Spartan Spotlight - Jordan Whitehead

LANGLEY, British Columbia - The game had just passed the half hour mark when Jordan Whitehead made a sharp cut to beat the Seattle Pacific defender.

But he never made it past that defender.

Instead, he heard a pop.

Whitehead was just over a week away from returning to Canada West action in full health. He was coming off a 2012 campaign in which hamstring injuries limited him to just four regular season and two playoffs games. He had battled injuries for much of his Trinity Western career but, for what was supposed to be his fifth and final year, the TWU midfielder/defender was back in form.

But in 2013, he didn’t even get to the regular season.

In one harsh move, Whitehead tore his anterior cruciate ligament. The grass at Rogers Field wilted a little that day and Whitehead – ever the consummate teammate and a truly Complete Champion cast in the TWU mold – left the pitch with seemingly unanswerable questions racing through his mind.

“Why did it happen to me? Why did it happen now? Why couldn’t I have played part of the season? Why did I even take that step? Why didn’t I keep running straight?”

To make matters worse, Whitehead had played in all four of the Spartans preseason games and thus was beyond the threshold of eligibility. According to the letter of the law, he had used his fifth year of eligibility and his university career was finished. The TWU administration put in an appeal to grant him another year of eligibility, but that decision wouldn’t be made until January.

For the time being, he was once again on the sidelines.

“It forced me to try to take on a different role,” Whitehead says. “I had to try to find a way to be more like a coach and try to help out the younger guys.”

Anyone else in his position may have bemoaned his lot in life; perhaps even slunk away from the team. After all, he had worked tirelessly to return to full health, only to have a season-ending injury before the actual season even began.

But that wouldn’t be Whitehead. Always the first to lend a hand, Whitehead did what he could from outside the chalk.

“He was at every practise,” says TWU coach Pat Rohla. “He helped guide our younger players, but he was also the guy who would pick up water bottles or clean up tape. He does everything and more of what is asked of him. He’s a dream. He’s a model player.

“You won’t have one problem with Jordan Whitehead. Not one.”

It wasn’t easy watching his team play and when his teammates struggled – as they did at times over the course of a 4-6-3 regular season – it was even harder. But he was always there with a smile, albeit sometimes a little bit forced.
    
“Being at the field was probably the worst,” Whitehead says. “Having to watch a game when you know you can’t do anything is especially difficult. But having the team around me was huge. They’re all my brothers, so they’re all there to support me. Even if I thought I was alone, they were always there to help me.”

One year later, Whitehead leans forward in his chair and then sits back. His black and red Athletes in Action windbreaker now more a part of him than ever before. His clean cut part swoops in from the left side of his head. He looks like a soccer player.

He recalls his surgery on October 24.

Then, he remembers the day he heard the news that his appeal was granted and he would get one more year of university eligibility.

Set to walk out of Room 203 after a human kinetics lab in Advanced Principles of Weight Training, his phone was littered with congratulatory messages. He hadn’t officially heard the news, but joyous texts from teammates and coaches alike told him all he needed to know.

“It was probably the happiest day for me in a long while,” Whitehead says. “That made my rehab more real and it gave me a final goal to focus on.”

Finally, he remembers Brazil.

In Brazil, the clutter of all those “why” moments seemed to come together to create a more discernable shape.

Why didn’t he keep running straight? Because then he wouldn’t have been in Brazil this past summer. He wouldn’t have been surrounded by Christian soccer players who saw soccer from a slightly different perspective. And maybe, if the hard-nosed Whitehead had kept on running straight, he wouldn’t have committed his life to while on an Athletes in Action trip to Brazil.

“I was always questioning the whole aspect of believing in God,” Whitehead says. “I couldn’t figure it out and I didn’t know where to start. It wasn’t until I actually hurt my knee that I started to figure it out.

“If I didn’t hurt my knee, I wouldn’t have been on that trip and probably wouldn’t be where I am today. I would have played out the season and finished second semester and I wouldn’t have even thought about going to Brazil. I would have just been focusing on getting a job and getting my life in order.

“I definitely see it as God’s plan.”

After his time in Brazil, which was spent with a handful of fellow Spartans, he returned to Canada with a different outlook on life and a different outlook on soccer.

“Being with likeminded people, it helped me realize that soccer wasn’t everything. God wants me to use soccer but he doesn’t want me to worship it. He wants me to realize that even if I can’t play soccer, I’m still valuable and there’s still more I can do.

“That took the weight off my shoulders.”

For Whitehead, this season is it. He’ll graduate in December and move on to other things. But, for now, he just wants to return to Rogers Field. His return was delayed this fall after tweaking his hamstring in the preseason, but this Friday he’ll play his first Canada West contest at TWU in nearly two years. And this time around, he’ll step past that chalk with a bit of a different perspective.

“I’m just excited to play,” says Whitehead through a smile that he couldn’t hide. “And I feel like I can play free, knowing that God is always there for you even when you make mistakes. It helps you move on from those mistakes. And when you’re playing free, you do play better.”

Whitehead stared down at the floor for a few seconds. And then a few more. He was trying to come up with an answer.

How did the domino effect from the injury to the surgery to the appeal to his decision to follow Christ change his life?

“It’s more of a question of how didn’t it change me,” he says in honest reflection.

Silence.

“It gave me a different light.”

Whitehead will step onto the pitch this Friday and he’ll immediately make the Spartans a better team.

He’ll provide an energetic spark and bring a childlike excitement to the field.

And for anyone who asks, he’ll have an easy answer as to “why?”

-TW-

 

Last Updated: 2014-09-26
Author: Mark Janzen

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