WINCHESTER – Jordan Heisen just needed a chance. An unfortunate setback for one of his Shenandoah University football teammates gave him one.
The Hornets were barely a couple plays into their first defensive series against Hobart College last September when starting nose tackle Gladimir Dupalis suffered a torn biceps tendon and was lost for the rest of the 2017 season. Shenandoah had to shuffle its defensive front as a result, shifting defensive tackle Randy Oliver to nose and inserting Heisen at Oliver’s old spot, a position at which he’d only taken a few snaps in practice.
SU would go on to lose that game, but it was the start of something good for Heisen, who was relegated to a special teams role as a freshman in 2016 and played sparingly for the first two games last fall. Heisen, playing a significant role for the first time in his college career, finished with six tackles against Hobart, including 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Heisen’s performance showed the coaching staff he was ready for a prominent role on Shenandoah’s defense. Perhaps most importantly, he proved to himself that he belonged on a college football field.
“That made me realize that I am an actual college football player,” Heisen said following a recent practice, “like my time is now and I need to shine.”
His debut as an every-down player set the tone for a sophomore season that saw Heisen start the final seven games of 2017 at defensive tackle.
Though he was playing out of position (he came to Shenandoah as a defensive end), Heisen finished the year with 38 total tackles (16 solo), five sacks and 11 tackles for loss. He finished second only to Hornets outside linebacker Chris Grady for the team lead in sacks and tackles for losses, and he was named third team All-Old Dominion Athletic Conference at season’s end.
“Jordan’s a great kid,” Hornets head coach Scott Yoder said. “He works extremely hard in the weight room and we knew as soon as he got the opportunity he was not gonna look back. And he has really done that. I mean he is a defensive football player. And people that know the game know what you’re talking about, but he’s just relentless to the football, does not stay blocked. He’s a great young man but when he gets on the football field he plays with a little attitude and a little nastiness, in the right way. Nothing outside the rules but just that defensive mentality of ‘OK, you might block me but I’m not gonna stay blocked.’ That’s the chip on your shoulder that you need for an attitude on defense.”
It took Heisen a year at SU to develop that confidence to help him succeed on the field.
Heading into his freshman season in 2016, Heisen, a Manassas native, said his primary goal was simply to earn a spot on the team’s travel bus. Carving out a role on special teams was the best way for him to do that.
Every day at practice that season Heisen would fly up and down on the field, laying the occasionally big hit on the kick return team and “trying to make a name for myself.”
He saw action in all 10 games in 2016, finishing the season with nine tackles. All along the way he was learning to play faster and stronger.
“When I came in I wasn’t as strong as I really wanted to be, and when you’re going against 22 year olds who have been lifting for four years you really find that out,” said the 6-foot-1 Heisen, who has bulked up from 215 pounds to 230 since his freshman season. “I was kind of down on myself, just feeling like I was always undersized. It was kind of like a mental thing. Just getting in the weight room, getting stronger, getting faster, it kind of just pushed me through the season.”
Heisen enters 2018 as Shenandoah’s starting defensive end, the graduation of Thomas Whalen facilitating Heisen’s return back to his original position. It’s on the end, opposite Grady – an edge rusher who plays more like a fourth defensive lineman than an outside linebacker – where Heisen can use his speed to create havoc in the backfield.
Speed isn’t Heisen’s only weapon, however.
“The thing that kind of separates him, and I’m hoping that continues throughout the season, is he is a speed, fast-twitch guy but he combines that with incredible power and strength,” Yoder said. “Normally a speed guy, if you can handle the speed, you get a hand on him, you’re OK.
“He can turn it like that,” Yoder continued, snapping his finger, “because of his work in the weight room, where if you get a hand on him in the speed game, he just turns it into a bull rush. He’s given us fits (in practice) for a year and half, so I’m hoping he gives the whole league fits.”
Given the season he had last year, Heisen said he feels more comfortable and confident in his role as a starter and sees that helping him take even more strides on the field this fall. At the top of his list of goals, however, is serving as a team captain.
“I wanna lead the boys out to victory,” Heisen said. “That’s the biggest thing, I wanna be able to be the leader. Football-wise, on the field I wanna be able to direct them, tell them to kind of focus up on the play, let them know what’s going on. Just kind of be the mouth on the field and kind of always talking.”
That’s a role that Oliver, Heisen’s roommate and – along with Grady – his best friend on the team, said Heisen’s built for.
“Out of all of us he’s the biggest leader,” Oliver said. “He pushes me every time in practice. When he makes a play, I wanna make a play the next play. He just makes me better, too. That’s what I like about him.”