football players, all the fast football players, ran track,” Stephens said. “So, I was like this may be the key to like be good.” 

Newsome, according to Stephens, was very frank with him during their first discussion about the possibility of being on the track-and-field team. 

“(Newsome) said, ‘I believe you’re a fast kid, but there’s a big difference between football fast and track fast.’ And I found that out quick.,” Stephens said. 

Although a novice in the sport, Newsome saw something in Stephens. 

“He was raw, but when they’re athletes you can about tell by the way they walk sometime,” Newsome said. “But, yeah, he had a lot of raw, natural ability. You could see it.” 

In addition, he said Newsome told Stephens that football workouts and track-and-field workouts weren’t exactly the same.  

“I found that out the first practice. I did the spring workout, and I was so close to quitting. I was really going to quit after the first day because football, yeah, you do conditioning in football,” Stephens said. “But it’s a lot of stop then go, stop and go, stop and go. But in track, conditioning is like running a 100-plus, like 100 meters, 250 meters, 400 meters. 

“Conditioning for football, you only run like maybe like 40 yards, 50 yards, stop, then another 40, like short bursts rather than longer intervals.” 

Missing the indoor track-and-field season could’ve changed Stephens’ trajectory even more. 

“I think the more experience you get the better (you get), barring injury,” Newsome said. “Everything happens at its own pace. So, I hate to say it would’ve made a world of difference, but who knows?” 

Newsome was a multi-sport athlete at West Forsyth, as well. 

“I know it sounds silly, and I’m not trying to make it about me, he reminds me of me,” Newsome said. “He’s quick, and he’s real springy. You know, he can really jump.” 

Having competed in track-and-field while a student at West Forsyth, Newsome could sense there was something special about Stephens. 

“I figured that he’d probably be good at anything sprint-related,” Newsome said. “So, you know, that’s sprints, jumps, relays, hurdles – anything that involves that finite motor skill and explosive speed. Then, it’s just kind of what they gravitate towards, that they might enjoy more.” 

His freshman season on the Titans’ track-and-field team, Stephens competed in the long jump and the 100-meter dash. 

“I’d never long-jumped before,” he said. “I remember I walked out, and I did the first jump, like I knew I had balance coming in, but I came in and I was jumping like 17s, 18s (feet), which is usually for like a freshman, I guess. Like after those first couple jumps, I started jumping 19s and coaches and like other teammates, the started seeing potential in me that one day after a couple years I’d be a real good jumper.” 

Stephens also ran the third leg of the 4×400-meter relay. 

“I did not like the relay. I liked the 100 and I liked the long jump. I did not like the 4×4,” he said. “Just the idea of running a full lap, like you actually have to run it competitively, and you’re bound to leave all your stamina by the end. And then when you get done, like when I got done, countless times I felt dizzy, and I felt like I was going to die.” 

Those symptoms might have come from nerves. So, Stephens changed his routine and his mindset. After playing on the JV football team as a sophomore, he joined the indoor track-and-field team, wanting to stay in shape all year.  

“Me as a person I hate the cold,” Stephens said. “I’d rather be hot any day than cold. And I guess that didn’t register to my mind at the time. And so, I came in and every single practice was freezing. Even in the indoor facility (at JDL Fast Track) it was like cold, but I felt like it makes it harder to run for sprinters because your blood thickens up.” 

Stephens persevered during the indoor track-and-field season as a sophomore and ran 55-meter dash, 4×200 relay, high jump and long jump. 

“The 55, that was my race,” he said. “I’m not that tall. I have shorter legs. Especially in the 100 like after 55 meters or 60 meters people with longer strides usually like pass me. But the 55, I get out really fast.” 

According to him, Stephens qualified for the NCHSAA Class 4-A indoor track-and-field high jump as a sophomore. 

“I didn’t know like state qualifications or anything, so I was just jumping, like hitting height after height,” Stephens said. “And then I hit 5-10, no I hit 5-11. I hit and I kind of like clapped for myself.” 

Stephens moved to the varsity football team as a junior, playing slot receiver, which was Snow’s last season as head coach. Once again, Stephens chose not to compete in indoor track and field as a junior. 

“I think I just wanted a break, if possible,” Stephens said. “I think I was getting overwhelmed by like school, football, track. Like football season just ended. I wanted to do it (indoor track). I knew myself and I felt like I needed a break.” 

After taking the winter off during his junior season, Stephens competed on the outdoor track-and-field team in the high jump, 100, 4×100 relay and the 110-meter hurdles. 

Kevin Wallace was the first-year coach on the Titans’ football team last fall, replacing Snow. Wallace implemented a different offense and Stephens thrived in it. Through six games he had 362 yards receiving on 22 catches and three touchdowns. However, Stephens’ season abruptly ended on Sept. 19 during a 49-13 win at home against Glenn in a Central Piedmont 4-A game.  

Stephens broke his collar bone in that game, ending his high school football career even though the Titans finished 8-4 overall and 5-2 in the conference. 

“It was tough,” he said. “It was sad. I knew it was coming eventually, but I was thinking it would be the last game of the season. But when it hits you unexpectedly it just makes it a lot worse.” 

After several months of healing and rehab he was able to come back to track and field. 

“I just thought, man, that’s a shame,” Newsome said when he found about the injury. “I hope it doesn’t sideline him for the rest of the year, you know. You hate to see anybody get hurt, especially somebody you know has such an upside, some athletic prowess that he hadn’t even fully discovered yet.” 

Newsome allowed Stephens to ease into this spring track-and-field season and the results are paying dividends. He’s competing in the 100, 110 hurdles, high jump, long jump and the 4×100 relay. 

According to Stephens, his PR (personal record) is 11.3 seconds in the 100, 21-9 in the long jump, and 6-0 in the high jump. 

The Central Piedmont 4-A conference meet was this past Tuesday at Davie County. The NCHSAA Class 4-A Midwest Regional is May 11 at Davie County, and the NCHSAA Class 4-A championship is May 17 at N.C. A&T in Greensboro. 

“Long jump, I think if we focus in on one event, I think if he really focused on the long jump and he has a good day, and he can pop off a jump that’s around 22 feet I think he’s got a good chance of advancing,” Newsome said. “So, we’ll just have to see.” 

The track and field season is over, and with a 3.0 GPA, Stephens is 95% sure he wants to attend East Carolina after he graduates from West Forsyth in June. If he attends East Carolina, he wants to try and walk onto the football team. And he wants to major in electronic engineering. 

Although he knows college track and field is at another level, much like a rung on the high-jump bar, Stephens might not be done competing just yet. 

“College track is a lot different than high-school track,” he said. “It’d take a lot of training and hard work to be on the same level as a college athlete for track, but I’m thinking about like coming in contact with, like sending them my track PRs and times and jumps and stuff and just seeing if it works out.”