Jordan Continues to Mature as Person, Player With Homecoming Set for Saturday

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The result of the Cal football team's meeting with Arizona State on Saturday will have an effect beyond the next day's conference standings -- about two months beyond to Christmas morning, when it will appear, neatly wrapped, under the family tree of Bears defensive end Cameron Jordan.

"My uncle (Damon) graduated from ASU, so Christmas will either be happy for me or be sad for me," Jordan said at Tuesday's press conference. "Either way, I'm going to go home and he's going to be right there. My freshman year was an ASU sweatshirt. My sophomore year, I gave him a Cal sweatshirt."

That friendly exchange, of course, coincided with the Sun Devils' 31-20 win over Cal in 2007, and the Bears' 24-14 victory at Memorial Stadium last season that featured Jordan, a native of Chandler, Ariz., contributing heavily to the defensive effort. Defensive end Rulon Davis was sidelined with a foot injury, so the then-sophomore Jordan was given his first collegiate start -- against the (nearly) hometown team, with family and friends watching closely and more maroon-and-gold merchandise probably waiting to be gifted.

He responded well, with eight tackles (three for loss), two sacks, a forced fumble and Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week honors. Moreover, it was indicative of the type of game that many thought -- and still think -- he could have every Saturday.

The son of former NFL Pro Bowler Steve Jordan, the 6-foot-4, 287-pound Cameron Jordan is fast, athletic and bursting with potential. He also has an unshakably fun-loving attitude that has sometimes been cited as a hindrance to his full maturation as a player. Coaches have tried to rein Jordan in for the last few years -- to little avail.

"Freshman year, coaches would get at me," Jordan said. "They'd be like, 'Cam, you need to grow up.' I'd be like, 'I just turned 18 a couple months ago. You guys are sweating me. I need to be me.' Now it's like, 'Hey, I've barely turned 20, you guys are sweating me.'

"I don't think I've changed too much."

Jordan is a guy who, as he says, still treasures his Playstation 3 and comic books. Linebacker Mike Mohamed says he's a "goofball" and a "locker room clown." On the field, if he's matched up against a blocking running back and puts the blocker on the ground, he'll be laughing for the next few plays. Players and coaches agree that it's good to have that presence in the locker room to keep things loose.

At times the fun-loving attitude has gotten Jordan into trouble, as well. He was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence before the season opener against Michigan State last year and suspended for that game by coach Jeff Tedford. Speaking about the arrest about a month later, Jordan humbly said that it had "played a large part in learning not to do anything dumb with your life."

Earlier this year, in fall camp, Jordan temporarily lost his spot with the first-team defense because his practice habits had become too lax for the coaches' liking. But he responded well to the demotion and was back with the ones within a few days.

Each incident has been a step in the maturing process, which Jordan has definitely undertaken. The one thing that you have to understand and accept about Jordan is that he loves to love what he's doing, and he's blessed with the ability not to take life -- or football -- too seriously.

"I feel like if I was too serious, it would take some of the fun out of the game," Jordan said. "Once you take the fun out of it, it just becomes a job. It's not a job to me. Football makes me happy."

"I don't know that he ever got away from being a little bit kiddish early in his career," Tedford said. "But I think he understands now how to prioritize and how to be serious when it's time to be serious. But you can't take yourself too serious. You've got to have fun doing this, and he's a guy who puts things in pretty good perspective."

Jordan, for one, believes that he and the coaches have reached a happy medium, in large part because while he hasn't changed much in the way of personality, he has progressed noticeably as a football player. As a freshman in 2007, Jordan's combination of size and speed kept him from redshirting and got him into all 13 games, primarily in third-down passing situations. He became comfortable in the role, almost to a fault.

"I knew what I was here for," Jordan said. "I didn't come here to play the run. I'm not going to be a starter my freshman year. I came here to be in pass situations. I'm going to rush the quarterback. I'm going to chase down some guys. That was my identity at the time."

He reflected this week that he planned to ease himself into the role of an every-down defensive end who could play the run and the pass during his first two seasons at Cal. But that idea was shot in the week leading up to the Arizona State game last year, when it become clear that Davis wouldn't be able to play. Starting suddenly meant dropping the mentality that he would be on the field for pass rush and pass rush only.

So he did, holding down the starting job for the rest of the season and finishing with 47 tackles (11 for a loss) on the third-best rushing defense in the Pac-10.

"Last year, I grew up a little bit and saw that I could actually play the run," Jordan said. "This year, I'm improving on both."

His counterpart, defensive end Tyson Alualu, sees almost every day how Jordan is "starting to use more of his mind in the game."

"He kind of jokes around a lot, saying he doesn't know stuff, but we see a big difference," Alualu said. "Like at practice he's calling out plays, giving us reminders. He never used to do that before. But we see him growing in the games a lot, like knowing what blocks to expect, playing the block the way he should. He definitely has matured."

Jordan flashed brilliance again last weekend, recording 2.5 sacks against Washington State in his best game of the season. That performance against the Cougars arrived either one game early -- with Cal visiting the Sun Devils this weekend -- or a few weeks too late, depending on your point of view. Before last Saturday, Jordan had 17 tackles and two sacks in six games this season -- not the numbers that many were expecting from him in 2009.

"I think I started off pretty well," he started to say Tuesday. "A couple games into it, I hurt my wrist."

Then he caught himself: "But that's just an excuse, I guess. The past two games or so I felt like I was playing back up to my potential. I hope to keep it that way."

Chalk it up to another step in the maturation process. The lightness of being, though, isn't going away anytime soon.

"They probably want me to be a little more serious than I am," Jordan said with a shrug. "You have to have fun while you're living."

Quick Hits

-- Cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson practiced Wednesday, but his status for Saturday is still up in the air. Thompson has a bruise in the area of his lower back near the hip.

-- Nose guard Derrick Hill (shoulder) and left guard Matt Summers-Gavin (shoulder) did not practice and, like Thompson, are day-to-day.


Contact Matt Kawahara at [email protected]

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