Playing for Someone Else

by Arsi Sefaj ’11

Ever since his sophomore season, before every football game, senior tailback Jordan Farrell writes his grandfather’s name on his gloves. His grandfather, Jack DeCoursey, was one of Farrell’s biggest fans, and along with his parents and grandmother, would come to every one of Farrell’s football games. Then in August of the summer before Farrell’s sophomore year, his grandfather passed away. Farrell has not forgotten him.

“Writing his name on my gloves is a superstition of mine,” said Farrell. “It reminds me that I’m not just playing for myself. I pride myself on playing for someone else.”

Every week, on Thursday morning, Farrell’s mother, Renee, drives from their home in Chicago to her childhood home in Erie, Pennsylvania. There, she stays with her mother, Vicki DeCoursey, and Friday morning together they drive to Farrell’s football game. The first drive takes around seven hours and the second an additional eight. On Saturday they watch the game, then Sunday they drive back to Erie. On Monday, Farrell’s mother makes the drive back to Chicago. Farrell's father, Bill, works during the week and simply flies to the games.

Nowadays it is just Farrell’s mother and grandmother that take part in this weekly ritual, but until three summers ago, his grandfather used to join them. Farrell takes care not to forget.

“Last year, my aunt [Maryann Huster] was going through some stuff that he’d left before he died and among them was a daily planner,” said Farrell. “There was nothing written in it except my sophomore year football schedule. He just loved coming to see the games. I keep that planner in my locker to remind myself that someone is always watching.”

During the fourth practice of his junior year pre-season, Jordan Farrell took a hit from current captain Paul Rice on what seemed to be a routine tackle. Yet, what seemed a normal collision turned out to have significant consequences for Farrell. That play resulted in a torn labrum and ended Farrell’s season before it had even begun.

Initially, Farrell thought he had sprained his acromioclavicular joint, which resides at the top of the shoulder and allows the ability to move the arm above the head. He played through the pain in a scrimmage against Princeton before getting an MRI for the shoulder. The MRI revealed the tear and spelled the end of Farrell’s 2008 football season.

“It was a very hard time in my collegiate career,” said Farrell. “The injury affected not only the athletic part of my college experience, but the academic part as well.”

Farrell had surgery on his shoulder right around mid-semester in fall of 2009 and he recalls gloomily having to take midterm exams with his left hand. Having to write quickly within the time limit made the experience particularly difficult.

“It was annoying enough having to eat and brush my teeth with only my left hand for four weeks,” said Farrell, “but having to write quickly was a real challenge.”

Aside from making academics and the minutiae of routine activities more difficult, the injury also made it tougher for Farrell to stay in shape. It became much harder to work out appropriately and figure out ways to eat right.

“It’s easier to eat a hamburger with one hand than a salad,” joked Farrell.

In general, it was a very trying time period for Farrell as he attempted to deal with the injury without football to occupy his time and help him cope.
“I had my worst semester at Yale to date last fall,” he said. “When I had my surgery, the combination of not being able to sleep because of the pain and taking pain killers—which made me very sleepy when I tried to get
down to studying—created a lot of problems for me.”

However, Farrell was determined to work through the injury and the rehabilitation process, with the help of the football team doctors and trainers, the Yale disabilities office and especially his three longtime suitemates. Without football to occupy his time, he spent time broadening his horizons, going to his roommates’ a cappella and theatre performances.

Farrell’s Pierson College suitemates – Daniel Kiridly, Julio Martinez and Caleb Rhoads – have been a fixture of his Yale experience ever since they were randomly assigned to the same suite freshman year. He has lived with them all four years.

“It’s really lucky that we’ve gotten along so well and stayed together all four years,” said Farrell. “We’ve been close ever since freshman year and when I got hurt, it was nice to have those guys to change up, because hanging out with the football guys made me a little depressed ‘cause I couldn’t be out there playing with them.”

“Jordan is a great guy to just hang out with,” said his roommate Rhoads. “I couldn't have asked for a better roommate these past four years. It was rough when he got hurt last year, especially because it was a shoulder injury, which made it tough for him to get to sleep and do everyday things like write."

Farrell certainly appreciates having had his roommates there to help him through this difficult time.
“It was nice to have them there to help with little things,” he noted, “like carrying my tray when I was in an arm sling, or helping me find a comfortable position to sleep in, or covering me up in a blanket — little things that are easy to take for granted, but things for which I am grateful.”

Eventually, by the time spring ball came around, Farrell was healthy enough to play again. Yet now that he had finished his rehabilitation, Farrell had a whole new challenge to confront. Most of the coaching staff had changed in the offseason with the hiring of Tom Williams, Yale’s Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football, and Farrell had to prove himself once again.

“Coming back was also very tough because we had the new coaching staff and I had to prove myself to them,” said Farrell. “It was also tough because spring ball was right around the time that I was cleared to hit again for my shoulder, but I still don't think I was 100% at the time.”

Yet with hard work and determination, Farrell did prove himself to coach Williams and the new staff. He committed to working hard, and lost 20 pounds en route to getting in shape for the 2009 season. Between spring ball and the season opener against Georgetown this year, Farrell had won the starting job at running back.

As the starter this season, Farrell has done a good job leading the team with 59 carries, 241 rushing yards and 3 rushing touchdowns.

Looking ahead to the future, Farrell admits he is not exactly sure what he wants to pursue. Since he began doing it during freshman year of high school, Farrell has had a passion for weightlifting. He is a psychology major and says he “really enjoys seeing how different people function in different situations.” Putting the two together, he sees becoming a personal trainer as a possible career option in his future.

“What I love most about football is the offseason,” said Farrell. “I love the weightlifting program, pushing myself, seeing my strength gain, seeing the results of the hard work and time put in the weight room or the track. I also love seeing how different people work under different conditions. It’s very interesting to see how every athlete is different and how they each thrive in different conditions. I’d love to design personal workout strategies for athletes to get them motivated, to make them excel.”

In fact, Farrell already has a bit of experience in the field. For the past three summers, he has been working out with a former Olympic alternate in the 100-meter dash, Tim Graf, while back home in Illinois. He has volunteered his time with him to help coach young athletes ranging in age from third grade to seniors in high school. Farrell wants to make use of this experience after graduation to study for and obtain a personal trainer’s license.

“I want to have it just to keep in my back pocket,” said Farrell. “My dream job would be to move out to Los Angeles and train stars and get them ready for their roles in movies.”