Olympics Taekwondo Slideshow

<p>It was an uneven and disappointing day for Team USA in PyeongChang, particularly for Mikaela Shiffrin, whose quest for five Olympic golds has come to a surprising end at her best event. Less than a day removed from <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/02/15/mikaela-shriffrin-olympics-first-gold-medal-giant-slalom" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:her first medal of these Olympic Games in the giant slalom" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">her first medal of these Olympic Games in the giant slalom</a>, the American superstar skier took to the slopes again in the regular slalom, which she won in Sochi at the tender age of 18. But Shiffrin—who was perhaps impacted by <a href="https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/winter-olympics-2018/2018/02/15/ski-mikaela-shiffrin-skies-slalom/343666002/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:some pre-race stomach troubles" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">some pre-race stomach troubles</a>—couldn&#39;t deliver, <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/02/15/mikaela-shiffrin-womens-slalom-results" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:finishing off the podium entirely" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">finishing off the podium entirely</a> after a second run in which she was ahead of the leader&#39;s pace up until the very end. Instead, it was Sweden&#39;s Frida Hansdotter who took home the unexpected gold.</p><p>Shiffrin wasn&#39;t the only American to have a bad day. In the snowboard cross finals, Lindsey Jacobellis—perpetually seeking redemption for blowing a gold medal at the 2006 Games in Turin—<a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/02/15/lindsey-jacobellis-snowboard-cross" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:once again came up short" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">once again came up short</a>, faltering late and finishing an agonizing half-second out of first and a meager .03 seconds off the podium. Italy&#39;s Michela Moioli swept ahead in the last third of the race for the win. And on the ice, Nathan Chen followed up a rough Olympic debut in the figure skating team event with a disastrous performance in the men&#39;s short program, falling on a quad lutz attempt and stumbling several times en route to a score of 82.27—17th out of the 24 skaters, and well out of medal contention.</p><p>There was one bright spot for the U.S. last night, though, and it came courtesy of—who else—Adam Rippon. Fresh off his Olympic debut, in which he delivered a terrific performance in the men&#39;s free skate of the team event, Rippon was sensational in the short program, putting together a clean skate and finishing seventh. One of the breakout stars of these Games, Rippon&#39;s chances at a medal are slim, but at this point, we shouldn&#39;t doubt him, mostly because <a href="http://www.vulture.com/2018/02/adam-rippon-credits-witchcraft-for-his-olympic-success.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:he&#39;s apparently a witch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">he&#39;s apparently a witch</a>. Shouts also to Team USA&#39;s Vincent Zhou, who at 17 is the youngest American Olympian and yet <a href="https://twitter.com/NBCOlympics/status/964311907950788609" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:nailed the first quad lutz in Games history" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">nailed the first quad lutz in Games history</a> during his skate. The kids are alright.</p><p>Here are the other big storylines from the last 24 hours in PyeongChang:</p><p>• Where Chen fell flat, Japan&#39;s Yuzuru Hanyu soared. The world No. 1 and defending Olympic champion, whose performance at the 2018 Games was under question due to a training injury suffered last month, was masterful in his skate, scoring an astounding 111.68 points, the second most ever in a men&#39;s short program, to take first place and earn <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/02/16/winnie-pooh-bears-rain-down-japans-yuzuru-hanyu" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a shower of Winnie the Pooh bears" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a shower of Winnie the Pooh bears</a>. If Hanyu can wrap it up in the long program—and why would you bet against him, <a href="https://twitter.com/NBCOlympics/status/964374043406159872" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:given his breathtaking routine" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">given his breathtaking routine</a>?—he&#39;ll become the first man to win back-to-back Olympic golds in figure skating since American legend Dick Button did it in 1948 and &#39;52.</p><p>• The host nation made history on the sliding track, as South Korea&#39;s Yun Sung-bin <a href="https://www.olympic.org/news/korea-s-yun-sung-bin-slides-to-gold-in-men-s-skeleton" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:took gold in the skeleton" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">took gold in the skeleton</a>—the first gold for the country in a sliding sport in Olympic history. Armed with <a href="https://twitter.com/SI_ExtraMustard/status/964332413483737089" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a sweet-looking Iron Man helmet" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a sweet-looking Iron Man helmet</a>, Yun held off Russia&#39;s Nikita Tregubov (silver) and Britain&#39;s Dom Parsons (bronze) for the win, making him the first Asian in Games history to take first in the skeleton.</p><p>• In hockey, the U.S. men&#39;s team avenged an embarrassing overtime loss to Slovenia in the opening game of group play <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/02/16/usa-men-hockey-slovakia-pyeongchang-win" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:by topping Slovakia" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">by topping Slovakia</a>, 2–1, thanks to a tiebreaking third-period goal on the power play from Ryan Donato. Next up in Group B play: a matchup with the tournament favorite, the Olympic Athletes from Russia, who demolished Slovenia, 8–2, after falling to Slovakia in their opener.</p><p>• And over in cross-country skiing, Switzerland&#39;s Dario Cologna, who has the best real fake name I&#39;ve ever seen, won gold in the men&#39;s 15-kilometer free race <a href="http://www.espn.com/olympics/winter18/story/_/id/22463109/switzerland-dario-cologna-first-cross-country-skier-win-three-olympic-gold-medals" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:for the third straight Olympics" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">for the third straight Olympics</a>, but the real good story here is two dudes who finished second to last and last. The former was Tonga&#39;s Pita Taufatofua, aka <a href="https://screengrabber.deadspin.com/he-did-it-again-1822863011" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the Shirtless Opening Ceremony Guy" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the Shirtless Opening Ceremony Guy</a>, who was competing in his first ever Olympic cross-country ski race <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/shirtless-tongan-flag-bearer-qualifies-for-pyeongchang-olympics-1516459380" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:after switching to the sport from taekwondo just last year" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">after switching to the sport from taekwondo just last year</a>. His goal was simply to finish the race and not hit a tree in the process; <a href="http://www.nbcolympics.com/news/shirtless-tongans-goal-dont-hit-tree-finish-and-inspire" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:mission accomplished" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">mission accomplished</a>. Two minutes behind him was Mexico&#39;s German Madrazo, who was nearly half an hour off Cologna&#39;s pace but crossed the line in style, <a href="https://twitter.com/NBCOlympics/status/964466700287606784" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:waving the Mexican flag" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">waving the Mexican flag</a> to the cheers of the crowd and his fellow competitors.</p><h3>Must-Watch Events</h3><p><em>Women&#39;s alpine skiing: Super-G (Live coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. ET on NBC; event begins at 9:00)</em></p><p>Lindsey Vonn makes her PyeongChang debut in the wonderfully named super-G, aka the super giant slalom. Why super giant? Because the speeds going downhill are generally much higher in this than in the giant slalom. Makes sense. Vonn didn&#39;t take part in the 2014 Games due to a knee injury but did capture bronze in the super-G back in Vancouver in 2010. She&#39;ll be the biggest American name on the slopes, too, as Shiffrin <a href="http://www.espn.com/olympics/winter18/story/_/id/22450731/mikaela-shiffrin-skip-super-g-compressed-schedule" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:isn&#39;t planning on competing in the event" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">isn&#39;t planning on competing in the event</a>.</p><p><em>Men&#39;s figure skating long program (Airs live at 8:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN)</em></p><p>Chen&#39;s awful night ended America&#39;s best chance at a podium finish in this event, but as noted above, this is Yuzuru Hanyu&#39;s gold medal to lose at this point anyway. A few other skaters could steal the gold if he falters, though—namely Spain&#39;s Javier Fernandez, who sits in second after the short program with 107.58 points; countryman and two-time national champion (as well as 2017 world silver medalist) Shoma Uno, who&#39;s third with 104.17; and four-time Chinese national champion Jin Boyang, who&#39;s in fourth with 103.32. And of course there&#39;s Rippon, whose hopes for a medal are long but who is a delight to watch nonetheless.</p><p><em>Men&#39;s hockey: United States vs. Olympic Athletes of Russia (Airs live at 7:10 a.m. ET on Saturday on NBCSN)</em></p><p>Neither the U.S. nor the OAR will be eliminated from Olympic gold with a loss here, but a win for either side would make their path in the playoffs that much easier. The top four teams in the field of 12 get automatic entry into the quarterfinals, with the remaining eight forced to face off for the other four spots. Taking two wins in Group B would go a long way toward possibly earning either the U.S. or the OAR a top-four seeding after the group stage is complete. With the NHL not allowing its players to participate in this year&#39;s Games, that&#39;s left the Russian contingent—led by former NHL stars and current KHL veterans Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk—as the favorites, though their stumble against Slovakia has left them behind the U.S. in the group standings. A win here by Team USA would be quite an upset.</p><h3>Tweet of the Day</h3><p>Everywhere Yuzuru Hanyu goes, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2018/02/16/so-whats-the-deal-with-japans-yuzuru-hanyu-and-all-those-winnie-the-pooh-dolls/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Pooh Bears follow" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Pooh Bears follow</a>, and after last night&#39;s extraordinary skate, the ice was a veritable stuffed animal graveyard. I hope all those fans at least didn&#39;t have to pay too much for their disposable favors.</p><h3>Daily Reading and Videos</h3><p>• From TIME&#39;s Sean Gregory: Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Jacobellis are in different stages of their career, but <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/02/16/mikaela-shiffrin-lindsey-jacobellis-fourth-place-pyeongchang" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:they both shared some heartbreak" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">they both shared some heartbreak</a> on Thursday night.</p><p>• More on Shiffrin from Tim Layden, who <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/02/16/mikaela-shiffrin-slalom-no-repeat-gold-medal-pyeongchang" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:breaks down what went wrong for her" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">breaks down what went wrong for her</a> in what should have been a win.</p><p>• As for Jacobellis, here&#39;s Michael Rosenberg <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/02/16/lindsey-jacobellis-winter-olympics-snowboard-cross-2006" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:on how she&#39;s made peace with the sport" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">on how she&#39;s made peace with the sport</a> that keeps ripping her heart out.</p><p>• TIME&#39;s Alice Park <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/02/16/nathan-chen-figure-skating-17th-place" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tries to make sense of Nathan Chen&#39;s catastrophic Olympics" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tries to make sense of Nathan Chen&#39;s catastrophic Olympics</a> after he entered the Games as a medal favorite.</p><p>• Charlotte Carroll with <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/02/15/Erin-Hamlin-luge-olympics-team-usa" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a touching story on how Olympic luger Erin Hamlin" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a touching story on how Olympic luger Erin Hamlin</a> helped inspire a young luger back in the States to continue his dream.</p><p>• If you want to know more about how the men&#39;s 2018 U.S. Olympic hockey team was put together, <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/02/15/usa-hockey-team-pyeongchang-documentary-si-tv" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:check out this behind-the-scenes documentary, exclusively on SI TV" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">check out this behind-the-scenes documentary, exclusively on SI TV</a>.</p><p>• And away from the sports, our Mitch Goldich, who&#39;s on the ground in South Korea, <a href="https://www.si.com/eats/2018/02/15/pyeongchang-winter-olympics-korean-food-tour" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:went on a food tour" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">went on a food tour</a> of the best that PyeongChang has to offer.</p><h3>Athlete To Root For</h3><p>Would you be shocked to learn that I&#39;ve picked Adam Rippon? Friday night is your last chance to bask in his glory at these Games, which he&#39;s taken over as his own thanks to his magnetic personality. I mean, the dude went out last night and delivered a banging routine set to a Fedde Le Grand remix, for crying out loud. As TIME points out, <a href="http://time.com/5162114/adam-rippon-skate-interview-reactions/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:he&#39;s the internet&#39;s new favorite skater" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">he&#39;s the internet&#39;s new favorite skater</a>, and with good reason. Man&#39;s out here getting love from <a href="http://www.vulture.com/2018/02/olympian-adam-rippon-wants-to-make-reese-witherspoon-proud.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Reese Witherspoon" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Reese Witherspoon</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/elmo/status/963096280368021504" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Elmo" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Elmo</a>, and when asked how he felt about that, <a href="https://twitter.com/NBCOlympics/status/964357132240936962" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:he shouted out Meryl Streep" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">he shouted out Meryl Streep</a>. Adam Rippon is the damn best, and I will miss him terribly.</p>
Friday Olympic Digest: U.S. Stumbles on Slopes, Ice; Lindsey Vonn Takes to Her Skis

It was an uneven and disappointing day for Team USA in PyeongChang, particularly for Mikaela Shiffrin, whose quest for five Olympic golds has come to a surprising end at her best event. Less than a day removed from her first medal of these Olympic Games in the giant slalom, the American superstar skier took to the slopes again in the regular slalom, which she won in Sochi at the tender age of 18. But Shiffrin—who was perhaps impacted by some pre-race stomach troubles—couldn't deliver, finishing off the podium entirely after a second run in which she was ahead of the leader's pace up until the very end. Instead, it was Sweden's Frida Hansdotter who took home the unexpected gold.

Shiffrin wasn't the only American to have a bad day. In the snowboard cross finals, Lindsey Jacobellis—perpetually seeking redemption for blowing a gold medal at the 2006 Games in Turin—once again came up short, faltering late and finishing an agonizing half-second out of first and a meager .03 seconds off the podium. Italy's Michela Moioli swept ahead in the last third of the race for the win. And on the ice, Nathan Chen followed up a rough Olympic debut in the figure skating team event with a disastrous performance in the men's short program, falling on a quad lutz attempt and stumbling several times en route to a score of 82.27—17th out of the 24 skaters, and well out of medal contention.

There was one bright spot for the U.S. last night, though, and it came courtesy of—who else—Adam Rippon. Fresh off his Olympic debut, in which he delivered a terrific performance in the men's free skate of the team event, Rippon was sensational in the short program, putting together a clean skate and finishing seventh. One of the breakout stars of these Games, Rippon's chances at a medal are slim, but at this point, we shouldn't doubt him, mostly because he's apparently a witch. Shouts also to Team USA's Vincent Zhou, who at 17 is the youngest American Olympian and yet nailed the first quad lutz in Games history during his skate. The kids are alright.

Here are the other big storylines from the last 24 hours in PyeongChang:

• Where Chen fell flat, Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu soared. The world No. 1 and defending Olympic champion, whose performance at the 2018 Games was under question due to a training injury suffered last month, was masterful in his skate, scoring an astounding 111.68 points, the second most ever in a men's short program, to take first place and earn a shower of Winnie the Pooh bears. If Hanyu can wrap it up in the long program—and why would you bet against him, given his breathtaking routine?—he'll become the first man to win back-to-back Olympic golds in figure skating since American legend Dick Button did it in 1948 and '52.

• The host nation made history on the sliding track, as South Korea's Yun Sung-bin took gold in the skeleton—the first gold for the country in a sliding sport in Olympic history. Armed with a sweet-looking Iron Man helmet, Yun held off Russia's Nikita Tregubov (silver) and Britain's Dom Parsons (bronze) for the win, making him the first Asian in Games history to take first in the skeleton.

• In hockey, the U.S. men's team avenged an embarrassing overtime loss to Slovenia in the opening game of group play by topping Slovakia, 2–1, thanks to a tiebreaking third-period goal on the power play from Ryan Donato. Next up in Group B play: a matchup with the tournament favorite, the Olympic Athletes from Russia, who demolished Slovenia, 8–2, after falling to Slovakia in their opener.

• And over in cross-country skiing, Switzerland's Dario Cologna, who has the best real fake name I've ever seen, won gold in the men's 15-kilometer free race for the third straight Olympics, but the real good story here is two dudes who finished second to last and last. The former was Tonga's Pita Taufatofua, aka the Shirtless Opening Ceremony Guy, who was competing in his first ever Olympic cross-country ski race after switching to the sport from taekwondo just last year. His goal was simply to finish the race and not hit a tree in the process; mission accomplished. Two minutes behind him was Mexico's German Madrazo, who was nearly half an hour off Cologna's pace but crossed the line in style, waving the Mexican flag to the cheers of the crowd and his fellow competitors.

Must-Watch Events

Women's alpine skiing: Super-G (Live coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. ET on NBC; event begins at 9:00)

Lindsey Vonn makes her PyeongChang debut in the wonderfully named super-G, aka the super giant slalom. Why super giant? Because the speeds going downhill are generally much higher in this than in the giant slalom. Makes sense. Vonn didn't take part in the 2014 Games due to a knee injury but did capture bronze in the super-G back in Vancouver in 2010. She'll be the biggest American name on the slopes, too, as Shiffrin isn't planning on competing in the event.

Men's figure skating long program (Airs live at 8:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Chen's awful night ended America's best chance at a podium finish in this event, but as noted above, this is Yuzuru Hanyu's gold medal to lose at this point anyway. A few other skaters could steal the gold if he falters, though—namely Spain's Javier Fernandez, who sits in second after the short program with 107.58 points; countryman and two-time national champion (as well as 2017 world silver medalist) Shoma Uno, who's third with 104.17; and four-time Chinese national champion Jin Boyang, who's in fourth with 103.32. And of course there's Rippon, whose hopes for a medal are long but who is a delight to watch nonetheless.

Men's hockey: United States vs. Olympic Athletes of Russia (Airs live at 7:10 a.m. ET on Saturday on NBCSN)

Neither the U.S. nor the OAR will be eliminated from Olympic gold with a loss here, but a win for either side would make their path in the playoffs that much easier. The top four teams in the field of 12 get automatic entry into the quarterfinals, with the remaining eight forced to face off for the other four spots. Taking two wins in Group B would go a long way toward possibly earning either the U.S. or the OAR a top-four seeding after the group stage is complete. With the NHL not allowing its players to participate in this year's Games, that's left the Russian contingent—led by former NHL stars and current KHL veterans Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk—as the favorites, though their stumble against Slovakia has left them behind the U.S. in the group standings. A win here by Team USA would be quite an upset.

Tweet of the Day

Everywhere Yuzuru Hanyu goes, Pooh Bears follow, and after last night's extraordinary skate, the ice was a veritable stuffed animal graveyard. I hope all those fans at least didn't have to pay too much for their disposable favors.

Daily Reading and Videos

• From TIME's Sean Gregory: Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Jacobellis are in different stages of their career, but they both shared some heartbreak on Thursday night.

• More on Shiffrin from Tim Layden, who breaks down what went wrong for her in what should have been a win.

• As for Jacobellis, here's Michael Rosenberg on how she's made peace with the sport that keeps ripping her heart out.

• TIME's Alice Park tries to make sense of Nathan Chen's catastrophic Olympics after he entered the Games as a medal favorite.

• Charlotte Carroll with a touching story on how Olympic luger Erin Hamlin helped inspire a young luger back in the States to continue his dream.

• If you want to know more about how the men's 2018 U.S. Olympic hockey team was put together, check out this behind-the-scenes documentary, exclusively on SI TV.

• And away from the sports, our Mitch Goldich, who's on the ground in South Korea, went on a food tour of the best that PyeongChang has to offer.

Athlete To Root For

Would you be shocked to learn that I've picked Adam Rippon? Friday night is your last chance to bask in his glory at these Games, which he's taken over as his own thanks to his magnetic personality. I mean, the dude went out last night and delivered a banging routine set to a Fedde Le Grand remix, for crying out loud. As TIME points out, he's the internet's new favorite skater, and with good reason. Man's out here getting love from Reese Witherspoon and Elmo, and when asked how he felt about that, he shouted out Meryl Streep. Adam Rippon is the damn best, and I will miss him terribly.

Tongan flag bearer, after taekwondo and skiing, hints at third sport for Tokyo 2020
Tongan flag bearer, after taekwondo and skiing, hints at third sport for Tokyo 2020
Tongan flag bearer, after taekwondo and skiing, hints at third sport for Tokyo 2020
Feb 9, 2018; Pyeongchang, South Korea; North-South taekwondo team performs before the opening ceremony during the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games at Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Olympics: Opening Ceremony
Feb 9, 2018; Pyeongchang, South Korea; North-South taekwondo team performs before the opening ceremony during the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games at Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
The 34-year-old Taufatofua also carried his country&#39;s flag at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro (R) where he competed in taekwondo. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/Stoyan Nenov
A combination photo shows Pita Taufatofua of Tonga during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics' opening ceremony and the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics' opening ceremony
The 34-year-old Taufatofua also carried his country's flag at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro (R) where he competed in taekwondo. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/Stoyan Nenov
The 34-year-old Taufatofua also carried his country&#39;s flag at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro (R) where he competed in taekwondo. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/Stoyan Nenov
A combination photo shows Pita Taufatofua of Tonga during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics' opening ceremony and the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics' opening ceremony
The 34-year-old Taufatofua also carried his country's flag at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro (R) where he competed in taekwondo. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/Stoyan Nenov
<p>Welcome to SI&#39;s Daily Olympic Digest! Each day, we&#39;ll give you the rundown on everything worth knowing about the last 24 hours in Olympic action, including the most recent results, what to look forward to, the biggest news, and much more.</p><p>The first full day of official Olympic events is done, though there isn&#39;t yet much to write home about. Thursday&#39;s major happening was the first portion of the new team figure skating event, with the men&#39;s single short and the pairs short programs both completed. The former was <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/02/09/nathan-chen-men-pairs-figure-skating-olympics" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a surprising disappointment for Team USA&#39;s top male skater" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a surprising disappointment for Team USA&#39;s top male skater</a>, 18-year-old Nathan Chen, who took a big spill in his first Winter Games appearance and finished fourth among individuals, picking up seven points for his side (team figure skating sees points awarded to the top 10 skaters by position finished). The U.S. also finished fourth in the pairs, with the husband-wife team of Chris Knierim and Alexa Scimeca-Knierim ending up with seven points after a terrific skate. Nonetheless, after two of the five portions, the U.S. sits second overall with 14 points, right behind Canada (17) and just ahead of both Japan and the Olympic Athletes from Russia (13 each).</p><p>Elsewhere in PyeongChang, women&#39;s and men&#39;s freestyle skiing began its qualifiers with the moguls, the most knee-buckling of any winter sport. On the women&#39;s side, Americans Morgan Schild (third), Jaelin Kauf (fifth) and Keaton McCargo (eighth) all earned automatic spots in the final by virtue of finishing in the top 10, as did defending gold medalist Justine Dufour-Lapointe (fourth) of Canada. For the men, Troy Murphy was the only American to lock up his place in the final, ending up in fourth.</p><p>And in mixed doubles curling, it was a mixed day (sorry) for Team USA, which beat a team of Russian athletes in the first session of the round robin but lost to Canada in the second match. After four games, the U.S. has a dismal 1–3 record and looks like a longshot to compete for a medal in the inaugural version of this event.</p><h3>Must-Watch Events</h3><p><em>Opening Ceremony (8 PM ET, NBC)</em></p><p>The official beginning of the games has already happened but will be aired tonight on NBC. I won&#39;t spoil those of you planning to watch when it&#39;s broadcast, but be sure to tune in for the decidedly silly spectacle that is the IOC basically throwing itself an international pageant.</p><p><em>Men&#39;s 1,500 meter short track speed skating final (7:28 AM ET on Saturday; NBCSN begins its live coverage at 5 AM ET, and NBC will re-air it at 3 PM ET)</em> <em>Women&#39;s 3,000 meter speed skating final (6:00 AM ET on Saturday; NBCSN will broadcast it at 1 PM ET)</em> <em>Women&#39;s 500 meter short track speed skating heats (Begins at 5:44 AM ET on Saturday; NBCSN begins its live coverage at 5 AM ET, and NBC will re-air it at 3 PM ET)</em></p><p>These three events will be Team USA&#39;s first chance at speed skating redemption after a horrible stay in Sochi, where the U.S. failed to medal in a single individual race. The American man to watch in the 1,500 races is J.R. Celski, who won silver in 2014 as part of the 5,000 meter relay team and finished fourth in the 1,500 but won bronze in that event in 2010. Another name to keep an eye on: Thomas Hong. The 20-year-old Maryland native finished fourth in team trials for the U.S. and will be making his Olympic debut.</p><p>For the women&#39;s 3,000 meter final, Carlijn Schoutens will be the only Team USA representative in the field; the Dutch-American won the 3,000 in the U.S. team trials to make her first Olympic squad. The real battle here, though, will be between two Olympic legends: the Netherlands&#39; Ireen Wuest (eight career medals) and Germany&#39;s Claudia Pechstein (nine). And in the 500 meter race, it&#39;ll be the Olympic debut of 18-year-old American Maame Biney, who could be one of the breakout stars of this year&#39;s games.</p><p><em>Cross-country skiing: Ladies&#39; 7.5 kilometer + 7.5 kilometer skiathlon (2:15 AM ET on Saturday, NBCSN)</em></p><p>I&#39;m highlighting this one because it&#39;s the first medal event of the games, and you&#39;ll be able to watch it live if you&#39;re really into cross-country skiing or are a hopeless insomniac. In case you were wondering what &quot;skiathlon&quot; is, it&#39;s a combination of the two techniques of cross-country skiing: classic and skating.</p><p><em>Women&#39;s ice hockey, preliminary round, Group B: Switzerland vs. Korea (7:10 AM ET on Saturday, USA)</em></p><p>Yes, this is only a group stage game, but it&#39;ll be the first for the unified Korean team featuring skaters from South and North, so tune in to catch a little history in the making.</p><h3>Tweet of the Day</h3><p>Okay, one opening ceremony spoiler. Remember the shirtless Tongan flag bearer from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio? <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/02/09/pyeongchang-winter-olympics-tonga-flag-bearer-shirtless" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Well, he&#39;s back, in winter form" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Well, he&#39;s back, in winter form</a>.</p><p>Yes, the oiled-up specimen that is Pita Taufatofua is blasting his pecs in 22-degree weather. And if you&#39;re wondering how a former taekwondo athlete managed to get into the Winter Olympics, it&#39;s because <a href="http://olympics.nbcsports.com/2016/12/05/tonga-flag-bearer-pita-taufatofua-eyes-2018-winter-olympics/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:he&#39;s now competing as a cross-country skier" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">he&#39;s now competing as a cross-country skier</a> despite the fact that he had never done that before last year. I think I speak for everyone when I say how lucky we are that he strapped on the skis and made his way to South Korea.</p><h3>Daily Reading and Videos</h3><p>Our intrepid staff on the ground in PyeongChang and in our New York office is already cranking away on the biggest stories so far from the games.</p><p>• From Michael Rosenberg: <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/02/09/winter-olympics-pyeongchang-controversy-viktor-ahn" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Olympics remain as controversial and complicated as ever" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Olympics remain as controversial and complicated as ever</a>.</p><p>• Also from Michael: <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/02/08/2018-winter-olympics-north-korea-panic-terror" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:On learning to live with (or at least not panic over) the potential doom hanging over the Korean peninsula" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">On learning to live with (or at least not panic over) the potential doom hanging over the Korean peninsula</a>.</p><p>• Our video team <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/video/2018/02/09/true-comeback-story-shaun-white" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:has a quick look at Shaun White&#39;s comeback from injury" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">has a quick look at Shaun White&#39;s comeback from injury</a> as the two-time Olympic medalist looks to make up for a disappointing performance in Sochi.</p><p>• Karl Bullock <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/02/08/olympic-skier-resi-stiegler-team-usa-pyeongchang" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:caught up with slalom skier and former teen prodigy Resi Stiegler" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">caught up with slalom skier and former teen prodigy Resi Stiegler</a> as she prepared for her third Olympic games.</p><p>• Chris Ballard <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/02/08/speedskater-theron-sands-olympic-trials" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:profiled would-be Olympic speed-skating hopeful Theron Sands" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">profiled would-be Olympic speed-skating hopeful Theron Sands</a>, who nearly realized his Winter Games dream at the ripe old age of 53.</p><p>• And here&#39;s Michael Blinn <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/02/08/usa-womens-hockey-scouting-knight-duggan-brandt" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:on the U.S. women&#39;s hockey team&#39;s plans" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">on the U.S. women&#39;s hockey team&#39;s plans</a> to end its 20-year Olympic medal drought.</p><h3>Athlete To Root For</h3><p><em>Maame Biney, speed skating</em></p><p>As noted above, Biney will be making her Olympic debut in the women&#39;s 500 meter heats. The 18-year-old from Ghana is as fun a story as you can get: She&#39;s energetic and enthusiastic, and she&#39;s a real contender in this event. Get to know more about her <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/01/17/2018-winter-olympics-maame-biney-speedskating-breakout-star" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in this Q&#38;A she did with our own Mitch Goldich" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in this Q&#38;A she did with our own Mitch Goldich</a> before the games.</p>
Daily Olympic Digest: Opening Ceremony, First Medal Events Take Center Stage in PyeongChang

Welcome to SI's Daily Olympic Digest! Each day, we'll give you the rundown on everything worth knowing about the last 24 hours in Olympic action, including the most recent results, what to look forward to, the biggest news, and much more.

The first full day of official Olympic events is done, though there isn't yet much to write home about. Thursday's major happening was the first portion of the new team figure skating event, with the men's single short and the pairs short programs both completed. The former was a surprising disappointment for Team USA's top male skater, 18-year-old Nathan Chen, who took a big spill in his first Winter Games appearance and finished fourth among individuals, picking up seven points for his side (team figure skating sees points awarded to the top 10 skaters by position finished). The U.S. also finished fourth in the pairs, with the husband-wife team of Chris Knierim and Alexa Scimeca-Knierim ending up with seven points after a terrific skate. Nonetheless, after two of the five portions, the U.S. sits second overall with 14 points, right behind Canada (17) and just ahead of both Japan and the Olympic Athletes from Russia (13 each).

Elsewhere in PyeongChang, women's and men's freestyle skiing began its qualifiers with the moguls, the most knee-buckling of any winter sport. On the women's side, Americans Morgan Schild (third), Jaelin Kauf (fifth) and Keaton McCargo (eighth) all earned automatic spots in the final by virtue of finishing in the top 10, as did defending gold medalist Justine Dufour-Lapointe (fourth) of Canada. For the men, Troy Murphy was the only American to lock up his place in the final, ending up in fourth.

And in mixed doubles curling, it was a mixed day (sorry) for Team USA, which beat a team of Russian athletes in the first session of the round robin but lost to Canada in the second match. After four games, the U.S. has a dismal 1–3 record and looks like a longshot to compete for a medal in the inaugural version of this event.

Must-Watch Events

Opening Ceremony (8 PM ET, NBC)

The official beginning of the games has already happened but will be aired tonight on NBC. I won't spoil those of you planning to watch when it's broadcast, but be sure to tune in for the decidedly silly spectacle that is the IOC basically throwing itself an international pageant.

Men's 1,500 meter short track speed skating final (7:28 AM ET on Saturday; NBCSN begins its live coverage at 5 AM ET, and NBC will re-air it at 3 PM ET) Women's 3,000 meter speed skating final (6:00 AM ET on Saturday; NBCSN will broadcast it at 1 PM ET) Women's 500 meter short track speed skating heats (Begins at 5:44 AM ET on Saturday; NBCSN begins its live coverage at 5 AM ET, and NBC will re-air it at 3 PM ET)

These three events will be Team USA's first chance at speed skating redemption after a horrible stay in Sochi, where the U.S. failed to medal in a single individual race. The American man to watch in the 1,500 races is J.R. Celski, who won silver in 2014 as part of the 5,000 meter relay team and finished fourth in the 1,500 but won bronze in that event in 2010. Another name to keep an eye on: Thomas Hong. The 20-year-old Maryland native finished fourth in team trials for the U.S. and will be making his Olympic debut.

For the women's 3,000 meter final, Carlijn Schoutens will be the only Team USA representative in the field; the Dutch-American won the 3,000 in the U.S. team trials to make her first Olympic squad. The real battle here, though, will be between two Olympic legends: the Netherlands' Ireen Wuest (eight career medals) and Germany's Claudia Pechstein (nine). And in the 500 meter race, it'll be the Olympic debut of 18-year-old American Maame Biney, who could be one of the breakout stars of this year's games.

Cross-country skiing: Ladies' 7.5 kilometer + 7.5 kilometer skiathlon (2:15 AM ET on Saturday, NBCSN)

I'm highlighting this one because it's the first medal event of the games, and you'll be able to watch it live if you're really into cross-country skiing or are a hopeless insomniac. In case you were wondering what "skiathlon" is, it's a combination of the two techniques of cross-country skiing: classic and skating.

Women's ice hockey, preliminary round, Group B: Switzerland vs. Korea (7:10 AM ET on Saturday, USA)

Yes, this is only a group stage game, but it'll be the first for the unified Korean team featuring skaters from South and North, so tune in to catch a little history in the making.

Tweet of the Day

Okay, one opening ceremony spoiler. Remember the shirtless Tongan flag bearer from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio? Well, he's back, in winter form.

Yes, the oiled-up specimen that is Pita Taufatofua is blasting his pecs in 22-degree weather. And if you're wondering how a former taekwondo athlete managed to get into the Winter Olympics, it's because he's now competing as a cross-country skier despite the fact that he had never done that before last year. I think I speak for everyone when I say how lucky we are that he strapped on the skis and made his way to South Korea.

Daily Reading and Videos

Our intrepid staff on the ground in PyeongChang and in our New York office is already cranking away on the biggest stories so far from the games.

• From Michael Rosenberg: The Olympics remain as controversial and complicated as ever.

• Also from Michael: On learning to live with (or at least not panic over) the potential doom hanging over the Korean peninsula.

• Our video team has a quick look at Shaun White's comeback from injury as the two-time Olympic medalist looks to make up for a disappointing performance in Sochi.

• Karl Bullock caught up with slalom skier and former teen prodigy Resi Stiegler as she prepared for her third Olympic games.

• Chris Ballard profiled would-be Olympic speed-skating hopeful Theron Sands, who nearly realized his Winter Games dream at the ripe old age of 53.

• And here's Michael Blinn on the U.S. women's hockey team's plans to end its 20-year Olympic medal drought.

Athlete To Root For

Maame Biney, speed skating

As noted above, Biney will be making her Olympic debut in the women's 500 meter heats. The 18-year-old from Ghana is as fun a story as you can get: She's energetic and enthusiastic, and she's a real contender in this event. Get to know more about her in this Q&A she did with our own Mitch Goldich before the games.

<p>The Opening Ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea happened at the crack of dawn on Friday morning. It featured the normal fanfare, some awesome visual art and the usual assortment of inspiring videos/productions. </p><p>On the outfit front, as you might expect, pretty much every country wore the same thing—thick coats and beanies. Which makes sense, right? It&#39;s been really, really cold in PyeongChang in the lead-up to the Ceremony and temperatures hovered right around 25 degrees on the night of. So yeah, representatives from basically every country bundled up. </p><p>Except Tonga. </p><p>The flag bearer for the island nation in the South Pacific was shirtless and lathered up in a healthy amount of oil. Check him out:</p><p>It&#39;s actually not the first time we&#39;ve seen this guy. His name is Pita Taufatofua, and he was Tonga&#39;s flag bearer at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio too, where he competed in taekwondo. This time around, he&#39;s qualified in cross country skiing even though he&#39;d literally never tried the sport until after Rio. </p><p>Legend on many fronts. </p>
The Shirtless, Oiled Up Tongan Flag Bearer is Back at the Winter Olympics

The Opening Ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea happened at the crack of dawn on Friday morning. It featured the normal fanfare, some awesome visual art and the usual assortment of inspiring videos/productions.

On the outfit front, as you might expect, pretty much every country wore the same thing—thick coats and beanies. Which makes sense, right? It's been really, really cold in PyeongChang in the lead-up to the Ceremony and temperatures hovered right around 25 degrees on the night of. So yeah, representatives from basically every country bundled up.

Except Tonga.

The flag bearer for the island nation in the South Pacific was shirtless and lathered up in a healthy amount of oil. Check him out:

It's actually not the first time we've seen this guy. His name is Pita Taufatofua, and he was Tonga's flag bearer at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio too, where he competed in taekwondo. This time around, he's qualified in cross country skiing even though he'd literally never tried the sport until after Rio.

Legend on many fronts.

2016 Rio Olympics - Taekwondo - Preliminary - Men&#39;s +80kg Preliminary Round - Carioca Arena 3 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 20/08/2016. Pita Taufatofua (TGA) of Tonga reacts after losing the match. REUTERS/Issei Kato
Taekwondo - Men's +80kg Preliminary Round
2016 Rio Olympics - Taekwondo - Preliminary - Men's +80kg Preliminary Round - Carioca Arena 3 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 20/08/2016. Pita Taufatofua (TGA) of Tonga reacts after losing the match. REUTERS/Issei Kato
2016 Rio Olympics - Taekwondo - Preliminary - Men&#39;s +80kg Preliminary Round - Carioca Arena 3 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 20/08/2016. Pita Taufatofua (TGA) of Tonga reacts after losing the match. REUTERS/Issei Kato
Taekwondo - Men's +80kg Preliminary Round
2016 Rio Olympics - Taekwondo - Preliminary - Men's +80kg Preliminary Round - Carioca Arena 3 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 20/08/2016. Pita Taufatofua (TGA) of Tonga reacts after losing the match. REUTERS/Issei Kato
<p>By the time the first Wednesday of February 2018 arrived, many teams had already filled out the bulk of their recruiting classes. This cycle brought the introduction of an early signing period, a 72-hour window beginning on Dec. 20 in which senior prospects could ink National Letters of Intent. While most of the nation’s top players took the opportunity to effectively end their recruitments before Christmas, a good number of highly regarded guys waited until the traditional signing date.</p><p>Below is rundown of some of the day’s biggest winners and losers. These assessments are based on what took place on Wednesday, not what unfolded over the course of the entire cycle.</p><p>• <strong><a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/07/national-signing-day-2018-college-football-class-rankings" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Updated National Signing Day class rankings" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Updated National Signing Day class rankings</a> | <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/06/national-signing-day-recruiting-all-name-team" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:SI’s 2018 NSD All-Name Team" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">SI’s 2018 NSD All-Name Team</a></strong></p><h3>Winners</h3><p><strong>Georgia</strong></p><p>The Bulldogs entered Wednesday ranked second in the 247Sports Composite team rankings. <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/07/georgia-2018-recruiting-class-rankings-national-signing-day" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:They left it ranked first" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">They left it ranked first</a> after a rousing finish that included adding the nation’s No. 2 cornerback, American Heritage (Fla.) High’s Tyson Campbell, as well as a four-star wide receiver, Samuel Clemens (Tex.) High’s Tommy Bush. The Bulldogs also convinced two coveted prospects committed to brand-name programs hop on board, flipping four-star Lee County (Ga.) High linebacker Otis Reese from Michigan and four-star Crisp County (Ga.) high linebacker Quay Walker from Alabama. Georgia may have fallen just short of winning a national championship this season, but it’s stocking its roster with the talent needed to make College Football Playoff appearances a regular occurrence going forward.</p><p><strong>Texas A&#38;M</strong></p><p>When SI.com <a href="http://www.si.com/college-football/2017/12/22/national-signing-day-team-rankings-recruiting-classes" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:named the Aggies one of its losers for the early signing period" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">named the Aggies one of its losers for the early signing period</a>, it noted that there was “more pressure for a strong close now.” Texas A&#38;M definitely delivered. Even though the Aggies whiffed on their top-ranked target, Episcopal (Tex.) High four-star wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, head coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff strengthened the roster with a number of promising pieces, including four-star Lanier (Ala.) High dual-threat quarterback James Foster, four-star Rockledge (Fla.) High running back Jashaun Corbin, four-star Park Crossing (Ala.) High offensive guard Tank Jenkins and four-star Cajon (Calif.) High defensive end Jeremiah Martin. The Aggies also flipped four-star Lamar (Tex.) High defensive tackle Bobby Brown from Alabama and plucked three-star tight end Glenn Beal out of John Curtis (La.) High.</p><p><strong>Ohio State</strong></p><p>Ceding the No. 1 spot in the team recruiting rankings to Georgia is a bummer, but that hardly diminishes what the Buckeyes accomplished on Wednesday. First, one of the more inscrutable, high-profile recruitments of this cycle broke in Ohio State’s favor, as five-star Berkeley Prep (Fla.) offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere chose the Buckeyes over Alabama, Florida, Michigan and Notre Dame less than a week after taking an official visit to Columbus. Not only is Petit-Frere the top player at his position in this class, he’s far more highly regarded than the offensive tackle who picked Penn State at Ohio State’s expense on Wednesday, North Point (Md.) High four-star Rasheed Walker. The Buckeyes also snagged Bergen Catholic (N.J.) High four-star linebacker Javontae Jean-Baptiste.</p><p><strong>Notre Dame</strong></p><p>Three four-star prospects made the call for the Fighting Irish on Wednesday: McDonogh 35 (La.) High wide receiver Lawrence Keys III, H.D. Woodson (DC) cornerback Noah Boykin and Mission Viejo (Calif.) High offensive tackle Jarrett Patterson. Boykin wasn’t the only defensive back from the nation’s capital that Notre Dame signed. It also reeled in three-star St. John’s College High cornerback D.J. Brown and flipped three-star Pike County (Ga.) High running back C’Bo Flemister from Georgia Tech. The Fighting Irish’s 2018 class does not include any players rated higher than IMG (Fla.) Academy High cornerback Houston Griffith (70th in the 247Sports Composite), but Wednesday was a productive day that could pay dividends in the form of multiple future starters.</p><p><strong>Florida State</strong></p><p>Willie Taggart recruited four-star Garfield (Wash.) High athlete Tre’Shaun Harrison to Oregon and persuaded Harrison to follow him to Tallahassee after leaving Eugene in December to take Florida State’s head coaching job. Harrison was one of two four-star recruits to elect to join the Seminoles on Wednesday. The other was Armwood (Fla.) High’s Malcolm Lamar, the No. 9 strongside defensive end in the nation, according to the 247Sports Composite. Florida State also scored a solid win over in-state rival Miami by pulling three-star defensive tackle Jamarcus Chatman out of Rome (Ga.) High, and it flipped two other Peach State products, three-star Buford High running back Anthony Grant and three-star Heritage High wide receiver Jordan Young, from Tennessee.</p><p><strong>Florida</strong></p><p>The Gators did not have a perfect day. Petit-Frere turned them down for Ohio State, four-star American Heritage (Fla.) School defensive tackle Nesta Silvera affirmed his pledge to Miami instead of flipping and Boykin signed with Notre Dame. Yet Florida was able to add a pair of four-star defensive ends, American Heritage’s Andrew Chatfield <a href="https://twitter.com/DuseReport/status/961258297742561280" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:(who revived a program tradition with his unveiling)" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">(who revived a program tradition with his unveiling)</a> and Lee (Ala.) High’s Malik Langham. It also held onto a wavering offensive line verbal, four-star Cambridge Christian (Fla.) School tackle Richard Gouraige, and got Escambia (Fla.) High’s Jacob Copeland, the No. 12 wide receiver in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite, back in the fold after his previous decommitment in November. Copeland’s mom <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/07/jacob-copeland-commit-florida-mom-walks-out-video" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:seemed unhappy" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">seemed unhappy</a> about his choice.</p><p><strong>Alabama</strong></p><p>The Crimson Tide’s dream scenario heading into Wednesday did not materialize. They didn’t come close to making a run at the No. 1 spot in the recruiting rankings, and there were a handful of misses, including Copeland (Florida), Langham (Florida) and the top recruit in the state of Alabama, four-star Central (Ala.) High wide receiver Justyn Ross (Clemson). The Crimson Tide are winners because they landed the most prized recruit available entering signing day, <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/07/national-signing-day-patrick-surtain-jr-lsu-alabama" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:five-star American Heritage (Fla.) School cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">five-star American Heritage (Fla.) School cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr.</a>, even though a division rival, LSU, was the longstanding favorite in his recruitment. Plus, they offset Ross’s decision by beating out Texas A&#38;M for Waddle to bolster a receiving corps already loaded with young talent.</p><p><strong>USC</strong></p><p>This would have been an easy call a week ago. As is their wont, the Trojans scored big at the 11th hour, nabbing four-star Mater Dei (Calif.) High linebacker Solomon Tuliuapupu, four-star Antelope Valley (Calif.) High wide receiver Devon Williams as well as two of 2018’s top cornerbacks, Mission Viejo (Calif.) High five-star Olaijah Griffin, <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/07/olaijah-griffin-warren-g-son-commits-usc-signing-day" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the son of West Coast rapper Warren G" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the son of West Coast rapper Warren G</a>; and Helix (Calif.) High four-star Isaac Taylor-Stuart, who told the world he’d be playing for the Trojans <a href="https://twitter.com/ChrisNTrevino/status/961365353333837825" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:while sitting at a table inside a taekwondo studio" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">while sitting at a table inside a taekwondo studio</a>. The additions of Griffin, Taylor-Stuart and Williams give USC five of the top six prospects in the state of California, according to the 247Sports Composite. (The Trojans already had Mater Dei quarterback JT Daniels and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown on board. The only one in the top six who didn’t choose USC is four-star St. John Bosco High safety Jaiden Woodbey, who’s off to Florida State.)</p><h3>Losers</h3><p><strong>LSU</strong></p><p>The Tigers were never going to recover after Surtain’s surprising decision this morning. They had long been viewed as the frontrunner in his recruitment, but in the end, they couldn’t keep him away from the program, Alabama, that represents their biggest obstacle to national championship contention. Other disappointments on Wednesday included Foster picking Florida State and four-star Lee&#39;s Summit West (Mo.) High athlete Mario Goodrich choosing Clemson. SEC West foe Texas A&#38;M’s late climb won’t make LSU’s dispiriting day any easier to swallow. There was some positive news, though. Scotlandville Magnet (La.) High&#39;s Kelvin Joseph, the No. 5 safety in the nation according to the 247Sports Composite, made good on his January pledge to the Tigers by putting pen to paper, and LSU also inked a top-100 wide receiver, Archbishop Rummel (La.) High’s Ja’Marr Chase.</p><p><strong>National Signing Day</strong></p><p>There were announcement stunners, artful baseball cap reveals, <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/07/jacob-copeland-commit-florida-mom-walks-out-video" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:apparent intra-family discord" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">apparent intra-family discord</a>, flips that thrilled one program’s supporters and chagrined another’s. Anyone who’s followed recruiting for a while would have had a hard time not enjoying what took place on Wednesday. That said, the paucity of elite prospects in the aftermath of the early window dampened the drama. There were blue-chippers still on the board entering Wednesday, but most of them ended their recruitments before Christmas. The focus shifted to less highly touted recruits, who remain major draws in certain corners of the college football universe depending on which programs are in contention for their signatures but don’t really move the needle nationally. The new normal of the traditional signing day is less entertaining than it was under the previous setup, and that’s a shame.</p><p><strong>Herm Edwards</strong></p><p>Arizona State’s decision to fire Todd Graham, pay him $12 million in buyout money and hire Herm Edwards to replace him was met with widespread skepticism. Athletic director Ray Anderson formerly served as Edwards’s agent, and Edwards hadn’t coached in college since the 1980s (as a defensive backs coach at San Jose State) and in the NFL since 2008. The Sun Devils didn’t win over any critics with a bizarre press release describing a “restructured” football model with an “NFL approach,” and did Edwards didn’t help himself by giving off the impression at his introductory press conference <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2017/12/04/best-moments-herm-edwards-arizona-state-introductory-press-conference" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:that he was not familiar with Arizona State’s mascot" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">that he was not familiar with Arizona State’s mascot</a>. In an appearance on ESPN2’s signing day coverage on Wednesday, Edwards didn’t do anything to assuage doubts about his qualifications as a Power 5 head coach in 2018.</p><p>On a more positive note, Arizona State did sign two key targets in four-star Junipero Serra (Calif.) High linebacker Merlin Robertson and four-star Long Beach Poly (Calif.) High safety Aashari Crosswell. As of Wednesday evening, the Sun Devils’ recruiting class ranked fifth in the Pac-12 and 36th in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite.</p><p><strong>Michigan</strong></p><p>The biggest disappointment of the day involved a player ranked higher than any in Michigan’s 2018 class. Reese, a high school teammate of 2017 five-star and current Wolverines defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon at Lee County, had been verbally committed to Michigan since June 2016, but after opting against inking his NLI during the early window in December, he spurned the Wolverines in favor of signing with local program Georgia on signing day. The Wolverines also failed to beat out Ohio State for Petit-Frere even after <a href="https://twitter.com/nickbaumgardner/status/946456627934384129" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:practicing at his high school" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">practicing at his high school</a> before their Outback Bowl matchup with South Carolina. After finishing fifth in the 247Sports Composite team rankings a year ago, Michigan sat at 21st in 2018 as of Wednesday afternoon, well behind fellow Big Ten East teams Ohio State (No. 2) and Penn State (No. 5).</p>
National Signing Day 2018: Winners and Losers From the Fax Machine Frenzy

By the time the first Wednesday of February 2018 arrived, many teams had already filled out the bulk of their recruiting classes. This cycle brought the introduction of an early signing period, a 72-hour window beginning on Dec. 20 in which senior prospects could ink National Letters of Intent. While most of the nation’s top players took the opportunity to effectively end their recruitments before Christmas, a good number of highly regarded guys waited until the traditional signing date.

Below is rundown of some of the day’s biggest winners and losers. These assessments are based on what took place on Wednesday, not what unfolded over the course of the entire cycle.

Updated National Signing Day class rankings | SI’s 2018 NSD All-Name Team

Winners

Georgia

The Bulldogs entered Wednesday ranked second in the 247Sports Composite team rankings. They left it ranked first after a rousing finish that included adding the nation’s No. 2 cornerback, American Heritage (Fla.) High’s Tyson Campbell, as well as a four-star wide receiver, Samuel Clemens (Tex.) High’s Tommy Bush. The Bulldogs also convinced two coveted prospects committed to brand-name programs hop on board, flipping four-star Lee County (Ga.) High linebacker Otis Reese from Michigan and four-star Crisp County (Ga.) high linebacker Quay Walker from Alabama. Georgia may have fallen just short of winning a national championship this season, but it’s stocking its roster with the talent needed to make College Football Playoff appearances a regular occurrence going forward.

Texas A&M

When SI.com named the Aggies one of its losers for the early signing period, it noted that there was “more pressure for a strong close now.” Texas A&M definitely delivered. Even though the Aggies whiffed on their top-ranked target, Episcopal (Tex.) High four-star wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, head coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff strengthened the roster with a number of promising pieces, including four-star Lanier (Ala.) High dual-threat quarterback James Foster, four-star Rockledge (Fla.) High running back Jashaun Corbin, four-star Park Crossing (Ala.) High offensive guard Tank Jenkins and four-star Cajon (Calif.) High defensive end Jeremiah Martin. The Aggies also flipped four-star Lamar (Tex.) High defensive tackle Bobby Brown from Alabama and plucked three-star tight end Glenn Beal out of John Curtis (La.) High.

Ohio State

Ceding the No. 1 spot in the team recruiting rankings to Georgia is a bummer, but that hardly diminishes what the Buckeyes accomplished on Wednesday. First, one of the more inscrutable, high-profile recruitments of this cycle broke in Ohio State’s favor, as five-star Berkeley Prep (Fla.) offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere chose the Buckeyes over Alabama, Florida, Michigan and Notre Dame less than a week after taking an official visit to Columbus. Not only is Petit-Frere the top player at his position in this class, he’s far more highly regarded than the offensive tackle who picked Penn State at Ohio State’s expense on Wednesday, North Point (Md.) High four-star Rasheed Walker. The Buckeyes also snagged Bergen Catholic (N.J.) High four-star linebacker Javontae Jean-Baptiste.

Notre Dame

Three four-star prospects made the call for the Fighting Irish on Wednesday: McDonogh 35 (La.) High wide receiver Lawrence Keys III, H.D. Woodson (DC) cornerback Noah Boykin and Mission Viejo (Calif.) High offensive tackle Jarrett Patterson. Boykin wasn’t the only defensive back from the nation’s capital that Notre Dame signed. It also reeled in three-star St. John’s College High cornerback D.J. Brown and flipped three-star Pike County (Ga.) High running back C’Bo Flemister from Georgia Tech. The Fighting Irish’s 2018 class does not include any players rated higher than IMG (Fla.) Academy High cornerback Houston Griffith (70th in the 247Sports Composite), but Wednesday was a productive day that could pay dividends in the form of multiple future starters.

Florida State

Willie Taggart recruited four-star Garfield (Wash.) High athlete Tre’Shaun Harrison to Oregon and persuaded Harrison to follow him to Tallahassee after leaving Eugene in December to take Florida State’s head coaching job. Harrison was one of two four-star recruits to elect to join the Seminoles on Wednesday. The other was Armwood (Fla.) High’s Malcolm Lamar, the No. 9 strongside defensive end in the nation, according to the 247Sports Composite. Florida State also scored a solid win over in-state rival Miami by pulling three-star defensive tackle Jamarcus Chatman out of Rome (Ga.) High, and it flipped two other Peach State products, three-star Buford High running back Anthony Grant and three-star Heritage High wide receiver Jordan Young, from Tennessee.

Florida

The Gators did not have a perfect day. Petit-Frere turned them down for Ohio State, four-star American Heritage (Fla.) School defensive tackle Nesta Silvera affirmed his pledge to Miami instead of flipping and Boykin signed with Notre Dame. Yet Florida was able to add a pair of four-star defensive ends, American Heritage’s Andrew Chatfield (who revived a program tradition with his unveiling) and Lee (Ala.) High’s Malik Langham. It also held onto a wavering offensive line verbal, four-star Cambridge Christian (Fla.) School tackle Richard Gouraige, and got Escambia (Fla.) High’s Jacob Copeland, the No. 12 wide receiver in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite, back in the fold after his previous decommitment in November. Copeland’s mom seemed unhappy about his choice.

Alabama

The Crimson Tide’s dream scenario heading into Wednesday did not materialize. They didn’t come close to making a run at the No. 1 spot in the recruiting rankings, and there were a handful of misses, including Copeland (Florida), Langham (Florida) and the top recruit in the state of Alabama, four-star Central (Ala.) High wide receiver Justyn Ross (Clemson). The Crimson Tide are winners because they landed the most prized recruit available entering signing day, five-star American Heritage (Fla.) School cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr., even though a division rival, LSU, was the longstanding favorite in his recruitment. Plus, they offset Ross’s decision by beating out Texas A&M for Waddle to bolster a receiving corps already loaded with young talent.

USC

This would have been an easy call a week ago. As is their wont, the Trojans scored big at the 11th hour, nabbing four-star Mater Dei (Calif.) High linebacker Solomon Tuliuapupu, four-star Antelope Valley (Calif.) High wide receiver Devon Williams as well as two of 2018’s top cornerbacks, Mission Viejo (Calif.) High five-star Olaijah Griffin, the son of West Coast rapper Warren G; and Helix (Calif.) High four-star Isaac Taylor-Stuart, who told the world he’d be playing for the Trojans while sitting at a table inside a taekwondo studio. The additions of Griffin, Taylor-Stuart and Williams give USC five of the top six prospects in the state of California, according to the 247Sports Composite. (The Trojans already had Mater Dei quarterback JT Daniels and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown on board. The only one in the top six who didn’t choose USC is four-star St. John Bosco High safety Jaiden Woodbey, who’s off to Florida State.)

Losers

LSU

The Tigers were never going to recover after Surtain’s surprising decision this morning. They had long been viewed as the frontrunner in his recruitment, but in the end, they couldn’t keep him away from the program, Alabama, that represents their biggest obstacle to national championship contention. Other disappointments on Wednesday included Foster picking Florida State and four-star Lee's Summit West (Mo.) High athlete Mario Goodrich choosing Clemson. SEC West foe Texas A&M’s late climb won’t make LSU’s dispiriting day any easier to swallow. There was some positive news, though. Scotlandville Magnet (La.) High's Kelvin Joseph, the No. 5 safety in the nation according to the 247Sports Composite, made good on his January pledge to the Tigers by putting pen to paper, and LSU also inked a top-100 wide receiver, Archbishop Rummel (La.) High’s Ja’Marr Chase.

National Signing Day

There were announcement stunners, artful baseball cap reveals, apparent intra-family discord, flips that thrilled one program’s supporters and chagrined another’s. Anyone who’s followed recruiting for a while would have had a hard time not enjoying what took place on Wednesday. That said, the paucity of elite prospects in the aftermath of the early window dampened the drama. There were blue-chippers still on the board entering Wednesday, but most of them ended their recruitments before Christmas. The focus shifted to less highly touted recruits, who remain major draws in certain corners of the college football universe depending on which programs are in contention for their signatures but don’t really move the needle nationally. The new normal of the traditional signing day is less entertaining than it was under the previous setup, and that’s a shame.

Herm Edwards

Arizona State’s decision to fire Todd Graham, pay him $12 million in buyout money and hire Herm Edwards to replace him was met with widespread skepticism. Athletic director Ray Anderson formerly served as Edwards’s agent, and Edwards hadn’t coached in college since the 1980s (as a defensive backs coach at San Jose State) and in the NFL since 2008. The Sun Devils didn’t win over any critics with a bizarre press release describing a “restructured” football model with an “NFL approach,” and did Edwards didn’t help himself by giving off the impression at his introductory press conference that he was not familiar with Arizona State’s mascot. In an appearance on ESPN2’s signing day coverage on Wednesday, Edwards didn’t do anything to assuage doubts about his qualifications as a Power 5 head coach in 2018.

On a more positive note, Arizona State did sign two key targets in four-star Junipero Serra (Calif.) High linebacker Merlin Robertson and four-star Long Beach Poly (Calif.) High safety Aashari Crosswell. As of Wednesday evening, the Sun Devils’ recruiting class ranked fifth in the Pac-12 and 36th in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite.

Michigan

The biggest disappointment of the day involved a player ranked higher than any in Michigan’s 2018 class. Reese, a high school teammate of 2017 five-star and current Wolverines defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon at Lee County, had been verbally committed to Michigan since June 2016, but after opting against inking his NLI during the early window in December, he spurned the Wolverines in favor of signing with local program Georgia on signing day. The Wolverines also failed to beat out Ohio State for Petit-Frere even after practicing at his high school before their Outback Bowl matchup with South Carolina. After finishing fifth in the 247Sports Composite team rankings a year ago, Michigan sat at 21st in 2018 as of Wednesday afternoon, well behind fellow Big Ten East teams Ohio State (No. 2) and Penn State (No. 5).

<p>Decision Day is here. After the majority of the class of 2018’s top prospects sealed their college choices in late December during college football’s new early signing period, top teams were left to vie for the services of the final few blue-chip talents available across the country in rounding out their recruiting classes. Now as the traditional National Signing Day arrives, those holdout high school stars will write the first chapter of their college careers.</p><p>Which schools will land signing day’s biggest fish? Is Ohio State&#39;s place atop the class rankings safe? And are there any big surprises in store? We’re tracking all the high-profile commitments, news and rumors of Wednesday’s action below. Unless otherwise specified, all star counts and position rankings are via the 247Sports Composite.</p><p>• <strong><a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/06/national-signing-day-recruiting-all-name-team" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:2018 Signing Day All-Name Team" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">2018 Signing Day All-Name Team</a> | <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/06/brevin-white-recruitment-signing-day-princeton-alabama" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Why one QB chose Princeton over Alabama" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Why one QB chose Princeton over Alabama</a></strong></p><h3>5:15 p.m. ET: West Coast headliners</h3><p>• The “fight” for four-star DB Isaac Taylor-Stuart is almost over. He’s announcing from his father’s taekwondo studio.</p><p>• USC isn’t the only Pac-12 team getting blue-chippers: Four-star East (Utah) O-lineman Penei Sewell has chosen Oregon over the Trojans.</p><p>• Four-star Long Beach Poly safety Aashari Crosswell signs on with Herm Edwards’s first recruiting class just after his teammate three-star defensive end Jermayne Lole picks the Sun Devils.</p><p>?</p><h3>4:30 p.m. ET: A late win for Nick Saban</h3><p>• Alabama may have lost its top in-state receiver to Clemson, but the Tide dipped into the Lone Star State for another four-star. Episcopal (Texas) WR Jaylen Waddle has picked Alabama over Oregon, Texas A&#38;M, TCU and Florida State.</p><p>• Texas A&#38;M has moved to the fringe of the top 15 without any help today from a former quarterback you may have heard of.</p><p>• Chip Kelly making moves out in Westwood:</p><h3>4 p.m. ET: Baker Mayfield is still 100% Sooner</h3><p>• When key Texas signing day prize Keondre Coburn promised that the Longhorns would beat Oklahoma after confirming his commitment, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner weighed in. Baker Mayfield wrote this in a now-deleted tweet to Coburn:</p><p>“This is what we call being naive. Kid has no idea what it&#39;s like stepping into the Cotton Bowl. So here&#39;s how it works... The team north of the Red River doesn&#39;t flinch. But it&#39;s okay, you&#39;ll see for yourself, wish you the best.”</p><p>Here’s what Coburn, the No. 13 player in the state of Texas, said to irk Mayfield:</p><p>• Excellent work here by the Seminoles sticking with a theme.</p><p>• More good news in Gainesville, as four-star DE Malik Langham spurns Alabama and Auburn for a spot on Dan Mullen’s first Florida class.</p><h3>3:30 p.m. ET: Gators gaining momentum</h3><p>• Florida has come on strong after a relatively quiet morning, keeping four-star offensive tackle Richard Gouriage in the fold after Clemson made a late push for the Gators commit.</p><p>• On the other side of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, some clarity on the future of Georgia signee Otis Reese, the Lee County (Ga.) defender whom the Bulldogs flipped from Michigan.</p><p>• Despite landing the No. 1 uncommitted prospect in the country, Alabama is down to No. 9 in the national class rankings. This will be the first time the Tide finish outside the top three since 2007, but in fairness, Nick Saban brings plenty of young talent back, including Tua Tagovailoa and <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/01/09/alabama-georgia-national-championship-tua-tagovailoa-jake-fromm" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the other true freshmen who starred in the national championship game" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the other true freshmen who starred in the national championship game</a>.</p><h3>2:30 p.m. ET: Here&#39;s your weirdest commitment of the day</h3><p>• Escambia (Fla.) High School WR Jacob Copeland, the top-ranked receiver in the Sunshine State, picked Florida over Alabama and Tennessee in a fascinating signing day scene, surrounded by family members and supporters wearing Volunteers and Crimson Tide gear. But <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/07/jacob-copeland-commit-florida-mom-walks-out-video" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:his mom walked off the set as soon as the announcement was made" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">his mom walked off the set as soon as the announcement was made</a>.</p><p>Happily, Mom returned to the scene to give Copeland a hug and sign his National Letter of Intent.</p><p>• Let’s check in on Herm Edwards’s first class at Arizona State:</p><p>... Oh.</p><p>• Cedar Hill (Texas) RB Maurice Washington signs on with Nebraska and new head coach Scott Frost on ESPN2. “Maybe I could be the face of the program, and we go take this and go get a natty.”</p><h3>2 p.m.: Devon Williams picks USC</h3><p>• The Trojans are heating up, landing one of the top downfield threats in the class of 2018 in Antelope Valley (Calif.) WR Devon Williams. They have roared past Washington as the Pac-12’s top-ranked class.</p><p>• Ole Miss adds a former USC DT via the junior college route.</p><p>• Alabama seems to be sliding back after threatening the top three earlier this morning. The Crimson Tide are down to No. 8 in the 247Sports Composite rankings.</p><h3>1:30 p.m.: USC lands the five-star son of a rap star</h3><p>• Yes, <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/01/29/olaijah-griffin-recruiting-alabama-usc-warren-g" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Olaijah Griffin is the son of West Coast rapper Warren G" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Olaijah Griffin is the son of West Coast rapper Warren G</a>. But the Mission Viejo (Calif.) cornerback is making a name for himself in his own right. Griffin, today’s final five-star available according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, committed to USC with a balloon popped by his father, revealing gold confetti.</p><p><a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/07/olaijah-griffin-warren-g-son-commits-usc-signing-day" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:That being said, we do have some West Coast rap puns." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">That being said, we do have some West Coast rap puns.</a></p><p>• Willie Taggart isn’t going the doom-and-gloom route with Florida State’s quarterback situation. The Seminoles missed out on Emory Jones (who picked Florida) in December and James Wilson (who picked Texas A&#38;M) on Wednesday.</p><p>• Is help on the way for the Sooners’ much-maligned defense? Four-star DT Michael Thompson, a St. Louis product who was the No. 4 player at his position, has chosen Oklahoma.</p><h3>1 p.m. ET: Welcome to the top 10, FSU</h3><p>• Clemson adds a potential big-time receiver in Phenix City, Ala., product Justyn Ross, a 6&#39;4&quot;, 201-pound target who was the top prospect in the state of Alabama this year (No. 45 overall). Ross also had Alabama and Auburn hats on the table. The Tigers don’t have the sheer numbers to compete for the nation’s top recruiting class, but this is an <em>insane</em> fact:</p><p>• Alabama’s top receiver is leaving the state, but Louisiana’s top receiver is staying home.</p><p>• USC lands four-star linebacker Solomon Tuliaupupu, one of the Trojans’ top signing day targets. As SI’s <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/01/30/usc-trojans-recruiting-national-signing-day" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Chris Johnson pointed out in his preview of what’s on the line in L.A. today" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Chris Johnson pointed out in his preview of what’s on the line in L.A. today</a>, USC’s modest place in the recruiting rankings was an issue of quantity, not quality, and newly extended coach Clay Helton has several more targets set to decide in the late afternoon.</p><p>• Florida State has entered the top 10 of the class rankings with a big push today. The Seminoles just added <a href="https://www.sbnation.com/college-football-recruiting/2018/1/18/16906260/jordan-young-recruit-highlights-florida-state-tennessee" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Heritage (Ga.) wide receiver Jordan Young, a former Tennessee commit whose rapid rise was recently chronicled by SB Nation’s FSU blog Tomahawk Nation" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Heritage (Ga.) wide receiver Jordan Young, a former Tennessee commit whose rapid rise was recently chronicled by SB Nation’s FSU blog Tomahawk Nation</a>.</p><h3>Noon ET: Georgia is (still) not messing around</h3><p>• Kirby Smart will never stop going in. The Bulldogs have flipped Alabama commit Quay Walker, a four-star out of Crisp County (Ga.) High School ranked No. 2 among the nation’s outside linebacker prospects and No. 31 overall.</p><p>• Another D.C.-area cornerback being fought over by Notre Dame and Virginia heads to South Bend: <a href="https://247sports.com/college/notre-dame/Article/BREAKING-Four-star-CB-Noah-Boykin-commits-to-Notre-Dame-111904266" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:four-star Noah Boykin, the No. 34 corner in the country, has chosen the Irish" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">four-star Noah Boykin, the No. 34 corner in the country, has chosen the Irish</a> after D.J. Brown made the same decision earlier this morning.</p><p>• The 10th-highest-ranked uncommitted recruit in the country is off to Chapel Hill. Apopka (Fla.) offensive lineman William Barnes (No. 53 overall) has chosen North Carolina.</p><p>• A few minutes after Walker picks the Dawgs, Tommy Bush, a four-star wide receiver from Schertz, Texas, donned the red and black as well (as did his niece, who had her jacket unzipped to reveal the Georgia gear that signaled his decision). With leading receiver Javon Wims headed to the NFL draft, UGA can’t have too many weapons around Jake Fromm—or Justin Fields, or whoever’s running the offense in Athens.</p><h3>11:30 a.m. ET: Quarterbacks make their calls</h3><p>• Lanier (Ala.) four-star QB James Foster just picked Texas A&#38;M over Alabama, LSU and Florida State, giving Jimbo Fisher another recruiting win over his new SEC West foes (and his former employer,</p><p>• Four-star QB Tanner McKee is heading to Palo Alto ... after completing his two-year Mormon mission. <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/01/tanner-mckee-recruiting-national-signing-day" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Read more about one of this class’s most interesting passers here." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Read more about one of this class’s most interesting passers here.</a></p><h3>11:15 a.m. ET: Georgia back at No. 1 ... for now</h3><p>• Thanks in part to the <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/07/national-signing-day-tyson-campbell-commitment-georgia" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:signing of No. 12 overall prospect Tyson Campbell" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">signing of No. 12 overall prospect Tyson Campbell</a>, the Bulldogs are back on top of the <a href="https://247sports.com/Season/2018-Football/CompositeTeamRankings" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:247Sports Composite leaderboard" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">247Sports Composite leaderboard</a>, with a whopping seven five stars in the fold this recruiting cycle. Other big movers in Wednesday’s early going include some of the usual suspects: Alabama has climbed all the way up to No. 4, while Florida State is lurking outside the top 10 at No. 12. There should be plenty more movement ahead.</p><p>• Virginia Tech had a pretty good idea it was losing star linebacker Tremaine Edmunds to the NFL, but reinforcements are on the way for Bud Foster’s perennially punishing unit. Shelby (N.C.) linebacker Dax Hollifield, No. 7 at his position in the nation and No. 151 overall according to 247, picked the Hokies over Stanford, North Carolina and Clemson on Wednesday morning. Virginia Tech currently holds the ACC’s fourth highest-ranked class.</p><h3>10:30 a.m. ET: Ohio State gets the top OL available</h3><p>• Five-star Nick Petit-Frere has signed with the Buckeyes after a recruitment shrouded in mystery that was also headlined by Alabama, Florida, Michigan and Notre Dame. That means that all three schools with an inside track on the No. 1 class (Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State) have landed five-stars this hour.</p><p>• More good news for the Buckeyes: <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/07/greg-schiano-ohio-state-new-england-patriots-defensive-coordinator" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano isn’t going to the Patriots after all" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano isn’t going to the Patriots after all</a>.</p><h3>10 a.m. ET: The American Heritage Four make their calls</h3><p>• First up from the Florida state champions in Plantation, which have gone 27–0 the past two years with help from the nation’s top two DBs: DE Andrew Chatfield picks the Gators (with the hat fake to jab Miami fans in the heart). Then five-star CB Tyson Campbell picks Georgia. Then top prospect Patrick Surtain Jr. pulls off a relative stunner, picking Alabama after many projections pegged him for LSU in the lead-up to Signing Day.</p><p>• High praise for five-star Xavier Thomas, who signed with Clemson in December:</p><p>• Four-star edge defender Caleb Tannor turned some heads by selecting Nebraska over Florida and Auburn earlier this morning. <a href="https://n.rivals.com/news/tannor-pulls-a-shocker-picks-nebraska" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Miller Grove (Ga.) High School product told Rivals" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Miller Grove (Ga.) High School product told Rivals</a> that Scott Frost’s Huskers staff wants to use him the way they used Shaquem Griffin at UCF.</p><h3>9:30 a.m. ET: Here come the big fish</h3><p>• Three five-star recruits are set to announce in a flurry in the 10 a.m. hour, once ESPN begins its day-long coverage: Patrick Surtain Jr., Tyson Campbell and Nicholas Petit-Frere. Surtain and Campbell are two of four teammates at American Heritage High School set to announce at the top of the show. Surtain, the top uncommitted prospect, was “torn” as recently as last night, <a href="https://twitter.com/TomVH/status/961239803374309376" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:according to ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">according to ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren</a>.</p><p>The latest update from American Heritage, with four-star DT Nesta Silvera (set to choose between Miami and Florida) making things interesting:</p><p>?</p><p>• <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/02/06/josh-mcdaniels-colts-patriots-coaching-job" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Last night’s Josh McDaniels saga" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Last night’s Josh McDaniels saga</a> could mess with Baylor’s signing day—the Bears are/were closing in on a top-25 class.</p><p>• Four-star Stockbridge (Ga.) athlete Marquez Ezzard, a top-40 prospect in one of the country’s most talent-rich states, is headed to Miami. Ezzard decommitted from Florida State in the fall.</p><p>• Another Swinney son joins Clemson, joining Will Swinney, the Tigers’ holder last fall. Probably not Dabo’s most difficult recruiting pitch.</p><p>• Meanwhile in Tallahassee:</p><h3>9 a.m. ET: SEC West intrigue!</h3><p>• Jimbo Fisher is making use of today to polish up his first Texas A&#38;M class, and things are off to a rollicking start in College Station, as four-star Lamar (Texas) DT Bobby Brown has flipped from Alabama to the Aggies. Brown is No. 17 tackle in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite.</p><h3>8:45 a.m. ET: Goodrich picks Clemson, Texas secures Coburn</h3><p>• Clemson nabs Lee&#39;s Summitt West (Mo.) athlete Mario Goodrich, a four-star receiver-DB-return man who could be asked to replace some of the explosiveness lost when Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud left for the NFL draft. LSU and Georgia were also in on Goodrich.</p><p>• Four-star defensive tackle Keondre Coburn, the No. 13 recruit in the state of Texas, had committed to the Longhorns last year but didn’t shut things down during the early signing period. Now Tom Herman and company can rest easy, as the Cypress Ranch product has sent in his National Letter of Intent.</p><p>Texas has 11 of the state’s top 15 prospects in the fold.</p><h3>8 a.m. ET: Here Come the Irish</h3><p>• Notre Dame secured the commitment of defensive back D.J. Brown, a three-star out of D.C. who had been committed to Virginia. As of right now, Brian Kelly’s 2018 haul <a href="https://twitter.com/OneFootDown/status/961225139969982465" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:(the largest in Notre Dame history)" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">(the largest in Notre Dame history)</a> sits near the bottom of the national top 10—if the Irish are somehow able to snag highly-touted tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere later this morning, they could start climbing.</p><p>• Javontae Jean-Baptiste will choose from Virginia Tech, Nebraska, Texas A&#38;M and Ohio State ... eventually. <a href="https://n.rivals.com/news/the-latest-with-four-star-javontae-jean-baptiste" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:A source told Rivals.com’s Adam Friedman" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">A source told Rivals.com’s Adam Friedman</a> that Jean-Baptiste “has legitimately changed his mind four times.”</p><h3>7:15 a.m. ET: Off and running</h3><p>• Buford (Ga.) High three-star running back Anthony Grant has flipped from Tennessee to Florida State, an early-morning win for few coach Willie Taggart in his effort to salvage a Seminoles class that lost a lot of bodies when Jimbo Fisher took his time heading out the door. Grant had committed to the Volunteers last June but kept his options open in December. Virginia Tech was the last team in his revisited final three.</p><p>• Notre Dame lands three-star RB C&#39;Bo Flemister, another Georgia back (Pike County) notable in that he was honored on our <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/06/national-signing-day-recruiting-all-name-team" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:2018 National Signing Day All-Name Team" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">2018 National Signing Day All-Name Team</a>. Flemister had been committed to Georgia Tech prior to Wednesday.</p><p>• <a href="http://www.espn.com/college-football/recruiting/story/_/id/22350086/utah-signs-australian-tight-end-thomas-yassmin-early-due-zone-difference" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Interesting story from ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Interesting story from ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren</a>: Utah was actually able to get a head-start on signing day by making things official with tight end Thomas Yassmin at 4:54 p.m. ET on Tuesday. Yassmin faxed his NLI in to Salt Lake City from Sydney, where it was already Wednesday morning.</p><p>“I’ve never played football in my life,” <a href="https://www.foxsports.com.au/nfl/meet-thomas-yassmin-the-australian-schoolboys-winger-turned-college-football-tight-end/news-story/dd69530561eb4cd8f7d4213b4d3f4567" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Yassmin told Fox Sports Australia" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Yassmin told Fox Sports Australia</a><em>.</em> “I’ve watched it. I’ve played Madden, but I’ve never played it.” Good start.</p><h3>Who&#39;s Still Available?</h3><p>Need to set some alarms for the day’s biggest decisions? These are the top 11 uncommitted recruits remaining (all with a 247 Composite rating of over .9700) and when they’re scheduled to commit (all times Eastern):</p><p><strong>1. CB Patrick Surtain Jr.</strong>, American Heritage (Fla.) — 6th overall (10 a.m., ESPNU)<br><strong>2. OT Nicholas Petit-Frere</strong>, Berkeley Prep (Fla.) — 7th overall (10 a.m., ESPNU)<br><strong>3. CB Tyson Campbell</strong>, American Heritage (Fla.) — 12th overall (10 a.m., ESPNU<br><strong>4. CB Olaijah Griffin</strong>, Mission Viejo (Calif.) — 28th overall (1 p.m., ESPN2)<br><strong>5. CB Isaac Taylor-Stuart</strong>, Helix (Calif.) — 32nd overall (5:15 p.m.)<br><strong>6. WR Jaylen Waddle</strong>, Episcopal (Texas) — 39th overall (4:30 p.m.)<br><strong>7. ?WR Devon Williams</strong>, Antelope Valley (Calif.) — 40th overall ?(2 p.m. ESPN2)<br><strong>8. WR Justyn Ross</strong>, Central (Ala.) — 45th overall (1 p.m., ESPN2)<br><strong>9. QB Tanner McKee</strong>, Centennial (Calif.) — 46th overall (11 a.m., ESPNU)<br><strong>10. OT William Barnes</strong>, Apopka (Fla.) — 53rd overall<br><strong>11. G Penei Sewell</strong>, Desert Hills (Utah) — 57th overall (5 p.m., Twitter)</p><h3>What&#39;s Going to Happen?</h3><p><a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/05/national-signing-day-early-period-recruiting-schedule" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:A lot less than normally transpires on the first Wednesday of February" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">A lot less than normally transpires on the first Wednesday of February</a>. With more than 70% of the class of 2018 already locked up, the past six weeks have been a little lighter on the craziness typically associated with peak recruiting season, as all sides can take stock of their options a little more deliberately. While most contenders’ classes are nearly complete, the final one or two additions could provide an extra boost of program momentum heading into spring practice (and the early stages of the 2019 recruiting cycle)—or at least swing the national class rankings for a feather in the school’s cap.</p><p>Georgia was dubbed the big winner of the early signing period, but January’s recalculation of top prospects’ star ratings helped Ohio State regain a slight edge heading into signing day. There’s a slight gap to the next group of teams in the rankings, making it unlikely that someone other than the Bulldogs or Buckeyes will hold bragging rights by the end of the day.</p><p>For a more in-depth look at what’s on the line today, <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/06/national-signing-day-recruiting-alabama-georgia-ohio-state" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:check out Chris Johnson’s preview of seven key signing day storylines" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">check out Chris Johnson’s preview of seven key signing day storylines</a>.</p><h3>TV Guide to National Signing Day 2018</h3><p>ESPN’s live coverage begins on ESPNU at 10 a.m. ET and moves over at noon to ESPN2, where it will run until 3 p.m. The SEC Network, Pac-12 Networks and Longhorn Network will all hold wrap-up coverage later in the afternoon.</p>
National Signing Day 2018: Live Coverage and Updates on Recruiting's Marquee Day

Decision Day is here. After the majority of the class of 2018’s top prospects sealed their college choices in late December during college football’s new early signing period, top teams were left to vie for the services of the final few blue-chip talents available across the country in rounding out their recruiting classes. Now as the traditional National Signing Day arrives, those holdout high school stars will write the first chapter of their college careers.

Which schools will land signing day’s biggest fish? Is Ohio State's place atop the class rankings safe? And are there any big surprises in store? We’re tracking all the high-profile commitments, news and rumors of Wednesday’s action below. Unless otherwise specified, all star counts and position rankings are via the 247Sports Composite.

2018 Signing Day All-Name Team | Why one QB chose Princeton over Alabama

5:15 p.m. ET: West Coast headliners

• The “fight” for four-star DB Isaac Taylor-Stuart is almost over. He’s announcing from his father’s taekwondo studio.

• USC isn’t the only Pac-12 team getting blue-chippers: Four-star East (Utah) O-lineman Penei Sewell has chosen Oregon over the Trojans.

• Four-star Long Beach Poly safety Aashari Crosswell signs on with Herm Edwards’s first recruiting class just after his teammate three-star defensive end Jermayne Lole picks the Sun Devils.

?

4:30 p.m. ET: A late win for Nick Saban

• Alabama may have lost its top in-state receiver to Clemson, but the Tide dipped into the Lone Star State for another four-star. Episcopal (Texas) WR Jaylen Waddle has picked Alabama over Oregon, Texas A&M, TCU and Florida State.

• Texas A&M has moved to the fringe of the top 15 without any help today from a former quarterback you may have heard of.

• Chip Kelly making moves out in Westwood:

4 p.m. ET: Baker Mayfield is still 100% Sooner

• When key Texas signing day prize Keondre Coburn promised that the Longhorns would beat Oklahoma after confirming his commitment, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner weighed in. Baker Mayfield wrote this in a now-deleted tweet to Coburn:

“This is what we call being naive. Kid has no idea what it's like stepping into the Cotton Bowl. So here's how it works... The team north of the Red River doesn't flinch. But it's okay, you'll see for yourself, wish you the best.”

Here’s what Coburn, the No. 13 player in the state of Texas, said to irk Mayfield:

• Excellent work here by the Seminoles sticking with a theme.

• More good news in Gainesville, as four-star DE Malik Langham spurns Alabama and Auburn for a spot on Dan Mullen’s first Florida class.

3:30 p.m. ET: Gators gaining momentum

• Florida has come on strong after a relatively quiet morning, keeping four-star offensive tackle Richard Gouriage in the fold after Clemson made a late push for the Gators commit.

• On the other side of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, some clarity on the future of Georgia signee Otis Reese, the Lee County (Ga.) defender whom the Bulldogs flipped from Michigan.

• Despite landing the No. 1 uncommitted prospect in the country, Alabama is down to No. 9 in the national class rankings. This will be the first time the Tide finish outside the top three since 2007, but in fairness, Nick Saban brings plenty of young talent back, including Tua Tagovailoa and the other true freshmen who starred in the national championship game.

2:30 p.m. ET: Here's your weirdest commitment of the day

• Escambia (Fla.) High School WR Jacob Copeland, the top-ranked receiver in the Sunshine State, picked Florida over Alabama and Tennessee in a fascinating signing day scene, surrounded by family members and supporters wearing Volunteers and Crimson Tide gear. But his mom walked off the set as soon as the announcement was made.

Happily, Mom returned to the scene to give Copeland a hug and sign his National Letter of Intent.

• Let’s check in on Herm Edwards’s first class at Arizona State:

... Oh.

• Cedar Hill (Texas) RB Maurice Washington signs on with Nebraska and new head coach Scott Frost on ESPN2. “Maybe I could be the face of the program, and we go take this and go get a natty.”

2 p.m.: Devon Williams picks USC

• The Trojans are heating up, landing one of the top downfield threats in the class of 2018 in Antelope Valley (Calif.) WR Devon Williams. They have roared past Washington as the Pac-12’s top-ranked class.

• Ole Miss adds a former USC DT via the junior college route.

• Alabama seems to be sliding back after threatening the top three earlier this morning. The Crimson Tide are down to No. 8 in the 247Sports Composite rankings.

1:30 p.m.: USC lands the five-star son of a rap star

• Yes, Olaijah Griffin is the son of West Coast rapper Warren G. But the Mission Viejo (Calif.) cornerback is making a name for himself in his own right. Griffin, today’s final five-star available according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, committed to USC with a balloon popped by his father, revealing gold confetti.

That being said, we do have some West Coast rap puns.

• Willie Taggart isn’t going the doom-and-gloom route with Florida State’s quarterback situation. The Seminoles missed out on Emory Jones (who picked Florida) in December and James Wilson (who picked Texas A&M) on Wednesday.

• Is help on the way for the Sooners’ much-maligned defense? Four-star DT Michael Thompson, a St. Louis product who was the No. 4 player at his position, has chosen Oklahoma.

1 p.m. ET: Welcome to the top 10, FSU

• Clemson adds a potential big-time receiver in Phenix City, Ala., product Justyn Ross, a 6'4", 201-pound target who was the top prospect in the state of Alabama this year (No. 45 overall). Ross also had Alabama and Auburn hats on the table. The Tigers don’t have the sheer numbers to compete for the nation’s top recruiting class, but this is an insane fact:

• Alabama’s top receiver is leaving the state, but Louisiana’s top receiver is staying home.

• USC lands four-star linebacker Solomon Tuliaupupu, one of the Trojans’ top signing day targets. As SI’s Chris Johnson pointed out in his preview of what’s on the line in L.A. today, USC’s modest place in the recruiting rankings was an issue of quantity, not quality, and newly extended coach Clay Helton has several more targets set to decide in the late afternoon.

• Florida State has entered the top 10 of the class rankings with a big push today. The Seminoles just added Heritage (Ga.) wide receiver Jordan Young, a former Tennessee commit whose rapid rise was recently chronicled by SB Nation’s FSU blog Tomahawk Nation.

Noon ET: Georgia is (still) not messing around

• Kirby Smart will never stop going in. The Bulldogs have flipped Alabama commit Quay Walker, a four-star out of Crisp County (Ga.) High School ranked No. 2 among the nation’s outside linebacker prospects and No. 31 overall.

• Another D.C.-area cornerback being fought over by Notre Dame and Virginia heads to South Bend: four-star Noah Boykin, the No. 34 corner in the country, has chosen the Irish after D.J. Brown made the same decision earlier this morning.

• The 10th-highest-ranked uncommitted recruit in the country is off to Chapel Hill. Apopka (Fla.) offensive lineman William Barnes (No. 53 overall) has chosen North Carolina.

• A few minutes after Walker picks the Dawgs, Tommy Bush, a four-star wide receiver from Schertz, Texas, donned the red and black as well (as did his niece, who had her jacket unzipped to reveal the Georgia gear that signaled his decision). With leading receiver Javon Wims headed to the NFL draft, UGA can’t have too many weapons around Jake Fromm—or Justin Fields, or whoever’s running the offense in Athens.

11:30 a.m. ET: Quarterbacks make their calls

• Lanier (Ala.) four-star QB James Foster just picked Texas A&M over Alabama, LSU and Florida State, giving Jimbo Fisher another recruiting win over his new SEC West foes (and his former employer,

• Four-star QB Tanner McKee is heading to Palo Alto ... after completing his two-year Mormon mission. Read more about one of this class’s most interesting passers here.

11:15 a.m. ET: Georgia back at No. 1 ... for now

• Thanks in part to the signing of No. 12 overall prospect Tyson Campbell, the Bulldogs are back on top of the 247Sports Composite leaderboard, with a whopping seven five stars in the fold this recruiting cycle. Other big movers in Wednesday’s early going include some of the usual suspects: Alabama has climbed all the way up to No. 4, while Florida State is lurking outside the top 10 at No. 12. There should be plenty more movement ahead.

• Virginia Tech had a pretty good idea it was losing star linebacker Tremaine Edmunds to the NFL, but reinforcements are on the way for Bud Foster’s perennially punishing unit. Shelby (N.C.) linebacker Dax Hollifield, No. 7 at his position in the nation and No. 151 overall according to 247, picked the Hokies over Stanford, North Carolina and Clemson on Wednesday morning. Virginia Tech currently holds the ACC’s fourth highest-ranked class.

10:30 a.m. ET: Ohio State gets the top OL available

• Five-star Nick Petit-Frere has signed with the Buckeyes after a recruitment shrouded in mystery that was also headlined by Alabama, Florida, Michigan and Notre Dame. That means that all three schools with an inside track on the No. 1 class (Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State) have landed five-stars this hour.

• More good news for the Buckeyes: Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano isn’t going to the Patriots after all.

10 a.m. ET: The American Heritage Four make their calls

• First up from the Florida state champions in Plantation, which have gone 27–0 the past two years with help from the nation’s top two DBs: DE Andrew Chatfield picks the Gators (with the hat fake to jab Miami fans in the heart). Then five-star CB Tyson Campbell picks Georgia. Then top prospect Patrick Surtain Jr. pulls off a relative stunner, picking Alabama after many projections pegged him for LSU in the lead-up to Signing Day.

• High praise for five-star Xavier Thomas, who signed with Clemson in December:

• Four-star edge defender Caleb Tannor turned some heads by selecting Nebraska over Florida and Auburn earlier this morning. The Miller Grove (Ga.) High School product told Rivals that Scott Frost’s Huskers staff wants to use him the way they used Shaquem Griffin at UCF.

9:30 a.m. ET: Here come the big fish

• Three five-star recruits are set to announce in a flurry in the 10 a.m. hour, once ESPN begins its day-long coverage: Patrick Surtain Jr., Tyson Campbell and Nicholas Petit-Frere. Surtain and Campbell are two of four teammates at American Heritage High School set to announce at the top of the show. Surtain, the top uncommitted prospect, was “torn” as recently as last night, according to ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren.

The latest update from American Heritage, with four-star DT Nesta Silvera (set to choose between Miami and Florida) making things interesting:

?

Last night’s Josh McDaniels saga could mess with Baylor’s signing day—the Bears are/were closing in on a top-25 class.

• Four-star Stockbridge (Ga.) athlete Marquez Ezzard, a top-40 prospect in one of the country’s most talent-rich states, is headed to Miami. Ezzard decommitted from Florida State in the fall.

• Another Swinney son joins Clemson, joining Will Swinney, the Tigers’ holder last fall. Probably not Dabo’s most difficult recruiting pitch.

• Meanwhile in Tallahassee:

9 a.m. ET: SEC West intrigue!

• Jimbo Fisher is making use of today to polish up his first Texas A&M class, and things are off to a rollicking start in College Station, as four-star Lamar (Texas) DT Bobby Brown has flipped from Alabama to the Aggies. Brown is No. 17 tackle in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite.

8:45 a.m. ET: Goodrich picks Clemson, Texas secures Coburn

• Clemson nabs Lee's Summitt West (Mo.) athlete Mario Goodrich, a four-star receiver-DB-return man who could be asked to replace some of the explosiveness lost when Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud left for the NFL draft. LSU and Georgia were also in on Goodrich.

• Four-star defensive tackle Keondre Coburn, the No. 13 recruit in the state of Texas, had committed to the Longhorns last year but didn’t shut things down during the early signing period. Now Tom Herman and company can rest easy, as the Cypress Ranch product has sent in his National Letter of Intent.

Texas has 11 of the state’s top 15 prospects in the fold.

8 a.m. ET: Here Come the Irish

• Notre Dame secured the commitment of defensive back D.J. Brown, a three-star out of D.C. who had been committed to Virginia. As of right now, Brian Kelly’s 2018 haul (the largest in Notre Dame history) sits near the bottom of the national top 10—if the Irish are somehow able to snag highly-touted tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere later this morning, they could start climbing.

• Javontae Jean-Baptiste will choose from Virginia Tech, Nebraska, Texas A&M and Ohio State ... eventually. A source told Rivals.com’s Adam Friedman that Jean-Baptiste “has legitimately changed his mind four times.”

7:15 a.m. ET: Off and running

• Buford (Ga.) High three-star running back Anthony Grant has flipped from Tennessee to Florida State, an early-morning win for few coach Willie Taggart in his effort to salvage a Seminoles class that lost a lot of bodies when Jimbo Fisher took his time heading out the door. Grant had committed to the Volunteers last June but kept his options open in December. Virginia Tech was the last team in his revisited final three.

• Notre Dame lands three-star RB C'Bo Flemister, another Georgia back (Pike County) notable in that he was honored on our 2018 National Signing Day All-Name Team. Flemister had been committed to Georgia Tech prior to Wednesday.

Interesting story from ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren: Utah was actually able to get a head-start on signing day by making things official with tight end Thomas Yassmin at 4:54 p.m. ET on Tuesday. Yassmin faxed his NLI in to Salt Lake City from Sydney, where it was already Wednesday morning.

“I’ve never played football in my life,” Yassmin told Fox Sports Australia. “I’ve watched it. I’ve played Madden, but I’ve never played it.” Good start.

Who's Still Available?

Need to set some alarms for the day’s biggest decisions? These are the top 11 uncommitted recruits remaining (all with a 247 Composite rating of over .9700) and when they’re scheduled to commit (all times Eastern):

1. CB Patrick Surtain Jr., American Heritage (Fla.) — 6th overall (10 a.m., ESPNU)
2. OT Nicholas Petit-Frere, Berkeley Prep (Fla.) — 7th overall (10 a.m., ESPNU)
3. CB Tyson Campbell, American Heritage (Fla.) — 12th overall (10 a.m., ESPNU
4. CB Olaijah Griffin, Mission Viejo (Calif.) — 28th overall (1 p.m., ESPN2)
5. CB Isaac Taylor-Stuart, Helix (Calif.) — 32nd overall (5:15 p.m.)
6. WR Jaylen Waddle, Episcopal (Texas) — 39th overall (4:30 p.m.)
7. ?WR Devon Williams, Antelope Valley (Calif.) — 40th overall ?(2 p.m. ESPN2)
8. WR Justyn Ross, Central (Ala.) — 45th overall (1 p.m., ESPN2)
9. QB Tanner McKee, Centennial (Calif.) — 46th overall (11 a.m., ESPNU)
10. OT William Barnes, Apopka (Fla.) — 53rd overall
11. G Penei Sewell, Desert Hills (Utah) — 57th overall (5 p.m., Twitter)

What's Going to Happen?

A lot less than normally transpires on the first Wednesday of February. With more than 70% of the class of 2018 already locked up, the past six weeks have been a little lighter on the craziness typically associated with peak recruiting season, as all sides can take stock of their options a little more deliberately. While most contenders’ classes are nearly complete, the final one or two additions could provide an extra boost of program momentum heading into spring practice (and the early stages of the 2019 recruiting cycle)—or at least swing the national class rankings for a feather in the school’s cap.

Georgia was dubbed the big winner of the early signing period, but January’s recalculation of top prospects’ star ratings helped Ohio State regain a slight edge heading into signing day. There’s a slight gap to the next group of teams in the rankings, making it unlikely that someone other than the Bulldogs or Buckeyes will hold bragging rights by the end of the day.

For a more in-depth look at what’s on the line today, check out Chris Johnson’s preview of seven key signing day storylines.

TV Guide to National Signing Day 2018

ESPN’s live coverage begins on ESPNU at 10 a.m. ET and moves over at noon to ESPN2, where it will run until 3 p.m. The SEC Network, Pac-12 Networks and Longhorn Network will all hold wrap-up coverage later in the afternoon.

Pita Taufatofua, who qualified for the 2016 Summer Olympics in taekwondo, and whose bare, oiled-up torso stole the show at the Opening Ceremony, has now qualified for the Winter Olympics as a cross-country skier.
Tonga's famous shirtless flag-bearer qualifies for Winter Olympics as skier
Pita Taufatofua, who qualified for the 2016 Summer Olympics in taekwondo, and whose bare, oiled-up torso stole the show at the Opening Ceremony, has now qualified for the Winter Olympics as a cross-country skier.
Pita Taufatofua, who qualified for the 2016 Summer Olympics in taekwondo, and whose bare, oiled-up torso stole the show at the Opening Ceremony, has now qualified for the Winter Olympics as a cross-country skier.
Tonga's famous shirtless flag-bearer qualifies for Winter Olympics as skier
Pita Taufatofua, who qualified for the 2016 Summer Olympics in taekwondo, and whose bare, oiled-up torso stole the show at the Opening Ceremony, has now qualified for the Winter Olympics as a cross-country skier.
<p>Get this man a jacket.</p><p>Pita Taufatofua, the guy you probably know for carrying Tonga’s flag at the Rio Olympics <a href="https://www.si.com/extra-mustard/2016/08/05/rio-olympics-opening-ceremony-tonga-flag-bearer" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:while shirtless and dripping with coconut oil" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">while shirtless and dripping with coconut oil</a>, qualified Saturday for the Winter Olympics as a cross-country skier, <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/shirtless-tongan-flag-bearer-qualifies-for-pyeongchang-olympics-1516459380" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:reports" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">reports</a> the <em>Wall Street Journal</em>. </p><p>He had never been on skis before last year and made the Olympics on the last day he could have made himself eligible. If named to the team — he likely will be since he&#39;s the only one — he&#39;d be the first Tongan skier in Winter Olympics history.</p><p>Taufatofua? <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/BeBy0h_HOa9/?hl=en&#38;taken-by=pita_tofua" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:even drove more than two hours" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">even drove more than two hours</a> through a blizzard in the Arctic Circle to get to the final race attempt in Isafjordur, Iceland. If that&#39;s not commitment to your sport, nothing is. </p><p>Taufatofua competed in taekwondo in Rio where he was eliminated from the tournament in his first match. He announced four months later that he was giving cross-country skiing a shot with the hope of qualifying for the Pyeongchang games. (<a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/remember-the-shirtless-tongan-flag-bearer-hes-now-a-cross-country-skier-1515080603" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Journal has chronicled his journey extensively" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The <em>Journal </em>has chronicled his journey extensively</a>.)</p><p>It was as improbable as it sounds since he lives in Brisbane, Australia, where there is no snow. Instead of driving long hours to a ski resort in the winter, he worked out on the beach, skating on roller-skates.</p><p>As the <em>Journal</em> explains, Taufatofua took advantage of an Olympic loophole that didn’t even require him to ski on snow. Qualification points earned in roller-ski races can be applied for cross-country skiing and Taufatofua nearly qualified on that basis alone. But with no more roller-ski races on the schedule and the Olympics looming, Taufatofua <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/01/05/pita-taufatofua-tonga-winter-olympics-cross-country-skiing" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:needed a race on snow" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">needed a race on snow</a>. </p><p>Here&#39;s seeing whether the cold really stops his shirtless antics. </p>
Shirtless Tongan Flag-Bearer Qualifies for Winter Olympics

Get this man a jacket.

Pita Taufatofua, the guy you probably know for carrying Tonga’s flag at the Rio Olympics while shirtless and dripping with coconut oil, qualified Saturday for the Winter Olympics as a cross-country skier, reports the Wall Street Journal.

He had never been on skis before last year and made the Olympics on the last day he could have made himself eligible. If named to the team — he likely will be since he's the only one — he'd be the first Tongan skier in Winter Olympics history.

Taufatofua? even drove more than two hours through a blizzard in the Arctic Circle to get to the final race attempt in Isafjordur, Iceland. If that's not commitment to your sport, nothing is.

Taufatofua competed in taekwondo in Rio where he was eliminated from the tournament in his first match. He announced four months later that he was giving cross-country skiing a shot with the hope of qualifying for the Pyeongchang games. (The Journal has chronicled his journey extensively.)

It was as improbable as it sounds since he lives in Brisbane, Australia, where there is no snow. Instead of driving long hours to a ski resort in the winter, he worked out on the beach, skating on roller-skates.

As the Journal explains, Taufatofua took advantage of an Olympic loophole that didn’t even require him to ski on snow. Qualification points earned in roller-ski races can be applied for cross-country skiing and Taufatofua nearly qualified on that basis alone. But with no more roller-ski races on the schedule and the Olympics looming, Taufatofua needed a race on snow.

Here's seeing whether the cold really stops his shirtless antics.

FILE PHOTO: Chang Ung, North Korea&#39;s International Olympic Committee (IOC) member, arrives at the World Taekwondo Headquarters &#39;Kukkiwon&#39; in Seoul, South Korea, June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
FILE PHOTO: Chang Ung, North Korea's International Olympic Committee (IOC) member, arrives at the World Taekwondo Headquarters 'Kukkiwon' in Seoul
FILE PHOTO: Chang Ung, North Korea's International Olympic Committee (IOC) member, arrives at the World Taekwondo Headquarters 'Kukkiwon' in Seoul, South Korea, June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
FILE PHOTO: Chang Ung, North Korea&#39;s International Olympic Committee (IOC) member, arrives at the World Taekwondo Headquarters &#39;Kukkiwon&#39; in Seoul, South Korea, June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
FILE PHOTO: Chang Ung, North Korea's International Olympic Committee (IOC) member, arrives at the World Taekwondo Headquarters 'Kukkiwon' in Seoul
FILE PHOTO: Chang Ung, North Korea's International Olympic Committee (IOC) member, arrives at the World Taekwondo Headquarters 'Kukkiwon' in Seoul, South Korea, June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
<p>In the summer of 2015, while serving a one-year suspension from the NFL for failing drug tests, Dion Jordan disappeared. He didn’t return phone calls or respond to text messages sent by his agent, Doug Hendrickson, who kept hearing from Jordan’s concerned cousins. They told Hendrickson that Jordan was binge-drinking for weeks at a time by himself at home in Arizona.</p><p>Hendrickson eventually reached Jordan’s girlfriend, Paige Pettis. “Listen,” he told her, “we gotta get him out here.”</p><p><em>Out here </em>meant San Francisco, where Jordan is from and where Hendrickson is based. As Jordan recounts his version of the story, he says he was under the impression that Pettis planned the trip so they could watch his favorite baseball team, the Giants. And while they did catch a game, that does not appear to be the true purpose of their excursion. What unfolded the next morning was closer to an intervention.</p><p>“He came into my office and was just a f------ wreck,” Hendrickson says. “I mean, I would quantify it as literally near death. He looked homeless, just awful.”</p><p>Jordan wrapped both arms tightly around his agent’s shoulders and cried for 20 minutes. He needed a haircut, and he wore a ratty T-shirt and a long, stained black coat. No one spoke, as Jordan sobbed and sobbed. “I just knew that I had to do something to get myself back where I wanted to go,” Jordan says now, more than two years later. “Ya feel me?”</p><p>Hendrickson didn’t know what to do, so he did the only thing that came to mind. He walked Jordan across the street in downtown San Francisco, then pushed open the doors at Empower, the gym run by Tareq Azim, a trainer who’s more like a life coach. “Dion needs you,” Hendrickson said.</p><p>Azim did a double take. He couldn’t believe <em>that</em> was Dion Jordan, the Oregon star who was drafted by the Dolphins third overall in 2013. Azim recalled Jordan as a “freak” and a “badass.” He says, “I was blown away. I could have knocked him over. He looked that frail and just not healthy.”</p><p>They started with an honest, uncomfortable conversation. No small talk. This, Azim told Jordan, is life and death. Jordan opened up about his alcohol and drug use, how he’d drink often and all night and sometimes he’d take MDMA. Jordan was dizzy and yet comfortable. For the first time in a long time, he felt safe. But he also wondered: “What the f--- have I gotten myself into?”</p><p>They made a list of mental and emotional deficiencies, all the stuff that Jordan held onto, that tormented him. Then they put a plan together, right then, Day 1. “It wasn’t even how he ended up there,” Azim says. “It was simple.</p><p><em>“What are you hiding from?”</em></p><p>In the long, sad, anguished history of draft busts, there’s a checklist of common problems. Jordan struggled with most of them, from drinking and drug use to injury and ambivalence. Hence his plummet from promising young talent to football pariah in two seasons.</p><p>Jordan cops to all of it. He didn’t take his career seriously enough. He ignored anyone who warned him. He prioritized bad habits. He hung around the wrong friends. And he was distracted by South Beach and all that Miami glamour. As a rookie in 2013 Jordan had just 19 tackles and two sacks, playing in all 16 games as a Dolphins reserve. “My production was directly related to what I was doing off the field,” he says. “I put nothing into it. I was just showing up.”</p><p>He was 23 then, rich—his four-year contract was worth roughly $20 million—almost famous and living in Miami. He deserved to have fun, he reasoned, and he could handle it. He dabbled in molly and ecstasy and smoked marijuana. Mostly he liked to drink. He preferred hard alcohol and consumed all kinds. He told himself he’d party only on some weekends. That became every weekend, and that became every weekend and some weeknights. Eventually, he says, he could drink all night without blacking out. “It becomes exhausting,” Jordan says. “Because every day you’re trying to chase that feeling you had yesterday.”</p><p>The Dolphins had traded picks Nos. 12 and 42 to move up and draft Jordan, based almost entirely on his potential. He had managed only 14.5 sacks in four seasons at Oregon, where the Ducks rotated defensive linemen in shifts like hockey lines. Still, Jordan stood 6&#39; 6&quot; and weighed 248 pounds and ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, and that combination of size and speed is what made him so enticing. He ran faster than some NFL receivers.</p><p>That is, when he was on the field. The NFL suspended Jordan for four games to start the 2014 season after he tested positive for a stimulant on the league’s banned substance list, and he had two games added to that suspension for a failed drug test.</p><p>He never stopped partying during that first suspension. At that point he had not yet tried to quit. He says the Dolphins went out of their way to offer him help, and from the very top. His biggest supporter was Stephen Ross, the team’s owner and billionaire real estate developer, who checked in with Jordan regularly via phone calls and offered to take care of whatever treatment Jordan might need. “He did all he could to keep me a Miami Dolphin,” Jordan says. “They don’t let too many people make as many mistakes as I did.”</p><p>After more failed drug tests, Jordan was suspended for all of 2015. He lost $5.6 million in salary and bonus money, and he didn’t really care. His life was a mess, and the circumstances only made it worse. Per NFL rules he was banned from the team facility. He had no mentors, a serious drinking problem, money to spend and endless free time. “When things aren’t going his way, he doesn’t seek more attention by trying to cause chaos,” Azim says. “He hides. He locks himself in a room.”</p><p>Jordan had never been in that kind of trouble before. When he saw his name scrolling across the sports news ticker, he knew. He had “f----- up big time.”</p><p>“It was like my whole world crumbled,” he says. “I didn’t have anything but football, and then I didn’t have that.”</p><p>Back in San Francisco, Azim told Jordan his own story, emphasizing how the events of his life had led here, to this gym, his methods and athletes like Jordan who needed help. Azim’s family was from Afghanistan, where his grandfather was in the air force, stationed at Bagram Airfield in the late ’70s, before, Azim says, he was murdered by the communist regime. Given the danger, Azim’s family moved to Germany, where he was born a refugee. When they moved again, to America two years later, he started in sports as soon as he could run, learning taekwondo, boxing, soccer and football. He played linebacker at Fresno State.</p><p>After college, Azim returned to Afghanistan in 2004 to support his father, who he says had been in and out of mental hospitals as he dealt with severe depression. Azim planned to visit for a month and ended up staying for more than four years, working with youth soccer players and launching the Afghan Women’s Boxing Federation. He says two of his boxers were the daughters of a “notorious Taliban warlord.” But the federation was a success.</p><p>Azim returned to the U.S. in 2008, became an MMA coach (for welterweight champion Jake Shields, among others) and started to train pro football players. Raiders quarterbacks Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye became his first clients in 2009, and that led to a friendship with their coach, Tom Cable, who went to Seattle in 2011 and called Azim one day. “We’ve got this guy, if we can get him to unleash his potential, he’ll probably be one of the best things to happen to the NFL,” Cable said.</p><p>“Who is it?” Azim asked.</p><p>“His name is Marshawn,” Cable responded.</p><p><em>Marshawn Lynch</em>. So Azim opened Empower, where he trained Lynch and other NFL Pro Bowlers and MMA stars and celebrities and CEOs of tech startups. “I saw them struggling with the same disease I saw in Afghanistan,” he says. “That disease is fear. Fear paralyzes people.”</p><p>Says Jordan: “Fear paralyzed me.”</p><p>After the initial meeting with Azim, Jordan quit drinking. Or tried to. For the first few days, his hands shook and he felt sick. Azim kept him him busy, filling Jordan’s days with workouts, AA meetings and therapy sessions. He gave Jordan a book to read, <em>Purification of the Heart</em>, which explores Islamic spirituality. He assigned Jordan to complete one good deed a day. Jordan engaged in conversations with strangers he might previously have ignored and even once gave his sweatpants—the ones he was wearing—to a homeless person.</p><p>Azim expected what he calls “hiccups,” and the first one happened on Day 4 in that summer of ’15 when Jordan went AWOL. Azim didn’t hear from him for two days, and Jordan told him he had been drinking by himself. He apologized. “This is just really hard for me,” he said.</p><p>“Bro, you’re safe here,” Azim responded. “There’s no judgment. I got your back.”</p><p>Jordan moved from Arizona into the guest house of a family Hendrickson knew in San Francisco. He filled the idle hours by ordering Uber Eats and playing NBA2K, creating his own franchise and guiding it through season after season.</p><p>The trainer designed workouts to humble Jordan, to show him “you’re not as tough as you think you are,” Azim says. They focused on body-weight exercises. At first Jordan could do only a handful of push-ups on his fingertips. By the end the summer he could pump out more than 100.</p><p>Jordan attended AA meetings every day, sometimes twice, choosing not to speak at first but listening to the stories others told. He came to the same realization as many addicts: He wasn’t alone. He went longer between “hiccups,” and sometimes when he’d start drinking, like with friends or when visiting family, he’d call Azim and admit the truth, right then.</p><p>After six months of regular but uneven progress, Azim was in New York on business when a friend in the Hamptons suggested they stop by Stephen Ross’s estate. Azim did not know Ross, but they took a quiet stroll by the water as Azim filled the Dolphins owner in on Jordan’s progress. “Getting Dion healthy is my No. 1 priority,” Ross said.</p><p>When Azim returned to San Francisco, he told Jordan, “Listen, man, they’re going to take you back.” Jordan smiled. That’s all he wanted.</p><p>More important progress was already underway. In therapy, Jordan learned his carousing wasn’t really harmless partying but rather the way he masked deeper issues from his childhood he had never dealt with. “Fear,” Azim says.</p><p>Jordan grew up for part of his childhood in the Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco. He says his mother was a drug addict, and he saw her get physically abused. He says his dad was around much.</p><p>At age 12, Jordan and his two younger siblings were taken from their mother and sent to live with an aunt in Chandler, Ariz. That was the first time he realized his home life didn’t have to be so chaotic, and his mom got clean and moved there, too.</p><p>Jordan calls her “my dog” and “my angel.” But while he acknowledges she struggled with a disease, her actions in his childhood had a deep, lasting impact on him. “Her choosing [drugs] over her kids is probably the worst thing,” he says. “It hurt me more than anything. Even to this day, that was the first and only person who’s broken my heart to that extent.”</p><p>He pauses, looks away. “I love her so much,” he says.</p><p>Jordan buried all that pain. Just like he buried the memories of the time he almost burned to death in 2007, while trying to siphon gas from a car with a vacuum cleaner, which caught on fire. He says he’d often transfer gas from one family car to another this way. He spent a month in the burn unit at a local hospital, underwent skin grafts and tried to pretend that despite the physical scars—burns covered 40 percent of his body—the accident didn’t affect him. Doctors told him he’d never walk again, let alone play football.</p><p>Except he made it to the NFL, only to bury more pain, mostly by suppressing all his anger over the family members who saw dollar signs when he became a star. Jordan wanted to help—he <em>did</em> help—but he felt used.</p><p>While suspended, Jordan believed he had failed all those people who depended on him. Like the mom who kicked drugs only to watch her son succumb to alcohol. That hurt, so he drank. Reports surfaced that the Dolphins wanted to trade him. That stung, so he drank. He obtained reinstatement from the NFL in July 2016 and felt not peace but pressure. His solution: drink. “I decided to feel sorry for myself,” he says.</p><p>The more he went to therapy, the more he realized he had only one person to blame for all his problems: Dion Jordan. He’s asked how much responsibility he should take, given the events of his childhood, the expectations in the NFL, the family obligations. “All of it,” Jordan says. “At every turn, I had options. I could have spoken up and told someone I was hurting. I just pushed it down and kept moving.”</p><p>Azim and his therapist taught Jordan that trust is not weakness but strength. “That’s the true definition of manhood,” Azim says. “In the NFL, there’s this massive level of hypocrisy in the development of players. All these coaches and mentors who tell these players not to be vulnerable, not to show weakness.</p><p>“Someone like Dion just retreats.”</p><p>After his reinstatement, Jordan returned to Miami for the 2016 season. Except that he had injured his left knee during those workouts in San Francisco. The Dolphins put him on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list, shelving him for at least the first part of the season while he recovered. Here he was, 3,000 miles from Azim and his support system, alone and again not playing football. He figured he could have one drink when he went out. That became two drinks and then four. This “hiccup” was not one incident but a series of them. “It was getting worse and worse,” Azim says. “Like, oh, s---, this is getting dangerous.”</p><p>Out of options, a panicked Azim called an old friend: Cable, now the assistant head coach of the Seahawks. Azim knew that Cable’s son, Alex, had struggled with drug and alcohol addictions, gone to rehab at a wilderness retreat, changed his life and admirably decided to counsel other addicts. “This is driving me crazy,” Azim told Cable. “I’ve put in all this work and now he’s going to the dark side again. I’m legitimately heartbroken. Because I’m like, how has he given up after everything we’ve accomplished?”</p><p>“Don’t give up on him,” Cable responded.</p><p>The Dolphins allowed Jordan to return to San Francisco in December. He went back to Azim. They mapped out a daily schedule:</p><p><em><strong>All day</strong>—focus on yourself and winning</em><br><em><strong>9:20: </strong>pray for gratitude and forgiveness</em><br><em><strong>10:</strong> Empower training </em><em>camp</em><br><strong><em>11</em></strong><em><strong>:30:</strong> NFL Counselor Check-In</em><br><em><strong>Noon:</strong> AA meeting</em></p><p>Azim and Cable discussed possible next steps, and Cable suggested his son move to San Francisco to live with Jordan and help him sustain his sobriety. So Alex moved into Jordan’s one-bedroom apartment, sleeping on a pullout couch, accompanying Jordan to meetings and eating takeout with him every night. “It felt like Alex genuinely cared about me,” Jordan says.</p><p>“He didn’t ask me for anything.”</p><p>The Dolphins released Jordan in late March. He understood. Local writers tabbed him the biggest draft bust in team history. Still, more than a dozen teams reached out to Hendrickson to inquire about his status. Jordan wanted to stay on the west coast, if possible, to remain closer to his family in San Francisco and the trainer who changed his life.</p><p>Tom Cable’s presence in Seattle helped Jordan decide to sign with the Seahawks. Well, that and an unlikely voice of support. Azim happened to see Lynch, his longtime client, for a training session in the Bay Area. He handed over the list of teams that wanted to sign Jordan. Lynch glanced at the list quickly, then said, “Seattle is the best place for Dion,” citing Cable and the team’s support system.</p><p>Jordan says he hasn’t had a drop of alcohol since February, right around the Super Bowl. “I just have to wake up every morning and make the right decisions,” he says. “That’s on me.”</p><p>On Nov. 9, after two knee surgeries and months in physical rehabilitation, Jordan played in his first NFL game in more than 1,000 days. It took place a short drive from his aunt’s house, where he lived after he was taken from his mother. Both women were in the stands at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, along with Jordan’s siblings and a cadre of childhood friends.</p><p>Jordan put together his best career performance, registering 33 snaps, five quarterback pressures, two quarterback hits, two hurries and a sack. Coach Pete Carroll described Jordan as “a little raw at times.” But he also acknowledged the obvious: Not many humans could play like that after a 1,000-plus-day layoff.</p><p>Later that month Jordan and Pettis hosted their families for Thanksgiving. Jordan looked into the faces of all the people who had stood by him, who saw his struggles, whose warnings he had ignored as he nearly ruined his career and health. He thanked them. He also thanked Azim.</p><p>“Tareq saved his life,” Hendrickson says.</p><p>Now Jordan hopes to serve as something of a model for the NFL. He wants to show the league what players on one-year suspensions really need—full-time support, with the teams they play for, not some brief NFL symposium before their issues are compounded by the confluence of money, fame, free time and bad decisions. He remembers sitting in the first row of his rookie symposium, listening to Adam Jones try to scare the NFL neophytes straight with tales of players gone bad. That will never be me, he thought.</p><p>There’s a reason, Jordan says, that only a handful of players—himself, Josh Gordon, Johnny Jolly, a few others—have returned to the NFL after one-year suspensions. Banning players from facilities sets them up to fail, Jordan says. “As far as the NFL, the league is abandoning its players,” he says. “They’re saying the Shield is more important. To protect it, they’re taking away support.”</p><p>Jordan injured his neck in his second game back, against the Falcons, while recording two tackles. He was inactive for Seattle’s next three contests, and it seemed fair to wonder how he’d cope with again not playing, how he’d handle another round of disappointment. This time, it turns out, the answer was quite well. He had sacks against the Rams and Cowboys, upping his season total to three—doubling his career total—in only four games. He added seven tackles against the Rams, setting himself up for a free-agent payday this spring.</p><p>As his comeback continues to unfurl, Jordan says all the right things. He says he had to expect some bruises after a two-year layoff, as his body acclimated to full-time contact again. He says he didn’t feel sorry for himself when he got injured after the Falcons game. He says he continued his routine, the meetings, the counseling sessions, all of it. Only Jordan knows for sure.</p><p>He knows something else, too. “I’ll play one way,” he says. “Fearless.”</p><p><strong><em>Question or comment? </em></strong><em>Email us at <span>talkback@themmqb.com</span>.</em></p>
Dion Jordan: Draft Bust, Back from the Abyss

In the summer of 2015, while serving a one-year suspension from the NFL for failing drug tests, Dion Jordan disappeared. He didn’t return phone calls or respond to text messages sent by his agent, Doug Hendrickson, who kept hearing from Jordan’s concerned cousins. They told Hendrickson that Jordan was binge-drinking for weeks at a time by himself at home in Arizona.

Hendrickson eventually reached Jordan’s girlfriend, Paige Pettis. “Listen,” he told her, “we gotta get him out here.”

Out here meant San Francisco, where Jordan is from and where Hendrickson is based. As Jordan recounts his version of the story, he says he was under the impression that Pettis planned the trip so they could watch his favorite baseball team, the Giants. And while they did catch a game, that does not appear to be the true purpose of their excursion. What unfolded the next morning was closer to an intervention.

“He came into my office and was just a f------ wreck,” Hendrickson says. “I mean, I would quantify it as literally near death. He looked homeless, just awful.”

Jordan wrapped both arms tightly around his agent’s shoulders and cried for 20 minutes. He needed a haircut, and he wore a ratty T-shirt and a long, stained black coat. No one spoke, as Jordan sobbed and sobbed. “I just knew that I had to do something to get myself back where I wanted to go,” Jordan says now, more than two years later. “Ya feel me?”

Hendrickson didn’t know what to do, so he did the only thing that came to mind. He walked Jordan across the street in downtown San Francisco, then pushed open the doors at Empower, the gym run by Tareq Azim, a trainer who’s more like a life coach. “Dion needs you,” Hendrickson said.

Azim did a double take. He couldn’t believe that was Dion Jordan, the Oregon star who was drafted by the Dolphins third overall in 2013. Azim recalled Jordan as a “freak” and a “badass.” He says, “I was blown away. I could have knocked him over. He looked that frail and just not healthy.”

They started with an honest, uncomfortable conversation. No small talk. This, Azim told Jordan, is life and death. Jordan opened up about his alcohol and drug use, how he’d drink often and all night and sometimes he’d take MDMA. Jordan was dizzy and yet comfortable. For the first time in a long time, he felt safe. But he also wondered: “What the f--- have I gotten myself into?”

They made a list of mental and emotional deficiencies, all the stuff that Jordan held onto, that tormented him. Then they put a plan together, right then, Day 1. “It wasn’t even how he ended up there,” Azim says. “It was simple.

“What are you hiding from?”

In the long, sad, anguished history of draft busts, there’s a checklist of common problems. Jordan struggled with most of them, from drinking and drug use to injury and ambivalence. Hence his plummet from promising young talent to football pariah in two seasons.

Jordan cops to all of it. He didn’t take his career seriously enough. He ignored anyone who warned him. He prioritized bad habits. He hung around the wrong friends. And he was distracted by South Beach and all that Miami glamour. As a rookie in 2013 Jordan had just 19 tackles and two sacks, playing in all 16 games as a Dolphins reserve. “My production was directly related to what I was doing off the field,” he says. “I put nothing into it. I was just showing up.”

He was 23 then, rich—his four-year contract was worth roughly $20 million—almost famous and living in Miami. He deserved to have fun, he reasoned, and he could handle it. He dabbled in molly and ecstasy and smoked marijuana. Mostly he liked to drink. He preferred hard alcohol and consumed all kinds. He told himself he’d party only on some weekends. That became every weekend, and that became every weekend and some weeknights. Eventually, he says, he could drink all night without blacking out. “It becomes exhausting,” Jordan says. “Because every day you’re trying to chase that feeling you had yesterday.”

The Dolphins had traded picks Nos. 12 and 42 to move up and draft Jordan, based almost entirely on his potential. He had managed only 14.5 sacks in four seasons at Oregon, where the Ducks rotated defensive linemen in shifts like hockey lines. Still, Jordan stood 6' 6" and weighed 248 pounds and ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, and that combination of size and speed is what made him so enticing. He ran faster than some NFL receivers.

That is, when he was on the field. The NFL suspended Jordan for four games to start the 2014 season after he tested positive for a stimulant on the league’s banned substance list, and he had two games added to that suspension for a failed drug test.

He never stopped partying during that first suspension. At that point he had not yet tried to quit. He says the Dolphins went out of their way to offer him help, and from the very top. His biggest supporter was Stephen Ross, the team’s owner and billionaire real estate developer, who checked in with Jordan regularly via phone calls and offered to take care of whatever treatment Jordan might need. “He did all he could to keep me a Miami Dolphin,” Jordan says. “They don’t let too many people make as many mistakes as I did.”

After more failed drug tests, Jordan was suspended for all of 2015. He lost $5.6 million in salary and bonus money, and he didn’t really care. His life was a mess, and the circumstances only made it worse. Per NFL rules he was banned from the team facility. He had no mentors, a serious drinking problem, money to spend and endless free time. “When things aren’t going his way, he doesn’t seek more attention by trying to cause chaos,” Azim says. “He hides. He locks himself in a room.”

Jordan had never been in that kind of trouble before. When he saw his name scrolling across the sports news ticker, he knew. He had “f----- up big time.”

“It was like my whole world crumbled,” he says. “I didn’t have anything but football, and then I didn’t have that.”

Back in San Francisco, Azim told Jordan his own story, emphasizing how the events of his life had led here, to this gym, his methods and athletes like Jordan who needed help. Azim’s family was from Afghanistan, where his grandfather was in the air force, stationed at Bagram Airfield in the late ’70s, before, Azim says, he was murdered by the communist regime. Given the danger, Azim’s family moved to Germany, where he was born a refugee. When they moved again, to America two years later, he started in sports as soon as he could run, learning taekwondo, boxing, soccer and football. He played linebacker at Fresno State.

After college, Azim returned to Afghanistan in 2004 to support his father, who he says had been in and out of mental hospitals as he dealt with severe depression. Azim planned to visit for a month and ended up staying for more than four years, working with youth soccer players and launching the Afghan Women’s Boxing Federation. He says two of his boxers were the daughters of a “notorious Taliban warlord.” But the federation was a success.

Azim returned to the U.S. in 2008, became an MMA coach (for welterweight champion Jake Shields, among others) and started to train pro football players. Raiders quarterbacks Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye became his first clients in 2009, and that led to a friendship with their coach, Tom Cable, who went to Seattle in 2011 and called Azim one day. “We’ve got this guy, if we can get him to unleash his potential, he’ll probably be one of the best things to happen to the NFL,” Cable said.

“Who is it?” Azim asked.

“His name is Marshawn,” Cable responded.

Marshawn Lynch. So Azim opened Empower, where he trained Lynch and other NFL Pro Bowlers and MMA stars and celebrities and CEOs of tech startups. “I saw them struggling with the same disease I saw in Afghanistan,” he says. “That disease is fear. Fear paralyzes people.”

Says Jordan: “Fear paralyzed me.”

After the initial meeting with Azim, Jordan quit drinking. Or tried to. For the first few days, his hands shook and he felt sick. Azim kept him him busy, filling Jordan’s days with workouts, AA meetings and therapy sessions. He gave Jordan a book to read, Purification of the Heart, which explores Islamic spirituality. He assigned Jordan to complete one good deed a day. Jordan engaged in conversations with strangers he might previously have ignored and even once gave his sweatpants—the ones he was wearing—to a homeless person.

Azim expected what he calls “hiccups,” and the first one happened on Day 4 in that summer of ’15 when Jordan went AWOL. Azim didn’t hear from him for two days, and Jordan told him he had been drinking by himself. He apologized. “This is just really hard for me,” he said.

“Bro, you’re safe here,” Azim responded. “There’s no judgment. I got your back.”

Jordan moved from Arizona into the guest house of a family Hendrickson knew in San Francisco. He filled the idle hours by ordering Uber Eats and playing NBA2K, creating his own franchise and guiding it through season after season.

The trainer designed workouts to humble Jordan, to show him “you’re not as tough as you think you are,” Azim says. They focused on body-weight exercises. At first Jordan could do only a handful of push-ups on his fingertips. By the end the summer he could pump out more than 100.

Jordan attended AA meetings every day, sometimes twice, choosing not to speak at first but listening to the stories others told. He came to the same realization as many addicts: He wasn’t alone. He went longer between “hiccups,” and sometimes when he’d start drinking, like with friends or when visiting family, he’d call Azim and admit the truth, right then.

After six months of regular but uneven progress, Azim was in New York on business when a friend in the Hamptons suggested they stop by Stephen Ross’s estate. Azim did not know Ross, but they took a quiet stroll by the water as Azim filled the Dolphins owner in on Jordan’s progress. “Getting Dion healthy is my No. 1 priority,” Ross said.

When Azim returned to San Francisco, he told Jordan, “Listen, man, they’re going to take you back.” Jordan smiled. That’s all he wanted.

More important progress was already underway. In therapy, Jordan learned his carousing wasn’t really harmless partying but rather the way he masked deeper issues from his childhood he had never dealt with. “Fear,” Azim says.

Jordan grew up for part of his childhood in the Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco. He says his mother was a drug addict, and he saw her get physically abused. He says his dad was around much.

At age 12, Jordan and his two younger siblings were taken from their mother and sent to live with an aunt in Chandler, Ariz. That was the first time he realized his home life didn’t have to be so chaotic, and his mom got clean and moved there, too.

Jordan calls her “my dog” and “my angel.” But while he acknowledges she struggled with a disease, her actions in his childhood had a deep, lasting impact on him. “Her choosing [drugs] over her kids is probably the worst thing,” he says. “It hurt me more than anything. Even to this day, that was the first and only person who’s broken my heart to that extent.”

He pauses, looks away. “I love her so much,” he says.

Jordan buried all that pain. Just like he buried the memories of the time he almost burned to death in 2007, while trying to siphon gas from a car with a vacuum cleaner, which caught on fire. He says he’d often transfer gas from one family car to another this way. He spent a month in the burn unit at a local hospital, underwent skin grafts and tried to pretend that despite the physical scars—burns covered 40 percent of his body—the accident didn’t affect him. Doctors told him he’d never walk again, let alone play football.

Except he made it to the NFL, only to bury more pain, mostly by suppressing all his anger over the family members who saw dollar signs when he became a star. Jordan wanted to help—he did help—but he felt used.

While suspended, Jordan believed he had failed all those people who depended on him. Like the mom who kicked drugs only to watch her son succumb to alcohol. That hurt, so he drank. Reports surfaced that the Dolphins wanted to trade him. That stung, so he drank. He obtained reinstatement from the NFL in July 2016 and felt not peace but pressure. His solution: drink. “I decided to feel sorry for myself,” he says.

The more he went to therapy, the more he realized he had only one person to blame for all his problems: Dion Jordan. He’s asked how much responsibility he should take, given the events of his childhood, the expectations in the NFL, the family obligations. “All of it,” Jordan says. “At every turn, I had options. I could have spoken up and told someone I was hurting. I just pushed it down and kept moving.”

Azim and his therapist taught Jordan that trust is not weakness but strength. “That’s the true definition of manhood,” Azim says. “In the NFL, there’s this massive level of hypocrisy in the development of players. All these coaches and mentors who tell these players not to be vulnerable, not to show weakness.

“Someone like Dion just retreats.”

After his reinstatement, Jordan returned to Miami for the 2016 season. Except that he had injured his left knee during those workouts in San Francisco. The Dolphins put him on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list, shelving him for at least the first part of the season while he recovered. Here he was, 3,000 miles from Azim and his support system, alone and again not playing football. He figured he could have one drink when he went out. That became two drinks and then four. This “hiccup” was not one incident but a series of them. “It was getting worse and worse,” Azim says. “Like, oh, s---, this is getting dangerous.”

Out of options, a panicked Azim called an old friend: Cable, now the assistant head coach of the Seahawks. Azim knew that Cable’s son, Alex, had struggled with drug and alcohol addictions, gone to rehab at a wilderness retreat, changed his life and admirably decided to counsel other addicts. “This is driving me crazy,” Azim told Cable. “I’ve put in all this work and now he’s going to the dark side again. I’m legitimately heartbroken. Because I’m like, how has he given up after everything we’ve accomplished?”

“Don’t give up on him,” Cable responded.

The Dolphins allowed Jordan to return to San Francisco in December. He went back to Azim. They mapped out a daily schedule:

All day—focus on yourself and winning
9:20: pray for gratitude and forgiveness
10: Empower training camp
11:30: NFL Counselor Check-In
Noon: AA meeting

Azim and Cable discussed possible next steps, and Cable suggested his son move to San Francisco to live with Jordan and help him sustain his sobriety. So Alex moved into Jordan’s one-bedroom apartment, sleeping on a pullout couch, accompanying Jordan to meetings and eating takeout with him every night. “It felt like Alex genuinely cared about me,” Jordan says.

“He didn’t ask me for anything.”

The Dolphins released Jordan in late March. He understood. Local writers tabbed him the biggest draft bust in team history. Still, more than a dozen teams reached out to Hendrickson to inquire about his status. Jordan wanted to stay on the west coast, if possible, to remain closer to his family in San Francisco and the trainer who changed his life.

Tom Cable’s presence in Seattle helped Jordan decide to sign with the Seahawks. Well, that and an unlikely voice of support. Azim happened to see Lynch, his longtime client, for a training session in the Bay Area. He handed over the list of teams that wanted to sign Jordan. Lynch glanced at the list quickly, then said, “Seattle is the best place for Dion,” citing Cable and the team’s support system.

Jordan says he hasn’t had a drop of alcohol since February, right around the Super Bowl. “I just have to wake up every morning and make the right decisions,” he says. “That’s on me.”

On Nov. 9, after two knee surgeries and months in physical rehabilitation, Jordan played in his first NFL game in more than 1,000 days. It took place a short drive from his aunt’s house, where he lived after he was taken from his mother. Both women were in the stands at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, along with Jordan’s siblings and a cadre of childhood friends.

Jordan put together his best career performance, registering 33 snaps, five quarterback pressures, two quarterback hits, two hurries and a sack. Coach Pete Carroll described Jordan as “a little raw at times.” But he also acknowledged the obvious: Not many humans could play like that after a 1,000-plus-day layoff.

Later that month Jordan and Pettis hosted their families for Thanksgiving. Jordan looked into the faces of all the people who had stood by him, who saw his struggles, whose warnings he had ignored as he nearly ruined his career and health. He thanked them. He also thanked Azim.

“Tareq saved his life,” Hendrickson says.

Now Jordan hopes to serve as something of a model for the NFL. He wants to show the league what players on one-year suspensions really need—full-time support, with the teams they play for, not some brief NFL symposium before their issues are compounded by the confluence of money, fame, free time and bad decisions. He remembers sitting in the first row of his rookie symposium, listening to Adam Jones try to scare the NFL neophytes straight with tales of players gone bad. That will never be me, he thought.

There’s a reason, Jordan says, that only a handful of players—himself, Josh Gordon, Johnny Jolly, a few others—have returned to the NFL after one-year suspensions. Banning players from facilities sets them up to fail, Jordan says. “As far as the NFL, the league is abandoning its players,” he says. “They’re saying the Shield is more important. To protect it, they’re taking away support.”

Jordan injured his neck in his second game back, against the Falcons, while recording two tackles. He was inactive for Seattle’s next three contests, and it seemed fair to wonder how he’d cope with again not playing, how he’d handle another round of disappointment. This time, it turns out, the answer was quite well. He had sacks against the Rams and Cowboys, upping his season total to three—doubling his career total—in only four games. He added seven tackles against the Rams, setting himself up for a free-agent payday this spring.

As his comeback continues to unfurl, Jordan says all the right things. He says he had to expect some bruises after a two-year layoff, as his body acclimated to full-time contact again. He says he didn’t feel sorry for himself when he got injured after the Falcons game. He says he continued his routine, the meetings, the counseling sessions, all of it. Only Jordan knows for sure.

He knows something else, too. “I’ll play one way,” he says. “Fearless.”

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

<p>In the summer of 2015, while serving a one-year suspension from the NFL for failing drug tests, Dion Jordan disappeared. He didn’t return phone calls or respond to text messages sent by his agent, Doug Hendrickson, who kept hearing from Jordan’s concerned cousins. They told Hendrickson that Jordan was binge-drinking for weeks at a time by himself at home in Arizona.</p><p>Hendrickson eventually reached Jordan’s girlfriend, Paige Pettis. “Listen,” he told her, “we gotta get him out here.”</p><p><em>Out here </em>meant San Francisco, where Jordan is from and where Hendrickson is based. As Jordan recounts his version of the story, he says he was under the impression that Pettis planned the trip so they could watch his favorite baseball team, the Giants. And while they did catch a game, that does not appear to be the true purpose of their excursion. What unfolded the next morning was closer to an intervention.</p><p>“He came into my office and was just a f------ wreck,” Hendrickson says. “I mean, I would quantify it as literally near death. He looked homeless, just awful.”</p><p>Jordan wrapped both arms tightly around his agent’s shoulders and cried for 20 minutes. He needed a haircut, and he wore a ratty T-shirt and a long, stained black coat. No one spoke, as Jordan sobbed and sobbed. “I just knew that I had to do something to get myself back where I wanted to go,” Jordan says now, more than two years later. “Ya feel me?”</p><p>Hendrickson didn’t know what to do, so he did the only thing that came to mind. He walked Jordan across the street in downtown San Francisco, then pushed open the doors at Empower, the gym run by Tareq Azim, a trainer who’s more like a life coach. “Dion needs you,” Hendrickson said.</p><p>Azim did a double take. He couldn’t believe <em>that</em> was Dion Jordan, the Oregon star who was drafted by the Dolphins third overall in 2013. Azim recalled Jordan as a “freak” and a “badass.” He says, “I was blown away. I could have knocked him over. He looked that frail and just not healthy.”</p><p>They started with an honest, uncomfortable conversation. No small talk. This, Azim told Jordan, is life and death. Jordan opened up about his alcohol and drug use, how he’d drink often and all night and sometimes he’d take MDMA. Jordan was dizzy and yet comfortable. For the first time in a long time, he felt safe. But he also wondered: “What the f--- have I gotten myself into?”</p><p>They made a list of mental and emotional deficiencies, all the stuff that Jordan held onto, that tormented him. Then they put a plan together, right then, Day 1. “It wasn’t even how he ended up there,” Azim says. “It was simple.</p><p><em>“What are you hiding from?”</em></p><p>In the long, sad, anguished history of draft busts, there’s a checklist of common problems. Jordan struggled with most of them, from drinking and drug use to injury and ambivalence. Hence his plummet from promising young talent to football pariah in two seasons.</p><p>Jordan cops to all of it. He didn’t take his career seriously enough. He ignored anyone who warned him. He prioritized bad habits. He hung around the wrong friends. And he was distracted by South Beach and all that Miami glamour. As a rookie in 2013 Jordan had just 19 tackles and two sacks, playing in all 16 games as a Dolphins reserve. “My production was directly related to what I was doing off the field,” he says. “I put nothing into it. I was just showing up.”</p><p>He was 23 then, rich—his four-year contract was worth roughly $20 million—almost famous and living in Miami. He deserved to have fun, he reasoned, and he could handle it. He dabbled in molly and ecstasy and smoked marijuana. Mostly he liked to drink. He preferred hard alcohol and consumed all kinds. He told himself he’d party only on some weekends. That became every weekend, and that became every weekend and some weeknights. Eventually, he says, he could drink all night without blacking out. “It becomes exhausting,” Jordan says. “Because every day you’re trying to chase that feeling you had yesterday.”</p><p>The Dolphins had traded picks Nos. 12 and 42 to move up and draft Jordan, based almost entirely on his potential. He had managed only 14.5 sacks in four seasons at Oregon, where the Ducks rotated defensive linemen in shifts like hockey lines. Still, Jordan stood 6&#39; 6&quot; and weighed 248 pounds and ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, and that combination of size and speed is what made him so enticing. He ran faster than some NFL receivers.</p><p>That is, when he was on the field. The NFL suspended Jordan for four games to start the 2014 season after he tested positive for a stimulant on the league’s banned substance list, and he had two games added to that suspension for a failed drug test.</p><p>He never stopped partying during that first suspension. At that point he had not yet tried to quit. He says the Dolphins went out of their way to offer him help, and from the very top. His biggest supporter was Stephen Ross, the team’s owner and billionaire real estate developer, who checked in with Jordan regularly via phone calls and offered to take care of whatever treatment Jordan might need. “He did all he could to keep me a Miami Dolphin,” Jordan says. “They don’t let too many people make as many mistakes as I did.”</p><p>After more failed drug tests, Jordan was suspended for all of 2015. He lost $5.6 million in salary and bonus money, and he didn’t really care. His life was a mess, and the circumstances only made it worse. Per NFL rules he was banned from the team facility. He had no mentors, a serious drinking problem, money to spend and endless free time. “When things aren’t going his way, he doesn’t seek more attention by trying to cause chaos,” Azim says. “He hides. He locks himself in a room.”</p><p>Jordan had never been in that kind of trouble before. When he saw his name scrolling across the sports news ticker, he knew. He had “f----- up big time.”</p><p>“It was like my whole world crumbled,” he says. “I didn’t have anything but football, and then I didn’t have that.”</p><p>Back in San Francisco, Azim told Jordan his own story, emphasizing how the events of his life had led here, to this gym, his methods and athletes like Jordan who needed help. Azim’s family was from Afghanistan, where his grandfather was in the air force, stationed at Bagram Airfield in the late ’70s, before, Azim says, he was murdered by the communist regime. Given the danger, Azim’s family moved to Germany, where he was born a refugee. When they moved again, to America two years later, he started in sports as soon as he could run, learning taekwondo, boxing, soccer and football. He played linebacker at Fresno State.</p><p>After college, Azim returned to Afghanistan in 2004 to support his father, who he says had been in and out of mental hospitals as he dealt with severe depression. Azim planned to visit for a month and ended up staying for more than four years, working with youth soccer players and launching the Afghan Women’s Boxing Federation. He says two of his boxers were the daughters of a “notorious Taliban warlord.” But the federation was a success.</p><p>Azim returned to the U.S. in 2008, became an MMA coach (for welterweight champion Jake Shields, among others) and started to train pro football players. Raiders quarterbacks Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye became his first clients in 2009, and that led to a friendship with their coach, Tom Cable, who went to Seattle in 2011 and called Azim one day. “We’ve got this guy, if we can get him to unleash his potential, he’ll probably be one of the best things to happen to the NFL,” Cable said.</p><p>“Who is it?” Azim asked.</p><p>“His name is Marshawn,” Cable responded.</p><p><em>Marshawn Lynch</em>. So Azim opened Empower, where he trained Lynch and other NFL Pro Bowlers and MMA stars and celebrities and CEOs of tech startups. “I saw them struggling with the same disease I saw in Afghanistan,” he says. “That disease is fear. Fear paralyzes people.”</p><p>Says Jordan: “Fear paralyzed me.”</p><p>After the initial meeting with Azim, Jordan quit drinking. Or tried to. For the first few days, his hands shook and he felt sick. Azim kept him him busy, filling Jordan’s days with workouts, AA meetings and therapy sessions. He gave Jordan a book to read, <em>Purification of the Heart</em>, which explores Islamic spirituality. He assigned Jordan to complete one good deed a day. Jordan engaged in conversations with strangers he might previously have ignored and even once gave his sweatpants—the ones he was wearing—to a homeless person.</p><p>Azim expected what he calls “hiccups,” and the first one happened on Day 4 in that summer of ’15 when Jordan went AWOL. Azim didn’t hear from him for two days, and Jordan told him he had been drinking by himself. He apologized. “This is just really hard for me,” he said.</p><p>“Bro, you’re safe here,” Azim responded. “There’s no judgment. I got your back.”</p><p>Jordan moved from Arizona into the guest house of a family Hendrickson knew in San Francisco. He filled the idle hours by ordering Uber Eats and playing NBA2K, creating his own franchise and guiding it through season after season.</p><p>The trainer designed workouts to humble Jordan, to show him “you’re not as tough as you think you are,” Azim says. They focused on body-weight exercises. At first Jordan could do only a handful of push-ups on his fingertips. By the end the summer he could pump out more than 100.</p><p>Jordan attended AA meetings every day, sometimes twice, choosing not to speak at first but listening to the stories others told. He came to the same realization as many addicts: He wasn’t alone. He went longer between “hiccups,” and sometimes when he’d start drinking, like with friends or when visiting family, he’d call Azim and admit the truth, right then.</p><p>After six months of regular but uneven progress, Azim was in New York on business when a friend in the Hamptons suggested they stop by Stephen Ross’s estate. Azim did not know Ross, but they took a quiet stroll by the water as Azim filled the Dolphins owner in on Jordan’s progress. “Getting Dion healthy is my No. 1 priority,” Ross said.</p><p>When Azim returned to San Francisco, he told Jordan, “Listen, man, they’re going to take you back.” Jordan smiled. That’s all he wanted.</p><p>More important progress was already underway. In therapy, Jordan learned his carousing wasn’t really harmless partying but rather the way he masked deeper issues from his childhood he had never dealt with. “Fear,” Azim says.</p><p>Jordan grew up for part of his childhood in the Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco. He says his mother was a drug addict, and he saw her get physically abused. He says his dad was around much.</p><p>At age 12, Jordan and his two younger siblings were taken from their mother and sent to live with an aunt in Chandler, Ariz. That was the first time he realized his home life didn’t have to be so chaotic, and his mom got clean and moved there, too.</p><p>Jordan calls her “my dog” and “my angel.” But while he acknowledges she struggled with a disease, her actions in his childhood had a deep, lasting impact on him. “Her choosing [drugs] over her kids is probably the worst thing,” he says. “It hurt me more than anything. Even to this day, that was the first and only person who’s broken my heart to that extent.”</p><p>He pauses, looks away. “I love her so much,” he says.</p><p>Jordan buried all that pain. Just like he buried the memories of the time he almost burned to death in 2007, while trying to siphon gas from a car with a vacuum cleaner, which caught on fire. He says he’d often transfer gas from one family car to another this way. He spent a month in the burn unit at a local hospital, underwent skin grafts and tried to pretend that despite the physical scars—burns covered 40 percent of his body—the accident didn’t affect him. Doctors told him he’d never walk again, let alone play football.</p><p>Except he made it to the NFL, only to bury more pain, mostly by suppressing all his anger over the family members who saw dollar signs when he became a star. Jordan wanted to help—he <em>did</em> help—but he felt used.</p><p>While suspended, Jordan believed he had failed all those people who depended on him. Like the mom who kicked drugs only to watch her son succumb to alcohol. That hurt, so he drank. Reports surfaced that the Dolphins wanted to trade him. That stung, so he drank. He obtained reinstatement from the NFL in July 2016 and felt not peace but pressure. His solution: drink. “I decided to feel sorry for myself,” he says.</p><p>The more he went to therapy, the more he realized he had only one person to blame for all his problems: Dion Jordan. He’s asked how much responsibility he should take, given the events of his childhood, the expectations in the NFL, the family obligations. “All of it,” Jordan says. “At every turn, I had options. I could have spoken up and told someone I was hurting. I just pushed it down and kept moving.”</p><p>Azim and his therapist taught Jordan that trust is not weakness but strength. “That’s the true definition of manhood,” Azim says. “In the NFL, there’s this massive level of hypocrisy in the development of players. All these coaches and mentors who tell these players not to be vulnerable, not to show weakness.</p><p>“Someone like Dion just retreats.”</p><p>After his reinstatement, Jordan returned to Miami for the 2016 season. Except that he had injured his left knee during those workouts in San Francisco. The Dolphins put him on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list, shelving him for at least the first part of the season while he recovered. Here he was, 3,000 miles from Azim and his support system, alone and again not playing football. He figured he could have one drink when he went out. That became two drinks and then four. This “hiccup” was not one incident but a series of them. “It was getting worse and worse,” Azim says. “Like, oh, s---, this is getting dangerous.”</p><p>Out of options, a panicked Azim called an old friend: Cable, now the assistant head coach of the Seahawks. Azim knew that Cable’s son, Alex, had struggled with drug and alcohol addictions, gone to rehab at a wilderness retreat, changed his life and admirably decided to counsel other addicts. “This is driving me crazy,” Azim told Cable. “I’ve put in all this work and now he’s going to the dark side again. I’m legitimately heartbroken. Because I’m like, how has he given up after everything we’ve accomplished?”</p><p>“Don’t give up on him,” Cable responded.</p><p>The Dolphins allowed Jordan to return to San Francisco in December. He went back to Azim. They mapped out a daily schedule:</p><p><em><strong>All day</strong>—focus on yourself and winning</em><br><em><strong>9:20: </strong>pray for gratitude and forgiveness</em><br><em><strong>10:</strong> Empower training </em><em>camp</em><br><strong><em>11</em></strong><em><strong>:30:</strong> NFL Counselor Check-In</em><br><em><strong>Noon:</strong> AA meeting</em></p><p>Azim and Cable discussed possible next steps, and Cable suggested his son move to San Francisco to live with Jordan and help him sustain his sobriety. So Alex moved into Jordan’s one-bedroom apartment, sleeping on a pullout couch, accompanying Jordan to meetings and eating takeout with him every night. “It felt like Alex genuinely cared about me,” Jordan says.</p><p>“He didn’t ask me for anything.”</p><p>The Dolphins released Jordan in late March. He understood. Local writers tabbed him the biggest draft bust in team history. Still, more than a dozen teams reached out to Hendrickson to inquire about his status. Jordan wanted to stay on the west coast, if possible, to remain closer to his family in San Francisco and the trainer who changed his life.</p><p>Tom Cable’s presence in Seattle helped Jordan decide to sign with the Seahawks. Well, that and an unlikely voice of support. Azim happened to see Lynch, his longtime client, for a training session in the Bay Area. He handed over the list of teams that wanted to sign Jordan. Lynch glanced at the list quickly, then said, “Seattle is the best place for Dion,” citing Cable and the team’s support system.</p><p>Jordan says he hasn’t had a drop of alcohol since February, right around the Super Bowl. “I just have to wake up every morning and make the right decisions,” he says. “That’s on me.”</p><p>On Nov. 9, after two knee surgeries and months in physical rehabilitation, Jordan played in his first NFL game in more than 1,000 days. It took place a short drive from his aunt’s house, where he lived after he was taken from his mother. Both women were in the stands at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, along with Jordan’s siblings and a cadre of childhood friends.</p><p>Jordan put together his best career performance, registering 33 snaps, five quarterback pressures, two quarterback hits, two hurries and a sack. Coach Pete Carroll described Jordan as “a little raw at times.” But he also acknowledged the obvious: Not many humans could play like that after a 1,000-plus-day layoff.</p><p>Later that month Jordan and Pettis hosted their families for Thanksgiving. Jordan looked into the faces of all the people who had stood by him, who saw his struggles, whose warnings he had ignored as he nearly ruined his career and health. He thanked them. He also thanked Azim.</p><p>“Tareq saved his life,” Hendrickson says.</p><p>Now Jordan hopes to serve as something of a model for the NFL. He wants to show the league what players on one-year suspensions really need—full-time support, with the teams they play for, not some brief NFL symposium before their issues are compounded by the confluence of money, fame, free time and bad decisions. He remembers sitting in the first row of his rookie symposium, listening to Adam Jones try to scare the NFL neophytes straight with tales of players gone bad. That will never be me, he thought.</p><p>There’s a reason, Jordan says, that only a handful of players—himself, Josh Gordon, Johnny Jolly, a few others—have returned to the NFL after one-year suspensions. Banning players from facilities sets them up to fail, Jordan says. “As far as the NFL, the league is abandoning its players,” he says. “They’re saying the Shield is more important. To protect it, they’re taking away support.”</p><p>Jordan injured his neck in his second game back, against the Falcons, while recording two tackles. He was inactive for Seattle’s next three contests, and it seemed fair to wonder how he’d cope with again not playing, how he’d handle another round of disappointment. This time, it turns out, the answer was quite well. He had sacks against the Rams and Cowboys, upping his season total to three—doubling his career total—in only four games. He added seven tackles against the Rams, setting himself up for a free-agent payday this spring.</p><p>As his comeback continues to unfurl, Jordan says all the right things. He says he had to expect some bruises after a two-year layoff, as his body acclimated to full-time contact again. He says he didn’t feel sorry for himself when he got injured after the Falcons game. He says he continued his routine, the meetings, the counseling sessions, all of it. Only Jordan knows for sure.</p><p>He knows something else, too. “I’ll play one way,” he says. “Fearless.”</p><p><strong><em>Question or comment? </em></strong><em>Email us at <span>talkback@themmqb.com</span>.</em></p>
Dion Jordan: Draft Bust, Back from the Abyss

In the summer of 2015, while serving a one-year suspension from the NFL for failing drug tests, Dion Jordan disappeared. He didn’t return phone calls or respond to text messages sent by his agent, Doug Hendrickson, who kept hearing from Jordan’s concerned cousins. They told Hendrickson that Jordan was binge-drinking for weeks at a time by himself at home in Arizona.

Hendrickson eventually reached Jordan’s girlfriend, Paige Pettis. “Listen,” he told her, “we gotta get him out here.”

Out here meant San Francisco, where Jordan is from and where Hendrickson is based. As Jordan recounts his version of the story, he says he was under the impression that Pettis planned the trip so they could watch his favorite baseball team, the Giants. And while they did catch a game, that does not appear to be the true purpose of their excursion. What unfolded the next morning was closer to an intervention.

“He came into my office and was just a f------ wreck,” Hendrickson says. “I mean, I would quantify it as literally near death. He looked homeless, just awful.”

Jordan wrapped both arms tightly around his agent’s shoulders and cried for 20 minutes. He needed a haircut, and he wore a ratty T-shirt and a long, stained black coat. No one spoke, as Jordan sobbed and sobbed. “I just knew that I had to do something to get myself back where I wanted to go,” Jordan says now, more than two years later. “Ya feel me?”

Hendrickson didn’t know what to do, so he did the only thing that came to mind. He walked Jordan across the street in downtown San Francisco, then pushed open the doors at Empower, the gym run by Tareq Azim, a trainer who’s more like a life coach. “Dion needs you,” Hendrickson said.

Azim did a double take. He couldn’t believe that was Dion Jordan, the Oregon star who was drafted by the Dolphins third overall in 2013. Azim recalled Jordan as a “freak” and a “badass.” He says, “I was blown away. I could have knocked him over. He looked that frail and just not healthy.”

They started with an honest, uncomfortable conversation. No small talk. This, Azim told Jordan, is life and death. Jordan opened up about his alcohol and drug use, how he’d drink often and all night and sometimes he’d take MDMA. Jordan was dizzy and yet comfortable. For the first time in a long time, he felt safe. But he also wondered: “What the f--- have I gotten myself into?”

They made a list of mental and emotional deficiencies, all the stuff that Jordan held onto, that tormented him. Then they put a plan together, right then, Day 1. “It wasn’t even how he ended up there,” Azim says. “It was simple.

“What are you hiding from?”

In the long, sad, anguished history of draft busts, there’s a checklist of common problems. Jordan struggled with most of them, from drinking and drug use to injury and ambivalence. Hence his plummet from promising young talent to football pariah in two seasons.

Jordan cops to all of it. He didn’t take his career seriously enough. He ignored anyone who warned him. He prioritized bad habits. He hung around the wrong friends. And he was distracted by South Beach and all that Miami glamour. As a rookie in 2013 Jordan had just 19 tackles and two sacks, playing in all 16 games as a Dolphins reserve. “My production was directly related to what I was doing off the field,” he says. “I put nothing into it. I was just showing up.”

He was 23 then, rich—his four-year contract was worth roughly $20 million—almost famous and living in Miami. He deserved to have fun, he reasoned, and he could handle it. He dabbled in molly and ecstasy and smoked marijuana. Mostly he liked to drink. He preferred hard alcohol and consumed all kinds. He told himself he’d party only on some weekends. That became every weekend, and that became every weekend and some weeknights. Eventually, he says, he could drink all night without blacking out. “It becomes exhausting,” Jordan says. “Because every day you’re trying to chase that feeling you had yesterday.”

The Dolphins had traded picks Nos. 12 and 42 to move up and draft Jordan, based almost entirely on his potential. He had managed only 14.5 sacks in four seasons at Oregon, where the Ducks rotated defensive linemen in shifts like hockey lines. Still, Jordan stood 6' 6" and weighed 248 pounds and ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, and that combination of size and speed is what made him so enticing. He ran faster than some NFL receivers.

That is, when he was on the field. The NFL suspended Jordan for four games to start the 2014 season after he tested positive for a stimulant on the league’s banned substance list, and he had two games added to that suspension for a failed drug test.

He never stopped partying during that first suspension. At that point he had not yet tried to quit. He says the Dolphins went out of their way to offer him help, and from the very top. His biggest supporter was Stephen Ross, the team’s owner and billionaire real estate developer, who checked in with Jordan regularly via phone calls and offered to take care of whatever treatment Jordan might need. “He did all he could to keep me a Miami Dolphin,” Jordan says. “They don’t let too many people make as many mistakes as I did.”

After more failed drug tests, Jordan was suspended for all of 2015. He lost $5.6 million in salary and bonus money, and he didn’t really care. His life was a mess, and the circumstances only made it worse. Per NFL rules he was banned from the team facility. He had no mentors, a serious drinking problem, money to spend and endless free time. “When things aren’t going his way, he doesn’t seek more attention by trying to cause chaos,” Azim says. “He hides. He locks himself in a room.”

Jordan had never been in that kind of trouble before. When he saw his name scrolling across the sports news ticker, he knew. He had “f----- up big time.”

“It was like my whole world crumbled,” he says. “I didn’t have anything but football, and then I didn’t have that.”

Back in San Francisco, Azim told Jordan his own story, emphasizing how the events of his life had led here, to this gym, his methods and athletes like Jordan who needed help. Azim’s family was from Afghanistan, where his grandfather was in the air force, stationed at Bagram Airfield in the late ’70s, before, Azim says, he was murdered by the communist regime. Given the danger, Azim’s family moved to Germany, where he was born a refugee. When they moved again, to America two years later, he started in sports as soon as he could run, learning taekwondo, boxing, soccer and football. He played linebacker at Fresno State.

After college, Azim returned to Afghanistan in 2004 to support his father, who he says had been in and out of mental hospitals as he dealt with severe depression. Azim planned to visit for a month and ended up staying for more than four years, working with youth soccer players and launching the Afghan Women’s Boxing Federation. He says two of his boxers were the daughters of a “notorious Taliban warlord.” But the federation was a success.

Azim returned to the U.S. in 2008, became an MMA coach (for welterweight champion Jake Shields, among others) and started to train pro football players. Raiders quarterbacks Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye became his first clients in 2009, and that led to a friendship with their coach, Tom Cable, who went to Seattle in 2011 and called Azim one day. “We’ve got this guy, if we can get him to unleash his potential, he’ll probably be one of the best things to happen to the NFL,” Cable said.

“Who is it?” Azim asked.

“His name is Marshawn,” Cable responded.

Marshawn Lynch. So Azim opened Empower, where he trained Lynch and other NFL Pro Bowlers and MMA stars and celebrities and CEOs of tech startups. “I saw them struggling with the same disease I saw in Afghanistan,” he says. “That disease is fear. Fear paralyzes people.”

Says Jordan: “Fear paralyzed me.”

After the initial meeting with Azim, Jordan quit drinking. Or tried to. For the first few days, his hands shook and he felt sick. Azim kept him him busy, filling Jordan’s days with workouts, AA meetings and therapy sessions. He gave Jordan a book to read, Purification of the Heart, which explores Islamic spirituality. He assigned Jordan to complete one good deed a day. Jordan engaged in conversations with strangers he might previously have ignored and even once gave his sweatpants—the ones he was wearing—to a homeless person.

Azim expected what he calls “hiccups,” and the first one happened on Day 4 in that summer of ’15 when Jordan went AWOL. Azim didn’t hear from him for two days, and Jordan told him he had been drinking by himself. He apologized. “This is just really hard for me,” he said.

“Bro, you’re safe here,” Azim responded. “There’s no judgment. I got your back.”

Jordan moved from Arizona into the guest house of a family Hendrickson knew in San Francisco. He filled the idle hours by ordering Uber Eats and playing NBA2K, creating his own franchise and guiding it through season after season.

The trainer designed workouts to humble Jordan, to show him “you’re not as tough as you think you are,” Azim says. They focused on body-weight exercises. At first Jordan could do only a handful of push-ups on his fingertips. By the end the summer he could pump out more than 100.

Jordan attended AA meetings every day, sometimes twice, choosing not to speak at first but listening to the stories others told. He came to the same realization as many addicts: He wasn’t alone. He went longer between “hiccups,” and sometimes when he’d start drinking, like with friends or when visiting family, he’d call Azim and admit the truth, right then.

After six months of regular but uneven progress, Azim was in New York on business when a friend in the Hamptons suggested they stop by Stephen Ross’s estate. Azim did not know Ross, but they took a quiet stroll by the water as Azim filled the Dolphins owner in on Jordan’s progress. “Getting Dion healthy is my No. 1 priority,” Ross said.

When Azim returned to San Francisco, he told Jordan, “Listen, man, they’re going to take you back.” Jordan smiled. That’s all he wanted.

More important progress was already underway. In therapy, Jordan learned his carousing wasn’t really harmless partying but rather the way he masked deeper issues from his childhood he had never dealt with. “Fear,” Azim says.

Jordan grew up for part of his childhood in the Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco. He says his mother was a drug addict, and he saw her get physically abused. He says his dad was around much.

At age 12, Jordan and his two younger siblings were taken from their mother and sent to live with an aunt in Chandler, Ariz. That was the first time he realized his home life didn’t have to be so chaotic, and his mom got clean and moved there, too.

Jordan calls her “my dog” and “my angel.” But while he acknowledges she struggled with a disease, her actions in his childhood had a deep, lasting impact on him. “Her choosing [drugs] over her kids is probably the worst thing,” he says. “It hurt me more than anything. Even to this day, that was the first and only person who’s broken my heart to that extent.”

He pauses, looks away. “I love her so much,” he says.

Jordan buried all that pain. Just like he buried the memories of the time he almost burned to death in 2007, while trying to siphon gas from a car with a vacuum cleaner, which caught on fire. He says he’d often transfer gas from one family car to another this way. He spent a month in the burn unit at a local hospital, underwent skin grafts and tried to pretend that despite the physical scars—burns covered 40 percent of his body—the accident didn’t affect him. Doctors told him he’d never walk again, let alone play football.

Except he made it to the NFL, only to bury more pain, mostly by suppressing all his anger over the family members who saw dollar signs when he became a star. Jordan wanted to help—he did help—but he felt used.

While suspended, Jordan believed he had failed all those people who depended on him. Like the mom who kicked drugs only to watch her son succumb to alcohol. That hurt, so he drank. Reports surfaced that the Dolphins wanted to trade him. That stung, so he drank. He obtained reinstatement from the NFL in July 2016 and felt not peace but pressure. His solution: drink. “I decided to feel sorry for myself,” he says.

The more he went to therapy, the more he realized he had only one person to blame for all his problems: Dion Jordan. He’s asked how much responsibility he should take, given the events of his childhood, the expectations in the NFL, the family obligations. “All of it,” Jordan says. “At every turn, I had options. I could have spoken up and told someone I was hurting. I just pushed it down and kept moving.”

Azim and his therapist taught Jordan that trust is not weakness but strength. “That’s the true definition of manhood,” Azim says. “In the NFL, there’s this massive level of hypocrisy in the development of players. All these coaches and mentors who tell these players not to be vulnerable, not to show weakness.

“Someone like Dion just retreats.”

After his reinstatement, Jordan returned to Miami for the 2016 season. Except that he had injured his left knee during those workouts in San Francisco. The Dolphins put him on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list, shelving him for at least the first part of the season while he recovered. Here he was, 3,000 miles from Azim and his support system, alone and again not playing football. He figured he could have one drink when he went out. That became two drinks and then four. This “hiccup” was not one incident but a series of them. “It was getting worse and worse,” Azim says. “Like, oh, s---, this is getting dangerous.”

Out of options, a panicked Azim called an old friend: Cable, now the assistant head coach of the Seahawks. Azim knew that Cable’s son, Alex, had struggled with drug and alcohol addictions, gone to rehab at a wilderness retreat, changed his life and admirably decided to counsel other addicts. “This is driving me crazy,” Azim told Cable. “I’ve put in all this work and now he’s going to the dark side again. I’m legitimately heartbroken. Because I’m like, how has he given up after everything we’ve accomplished?”

“Don’t give up on him,” Cable responded.

The Dolphins allowed Jordan to return to San Francisco in December. He went back to Azim. They mapped out a daily schedule:

All day—focus on yourself and winning
9:20: pray for gratitude and forgiveness
10: Empower training camp
11:30: NFL Counselor Check-In
Noon: AA meeting

Azim and Cable discussed possible next steps, and Cable suggested his son move to San Francisco to live with Jordan and help him sustain his sobriety. So Alex moved into Jordan’s one-bedroom apartment, sleeping on a pullout couch, accompanying Jordan to meetings and eating takeout with him every night. “It felt like Alex genuinely cared about me,” Jordan says.

“He didn’t ask me for anything.”

The Dolphins released Jordan in late March. He understood. Local writers tabbed him the biggest draft bust in team history. Still, more than a dozen teams reached out to Hendrickson to inquire about his status. Jordan wanted to stay on the west coast, if possible, to remain closer to his family in San Francisco and the trainer who changed his life.

Tom Cable’s presence in Seattle helped Jordan decide to sign with the Seahawks. Well, that and an unlikely voice of support. Azim happened to see Lynch, his longtime client, for a training session in the Bay Area. He handed over the list of teams that wanted to sign Jordan. Lynch glanced at the list quickly, then said, “Seattle is the best place for Dion,” citing Cable and the team’s support system.

Jordan says he hasn’t had a drop of alcohol since February, right around the Super Bowl. “I just have to wake up every morning and make the right decisions,” he says. “That’s on me.”

On Nov. 9, after two knee surgeries and months in physical rehabilitation, Jordan played in his first NFL game in more than 1,000 days. It took place a short drive from his aunt’s house, where he lived after he was taken from his mother. Both women were in the stands at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, along with Jordan’s siblings and a cadre of childhood friends.

Jordan put together his best career performance, registering 33 snaps, five quarterback pressures, two quarterback hits, two hurries and a sack. Coach Pete Carroll described Jordan as “a little raw at times.” But he also acknowledged the obvious: Not many humans could play like that after a 1,000-plus-day layoff.

Later that month Jordan and Pettis hosted their families for Thanksgiving. Jordan looked into the faces of all the people who had stood by him, who saw his struggles, whose warnings he had ignored as he nearly ruined his career and health. He thanked them. He also thanked Azim.

“Tareq saved his life,” Hendrickson says.

Now Jordan hopes to serve as something of a model for the NFL. He wants to show the league what players on one-year suspensions really need—full-time support, with the teams they play for, not some brief NFL symposium before their issues are compounded by the confluence of money, fame, free time and bad decisions. He remembers sitting in the first row of his rookie symposium, listening to Adam Jones try to scare the NFL neophytes straight with tales of players gone bad. That will never be me, he thought.

There’s a reason, Jordan says, that only a handful of players—himself, Josh Gordon, Johnny Jolly, a few others—have returned to the NFL after one-year suspensions. Banning players from facilities sets them up to fail, Jordan says. “As far as the NFL, the league is abandoning its players,” he says. “They’re saying the Shield is more important. To protect it, they’re taking away support.”

Jordan injured his neck in his second game back, against the Falcons, while recording two tackles. He was inactive for Seattle’s next three contests, and it seemed fair to wonder how he’d cope with again not playing, how he’d handle another round of disappointment. This time, it turns out, the answer was quite well. He had sacks against the Rams and Cowboys, upping his season total to three—doubling his career total—in only four games. He added seven tackles against the Rams, setting himself up for a free-agent payday this spring.

As his comeback continues to unfurl, Jordan says all the right things. He says he had to expect some bruises after a two-year layoff, as his body acclimated to full-time contact again. He says he didn’t feel sorry for himself when he got injured after the Falcons game. He says he continued his routine, the meetings, the counseling sessions, all of it. Only Jordan knows for sure.

He knows something else, too. “I’ll play one way,” he says. “Fearless.”

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

<p>In the summer of 2015, while serving a one-year suspension from the NFL for failing drug tests, Dion Jordan disappeared. He didn’t return phone calls or respond to text messages sent by his agent, Doug Hendrickson, who kept hearing from Jordan’s concerned cousins. They told Hendrickson that Jordan was binge-drinking for weeks at a time by himself at home in Arizona.</p><p>Hendrickson eventually reached Jordan’s girlfriend, Paige Pettis. “Listen,” he told her, “we gotta get him out here.”</p><p><em>Out here </em>meant San Francisco, where Jordan is from and where Hendrickson is based. As Jordan recounts his version of the story, he says he was under the impression that Pettis planned the trip so they could watch his favorite baseball team, the Giants. And while they did catch a game, that does not appear to be the true purpose of their excursion. What unfolded the next morning was closer to an intervention.</p><p>“He came into my office and was just a f------ wreck,” Hendrickson says. “I mean, I would quantify it as literally near death. He looked homeless, just awful.”</p><p>Jordan wrapped both arms tightly around his agent’s shoulders and cried for 20 minutes. He needed a haircut, and he wore a ratty T-shirt and a long, stained black coat. No one spoke, as Jordan sobbed and sobbed. “I just knew that I had to do something to get myself back where I wanted to go,” Jordan says now, more than two years later. “Ya feel me?”</p><p>Hendrickson didn’t know what to do, so he did the only thing that came to mind. He walked Jordan across the street in downtown San Francisco, then pushed open the doors at Empower, the gym run by Tareq Azim, a trainer who’s more like a life coach. “Dion needs you,” Hendrickson said.</p><p>Azim did a double take. He couldn’t believe <em>that</em> was Dion Jordan, the Oregon star who was drafted by the Dolphins third overall in 2013. Azim recalled Jordan as a “freak” and a “badass.” He says, “I was blown away. I could have knocked him over. He looked that frail and just not healthy.”</p><p>They started with an honest, uncomfortable conversation. No small talk. This, Azim told Jordan, is life and death. Jordan opened up about his alcohol and drug use, how he’d drink often and all night and sometimes he’d take MDMA. Jordan was dizzy and yet comfortable. For the first time in a long time, he felt safe. But he also wondered: “What the f--- have I gotten myself into?”</p><p>They made a list of mental and emotional deficiencies, all the stuff that Jordan held onto, that tormented him. Then they put a plan together, right then, Day 1. “It wasn’t even how he ended up there,” Azim says. “It was simple.</p><p><em>“What are you hiding from?”</em></p><p>In the long, sad, anguished history of draft busts, there’s a checklist of common problems. Jordan struggled with most of them, from drinking and drug use to injury and ambivalence. Hence his plummet from promising young talent to football pariah in two seasons.</p><p>Jordan cops to all of it. He didn’t take his career seriously enough. He ignored anyone who warned him. He prioritized bad habits. He hung around the wrong friends. And he was distracted by South Beach and all that Miami glamour. As a rookie in 2013 Jordan had just 19 tackles and two sacks, playing in all 16 games as a Dolphins reserve. “My production was directly related to what I was doing off the field,” he says. “I put nothing into it. I was just showing up.”</p><p>He was 23 then, rich—his four-year contract was worth roughly $20 million—almost famous and living in Miami. He deserved to have fun, he reasoned, and he could handle it. He dabbled in molly and ecstasy and smoked marijuana. Mostly he liked to drink. He preferred hard alcohol and consumed all kinds. He told himself he’d party only on some weekends. That became every weekend, and that became every weekend and some weeknights. Eventually, he says, he could drink all night without blacking out. “It becomes exhausting,” Jordan says. “Because every day you’re trying to chase that feeling you had yesterday.”</p><p>The Dolphins had traded picks Nos. 12 and 42 to move up and draft Jordan, based almost entirely on his potential. He had managed only 14.5 sacks in four seasons at Oregon, where the Ducks rotated defensive linemen in shifts like hockey lines. Still, Jordan stood 6&#39; 6&quot; and weighed 248 pounds and ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, and that combination of size and speed is what made him so enticing. He ran faster than some NFL receivers.</p><p>That is, when he was on the field. The NFL suspended Jordan for four games to start the 2014 season after he tested positive for a stimulant on the league’s banned substance list, and he had two games added to that suspension for a failed drug test.</p><p>He never stopped partying during that first suspension. At that point he had not yet tried to quit. He says the Dolphins went out of their way to offer him help, and from the very top. His biggest supporter was Stephen Ross, the team’s owner and billionaire real estate developer, who checked in with Jordan regularly via phone calls and offered to take care of whatever treatment Jordan might need. “He did all he could to keep me a Miami Dolphin,” Jordan says. “They don’t let too many people make as many mistakes as I did.”</p><p>After more failed drug tests, Jordan was suspended for all of 2015. He lost $5.6 million in salary and bonus money, and he didn’t really care. His life was a mess, and the circumstances only made it worse. Per NFL rules he was banned from the team facility. He had no mentors, a serious drinking problem, money to spend and endless free time. “When things aren’t going his way, he doesn’t seek more attention by trying to cause chaos,” Azim says. “He hides. He locks himself in a room.”</p><p>Jordan had never been in that kind of trouble before. When he saw his name scrolling across the sports news ticker, he knew. He had “f----- up big time.”</p><p>“It was like my whole world crumbled,” he says. “I didn’t have anything but football, and then I didn’t have that.”</p><p>Back in San Francisco, Azim told Jordan his own story, emphasizing how the events of his life had led here, to this gym, his methods and athletes like Jordan who needed help. Azim’s family was from Afghanistan, where his grandfather was in the air force, stationed at Bagram Airfield in the late ’70s, before, Azim says, he was murdered by the communist regime. Given the danger, Azim’s family moved to Germany, where he was born a refugee. When they moved again, to America two years later, he started in sports as soon as he could run, learning taekwondo, boxing, soccer and football. He played linebacker at Fresno State.</p><p>After college, Azim returned to Afghanistan in 2004 to support his father, who he says had been in and out of mental hospitals as he dealt with severe depression. Azim planned to visit for a month and ended up staying for more than four years, working with youth soccer players and launching the Afghan Women’s Boxing Federation. He says two of his boxers were the daughters of a “notorious Taliban warlord.” But the federation was a success.</p><p>Azim returned to the U.S. in 2008, became an MMA coach (for welterweight champion Jake Shields, among others) and started to train pro football players. Raiders quarterbacks Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye became his first clients in 2009, and that led to a friendship with their coach, Tom Cable, who went to Seattle in 2011 and called Azim one day. “We’ve got this guy, if we can get him to unleash his potential, he’ll probably be one of the best things to happen to the NFL,” Cable said.</p><p>“Who is it?” Azim asked.</p><p>“His name is Marshawn,” Cable responded.</p><p><em>Marshawn Lynch</em>. So Azim opened Empower, where he trained Lynch and other NFL Pro Bowlers and MMA stars and celebrities and CEOs of tech startups. “I saw them struggling with the same disease I saw in Afghanistan,” he says. “That disease is fear. Fear paralyzes people.”</p><p>Says Jordan: “Fear paralyzed me.”</p><p>After the initial meeting with Azim, Jordan quit drinking. Or tried to. For the first few days, his hands shook and he felt sick. Azim kept him him busy, filling Jordan’s days with workouts, AA meetings and therapy sessions. He gave Jordan a book to read, <em>Purification of the Heart</em>, which explores Islamic spirituality. He assigned Jordan to complete one good deed a day. Jordan engaged in conversations with strangers he might previously have ignored and even once gave his sweatpants—the ones he was wearing—to a homeless person.</p><p>Azim expected what he calls “hiccups,” and the first one happened on Day 4 in that summer of ’15 when Jordan went AWOL. Azim didn’t hear from him for two days, and Jordan told him he had been drinking by himself. He apologized. “This is just really hard for me,” he said.</p><p>“Bro, you’re safe here,” Azim responded. “There’s no judgment. I got your back.”</p><p>Jordan moved from Arizona into the guest house of a family Hendrickson knew in San Francisco. He filled the idle hours by ordering Uber Eats and playing NBA2K, creating his own franchise and guiding it through season after season.</p><p>The trainer designed workouts to humble Jordan, to show him “you’re not as tough as you think you are,” Azim says. They focused on body-weight exercises. At first Jordan could do only a handful of push-ups on his fingertips. By the end the summer he could pump out more than 100.</p><p>Jordan attended AA meetings every day, sometimes twice, choosing not to speak at first but listening to the stories others told. He came to the same realization as many addicts: He wasn’t alone. He went longer between “hiccups,” and sometimes when he’d start drinking, like with friends or when visiting family, he’d call Azim and admit the truth, right then.</p><p>After six months of regular but uneven progress, Azim was in New York on business when a friend in the Hamptons suggested they stop by Stephen Ross’s estate. Azim did not know Ross, but they took a quiet stroll by the water as Azim filled the Dolphins owner in on Jordan’s progress. “Getting Dion healthy is my No. 1 priority,” Ross said.</p><p>When Azim returned to San Francisco, he told Jordan, “Listen, man, they’re going to take you back.” Jordan smiled. That’s all he wanted.</p><p>More important progress was already underway. In therapy, Jordan learned his carousing wasn’t really harmless partying but rather the way he masked deeper issues from his childhood he had never dealt with. “Fear,” Azim says.</p><p>Jordan grew up for part of his childhood in the Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco. He says his mother was a drug addict, and he saw her get physically abused. He says his dad was around much.</p><p>At age 12, Jordan and his two younger siblings were taken from their mother and sent to live with an aunt in Chandler, Ariz. That was the first time he realized his home life didn’t have to be so chaotic, and his mom got clean and moved there, too.</p><p>Jordan calls her “my dog” and “my angel.” But while he acknowledges she struggled with a disease, her actions in his childhood had a deep, lasting impact on him. “Her choosing [drugs] over her kids is probably the worst thing,” he says. “It hurt me more than anything. Even to this day, that was the first and only person who’s broken my heart to that extent.”</p><p>He pauses, looks away. “I love her so much,” he says.</p><p>Jordan buried all that pain. Just like he buried the memories of the time he almost burned to death in 2007, while trying to siphon gas from a car with a vacuum cleaner, which caught on fire. He says he’d often transfer gas from one family car to another this way. He spent a month in the burn unit at a local hospital, underwent skin grafts and tried to pretend that despite the physical scars—burns covered 40 percent of his body—the accident didn’t affect him. Doctors told him he’d never walk again, let alone play football.</p><p>Except he made it to the NFL, only to bury more pain, mostly by suppressing all his anger over the family members who saw dollar signs when he became a star. Jordan wanted to help—he <em>did</em> help—but he felt used.</p><p>While suspended, Jordan believed he had failed all those people who depended on him. Like the mom who kicked drugs only to watch her son succumb to alcohol. That hurt, so he drank. Reports surfaced that the Dolphins wanted to trade him. That stung, so he drank. He obtained reinstatement from the NFL in July 2016 and felt not peace but pressure. His solution: drink. “I decided to feel sorry for myself,” he says.</p><p>The more he went to therapy, the more he realized he had only one person to blame for all his problems: Dion Jordan. He’s asked how much responsibility he should take, given the events of his childhood, the expectations in the NFL, the family obligations. “All of it,” Jordan says. “At every turn, I had options. I could have spoken up and told someone I was hurting. I just pushed it down and kept moving.”</p><p>Azim and his therapist taught Jordan that trust is not weakness but strength. “That’s the true definition of manhood,” Azim says. “In the NFL, there’s this massive level of hypocrisy in the development of players. All these coaches and mentors who tell these players not to be vulnerable, not to show weakness.</p><p>“Someone like Dion just retreats.”</p><p>After his reinstatement, Jordan returned to Miami for the 2016 season. Except that he had injured his left knee during those workouts in San Francisco. The Dolphins put him on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list, shelving him for at least the first part of the season while he recovered. Here he was, 3,000 miles from Azim and his support system, alone and again not playing football. He figured he could have one drink when he went out. That became two drinks and then four. This “hiccup” was not one incident but a series of them. “It was getting worse and worse,” Azim says. “Like, oh, s---, this is getting dangerous.”</p><p>Out of options, a panicked Azim called an old friend: Cable, now the assistant head coach of the Seahawks. Azim knew that Cable’s son, Alex, had struggled with drug and alcohol addictions, gone to rehab at a wilderness retreat, changed his life and admirably decided to counsel other addicts. “This is driving me crazy,” Azim told Cable. “I’ve put in all this work and now he’s going to the dark side again. I’m legitimately heartbroken. Because I’m like, how has he given up after everything we’ve accomplished?”</p><p>“Don’t give up on him,” Cable responded.</p><p>The Dolphins allowed Jordan to return to San Francisco in December. He went back to Azim. They mapped out a daily schedule:</p><p><em><strong>All day</strong>—focus on yourself and winning</em><br><em><strong>9:20: </strong>pray for gratitude and forgiveness</em><br><em><strong>10:</strong> Empower training </em><em>camp</em><br><strong><em>11</em></strong><em><strong>:30:</strong> NFL Counselor Check-In</em><br><em><strong>Noon:</strong> AA meeting</em></p><p>Azim and Cable discussed possible next steps, and Cable suggested his son move to San Francisco to live with Jordan and help him sustain his sobriety. So Alex moved into Jordan’s one-bedroom apartment, sleeping on a pullout couch, accompanying Jordan to meetings and eating takeout with him every night. “It felt like Alex genuinely cared about me,” Jordan says.</p><p>“He didn’t ask me for anything.”</p><p>The Dolphins released Jordan in late March. He understood. Local writers tabbed him the biggest draft bust in team history. Still, more than a dozen teams reached out to Hendrickson to inquire about his status. Jordan wanted to stay on the west coast, if possible, to remain closer to his family in San Francisco and the trainer who changed his life.</p><p>Tom Cable’s presence in Seattle helped Jordan decide to sign with the Seahawks. Well, that and an unlikely voice of support. Azim happened to see Lynch, his longtime client, for a training session in the Bay Area. He handed over the list of teams that wanted to sign Jordan. Lynch glanced at the list quickly, then said, “Seattle is the best place for Dion,” citing Cable and the team’s support system.</p><p>Jordan says he hasn’t had a drop of alcohol since February, right around the Super Bowl. “I just have to wake up every morning and make the right decisions,” he says. “That’s on me.”</p><p>On Nov. 9, after two knee surgeries and months in physical rehabilitation, Jordan played in his first NFL game in more than 1,000 days. It took place a short drive from his aunt’s house, where he lived after he was taken from his mother. Both women were in the stands at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, along with Jordan’s siblings and a cadre of childhood friends.</p><p>Jordan put together his best career performance, registering 33 snaps, five quarterback pressures, two quarterback hits, two hurries and a sack. Coach Pete Carroll described Jordan as “a little raw at times.” But he also acknowledged the obvious: Not many humans could play like that after a 1,000-plus-day layoff.</p><p>Later that month Jordan and Pettis hosted their families for Thanksgiving. Jordan looked into the faces of all the people who had stood by him, who saw his struggles, whose warnings he had ignored as he nearly ruined his career and health. He thanked them. He also thanked Azim.</p><p>“Tareq saved his life,” Hendrickson says.</p><p>Now Jordan hopes to serve as something of a model for the NFL. He wants to show the league what players on one-year suspensions really need—full-time support, with the teams they play for, not some brief NFL symposium before their issues are compounded by the confluence of money, fame, free time and bad decisions. He remembers sitting in the first row of his rookie symposium, listening to Adam Jones try to scare the NFL neophytes straight with tales of players gone bad. That will never be me, he thought.</p><p>There’s a reason, Jordan says, that only a handful of players—himself, Josh Gordon, Johnny Jolly, a few others—have returned to the NFL after one-year suspensions. Banning players from facilities sets them up to fail, Jordan says. “As far as the NFL, the league is abandoning its players,” he says. “They’re saying the Shield is more important. To protect it, they’re taking away support.”</p><p>Jordan injured his neck in his second game back, against the Falcons, while recording two tackles. He was inactive for Seattle’s next three contests, and it seemed fair to wonder how he’d cope with again not playing, how he’d handle another round of disappointment. This time, it turns out, the answer was quite well. He had sacks against the Rams and Cowboys, upping his season total to three—doubling his career total—in only four games. He added seven tackles against the Rams, setting himself up for a free-agent payday this spring.</p><p>As his comeback continues to unfurl, Jordan says all the right things. He says he had to expect some bruises after a two-year layoff, as his body acclimated to full-time contact again. He says he didn’t feel sorry for himself when he got injured after the Falcons game. He says he continued his routine, the meetings, the counseling sessions, all of it. Only Jordan knows for sure.</p><p>He knows something else, too. “I’ll play one way,” he says. “Fearless.”</p><p><strong><em>Question or comment? </em></strong><em>Email us at <span>talkback@themmqb.com</span>.</em></p>
Dion Jordan: Draft Bust, Back from the Abyss

In the summer of 2015, while serving a one-year suspension from the NFL for failing drug tests, Dion Jordan disappeared. He didn’t return phone calls or respond to text messages sent by his agent, Doug Hendrickson, who kept hearing from Jordan’s concerned cousins. They told Hendrickson that Jordan was binge-drinking for weeks at a time by himself at home in Arizona.

Hendrickson eventually reached Jordan’s girlfriend, Paige Pettis. “Listen,” he told her, “we gotta get him out here.”

Out here meant San Francisco, where Jordan is from and where Hendrickson is based. As Jordan recounts his version of the story, he says he was under the impression that Pettis planned the trip so they could watch his favorite baseball team, the Giants. And while they did catch a game, that does not appear to be the true purpose of their excursion. What unfolded the next morning was closer to an intervention.

“He came into my office and was just a f------ wreck,” Hendrickson says. “I mean, I would quantify it as literally near death. He looked homeless, just awful.”

Jordan wrapped both arms tightly around his agent’s shoulders and cried for 20 minutes. He needed a haircut, and he wore a ratty T-shirt and a long, stained black coat. No one spoke, as Jordan sobbed and sobbed. “I just knew that I had to do something to get myself back where I wanted to go,” Jordan says now, more than two years later. “Ya feel me?”

Hendrickson didn’t know what to do, so he did the only thing that came to mind. He walked Jordan across the street in downtown San Francisco, then pushed open the doors at Empower, the gym run by Tareq Azim, a trainer who’s more like a life coach. “Dion needs you,” Hendrickson said.

Azim did a double take. He couldn’t believe that was Dion Jordan, the Oregon star who was drafted by the Dolphins third overall in 2013. Azim recalled Jordan as a “freak” and a “badass.” He says, “I was blown away. I could have knocked him over. He looked that frail and just not healthy.”

They started with an honest, uncomfortable conversation. No small talk. This, Azim told Jordan, is life and death. Jordan opened up about his alcohol and drug use, how he’d drink often and all night and sometimes he’d take MDMA. Jordan was dizzy and yet comfortable. For the first time in a long time, he felt safe. But he also wondered: “What the f--- have I gotten myself into?”

They made a list of mental and emotional deficiencies, all the stuff that Jordan held onto, that tormented him. Then they put a plan together, right then, Day 1. “It wasn’t even how he ended up there,” Azim says. “It was simple.

“What are you hiding from?”

In the long, sad, anguished history of draft busts, there’s a checklist of common problems. Jordan struggled with most of them, from drinking and drug use to injury and ambivalence. Hence his plummet from promising young talent to football pariah in two seasons.

Jordan cops to all of it. He didn’t take his career seriously enough. He ignored anyone who warned him. He prioritized bad habits. He hung around the wrong friends. And he was distracted by South Beach and all that Miami glamour. As a rookie in 2013 Jordan had just 19 tackles and two sacks, playing in all 16 games as a Dolphins reserve. “My production was directly related to what I was doing off the field,” he says. “I put nothing into it. I was just showing up.”

He was 23 then, rich—his four-year contract was worth roughly $20 million—almost famous and living in Miami. He deserved to have fun, he reasoned, and he could handle it. He dabbled in molly and ecstasy and smoked marijuana. Mostly he liked to drink. He preferred hard alcohol and consumed all kinds. He told himself he’d party only on some weekends. That became every weekend, and that became every weekend and some weeknights. Eventually, he says, he could drink all night without blacking out. “It becomes exhausting,” Jordan says. “Because every day you’re trying to chase that feeling you had yesterday.”

The Dolphins had traded picks Nos. 12 and 42 to move up and draft Jordan, based almost entirely on his potential. He had managed only 14.5 sacks in four seasons at Oregon, where the Ducks rotated defensive linemen in shifts like hockey lines. Still, Jordan stood 6' 6" and weighed 248 pounds and ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, and that combination of size and speed is what made him so enticing. He ran faster than some NFL receivers.

That is, when he was on the field. The NFL suspended Jordan for four games to start the 2014 season after he tested positive for a stimulant on the league’s banned substance list, and he had two games added to that suspension for a failed drug test.

He never stopped partying during that first suspension. At that point he had not yet tried to quit. He says the Dolphins went out of their way to offer him help, and from the very top. His biggest supporter was Stephen Ross, the team’s owner and billionaire real estate developer, who checked in with Jordan regularly via phone calls and offered to take care of whatever treatment Jordan might need. “He did all he could to keep me a Miami Dolphin,” Jordan says. “They don’t let too many people make as many mistakes as I did.”

After more failed drug tests, Jordan was suspended for all of 2015. He lost $5.6 million in salary and bonus money, and he didn’t really care. His life was a mess, and the circumstances only made it worse. Per NFL rules he was banned from the team facility. He had no mentors, a serious drinking problem, money to spend and endless free time. “When things aren’t going his way, he doesn’t seek more attention by trying to cause chaos,” Azim says. “He hides. He locks himself in a room.”

Jordan had never been in that kind of trouble before. When he saw his name scrolling across the sports news ticker, he knew. He had “f----- up big time.”

“It was like my whole world crumbled,” he says. “I didn’t have anything but football, and then I didn’t have that.”

Back in San Francisco, Azim told Jordan his own story, emphasizing how the events of his life had led here, to this gym, his methods and athletes like Jordan who needed help. Azim’s family was from Afghanistan, where his grandfather was in the air force, stationed at Bagram Airfield in the late ’70s, before, Azim says, he was murdered by the communist regime. Given the danger, Azim’s family moved to Germany, where he was born a refugee. When they moved again, to America two years later, he started in sports as soon as he could run, learning taekwondo, boxing, soccer and football. He played linebacker at Fresno State.

After college, Azim returned to Afghanistan in 2004 to support his father, who he says had been in and out of mental hospitals as he dealt with severe depression. Azim planned to visit for a month and ended up staying for more than four years, working with youth soccer players and launching the Afghan Women’s Boxing Federation. He says two of his boxers were the daughters of a “notorious Taliban warlord.” But the federation was a success.

Azim returned to the U.S. in 2008, became an MMA coach (for welterweight champion Jake Shields, among others) and started to train pro football players. Raiders quarterbacks Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye became his first clients in 2009, and that led to a friendship with their coach, Tom Cable, who went to Seattle in 2011 and called Azim one day. “We’ve got this guy, if we can get him to unleash his potential, he’ll probably be one of the best things to happen to the NFL,” Cable said.

“Who is it?” Azim asked.

“His name is Marshawn,” Cable responded.

Marshawn Lynch. So Azim opened Empower, where he trained Lynch and other NFL Pro Bowlers and MMA stars and celebrities and CEOs of tech startups. “I saw them struggling with the same disease I saw in Afghanistan,” he says. “That disease is fear. Fear paralyzes people.”

Says Jordan: “Fear paralyzed me.”

After the initial meeting with Azim, Jordan quit drinking. Or tried to. For the first few days, his hands shook and he felt sick. Azim kept him him busy, filling Jordan’s days with workouts, AA meetings and therapy sessions. He gave Jordan a book to read, Purification of the Heart, which explores Islamic spirituality. He assigned Jordan to complete one good deed a day. Jordan engaged in conversations with strangers he might previously have ignored and even once gave his sweatpants—the ones he was wearing—to a homeless person.

Azim expected what he calls “hiccups,” and the first one happened on Day 4 in that summer of ’15 when Jordan went AWOL. Azim didn’t hear from him for two days, and Jordan told him he had been drinking by himself. He apologized. “This is just really hard for me,” he said.

“Bro, you’re safe here,” Azim responded. “There’s no judgment. I got your back.”

Jordan moved from Arizona into the guest house of a family Hendrickson knew in San Francisco. He filled the idle hours by ordering Uber Eats and playing NBA2K, creating his own franchise and guiding it through season after season.

The trainer designed workouts to humble Jordan, to show him “you’re not as tough as you think you are,” Azim says. They focused on body-weight exercises. At first Jordan could do only a handful of push-ups on his fingertips. By the end the summer he could pump out more than 100.

Jordan attended AA meetings every day, sometimes twice, choosing not to speak at first but listening to the stories others told. He came to the same realization as many addicts: He wasn’t alone. He went longer between “hiccups,” and sometimes when he’d start drinking, like with friends or when visiting family, he’d call Azim and admit the truth, right then.

After six months of regular but uneven progress, Azim was in New York on business when a friend in the Hamptons suggested they stop by Stephen Ross’s estate. Azim did not know Ross, but they took a quiet stroll by the water as Azim filled the Dolphins owner in on Jordan’s progress. “Getting Dion healthy is my No. 1 priority,” Ross said.

When Azim returned to San Francisco, he told Jordan, “Listen, man, they’re going to take you back.” Jordan smiled. That’s all he wanted.

More important progress was already underway. In therapy, Jordan learned his carousing wasn’t really harmless partying but rather the way he masked deeper issues from his childhood he had never dealt with. “Fear,” Azim says.

Jordan grew up for part of his childhood in the Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco. He says his mother was a drug addict, and he saw her get physically abused. He says his dad was around much.

At age 12, Jordan and his two younger siblings were taken from their mother and sent to live with an aunt in Chandler, Ariz. That was the first time he realized his home life didn’t have to be so chaotic, and his mom got clean and moved there, too.

Jordan calls her “my dog” and “my angel.” But while he acknowledges she struggled with a disease, her actions in his childhood had a deep, lasting impact on him. “Her choosing [drugs] over her kids is probably the worst thing,” he says. “It hurt me more than anything. Even to this day, that was the first and only person who’s broken my heart to that extent.”

He pauses, looks away. “I love her so much,” he says.

Jordan buried all that pain. Just like he buried the memories of the time he almost burned to death in 2007, while trying to siphon gas from a car with a vacuum cleaner, which caught on fire. He says he’d often transfer gas from one family car to another this way. He spent a month in the burn unit at a local hospital, underwent skin grafts and tried to pretend that despite the physical scars—burns covered 40 percent of his body—the accident didn’t affect him. Doctors told him he’d never walk again, let alone play football.

Except he made it to the NFL, only to bury more pain, mostly by suppressing all his anger over the family members who saw dollar signs when he became a star. Jordan wanted to help—he did help—but he felt used.

While suspended, Jordan believed he had failed all those people who depended on him. Like the mom who kicked drugs only to watch her son succumb to alcohol. That hurt, so he drank. Reports surfaced that the Dolphins wanted to trade him. That stung, so he drank. He obtained reinstatement from the NFL in July 2016 and felt not peace but pressure. His solution: drink. “I decided to feel sorry for myself,” he says.

The more he went to therapy, the more he realized he had only one person to blame for all his problems: Dion Jordan. He’s asked how much responsibility he should take, given the events of his childhood, the expectations in the NFL, the family obligations. “All of it,” Jordan says. “At every turn, I had options. I could have spoken up and told someone I was hurting. I just pushed it down and kept moving.”

Azim and his therapist taught Jordan that trust is not weakness but strength. “That’s the true definition of manhood,” Azim says. “In the NFL, there’s this massive level of hypocrisy in the development of players. All these coaches and mentors who tell these players not to be vulnerable, not to show weakness.

“Someone like Dion just retreats.”

After his reinstatement, Jordan returned to Miami for the 2016 season. Except that he had injured his left knee during those workouts in San Francisco. The Dolphins put him on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list, shelving him for at least the first part of the season while he recovered. Here he was, 3,000 miles from Azim and his support system, alone and again not playing football. He figured he could have one drink when he went out. That became two drinks and then four. This “hiccup” was not one incident but a series of them. “It was getting worse and worse,” Azim says. “Like, oh, s---, this is getting dangerous.”

Out of options, a panicked Azim called an old friend: Cable, now the assistant head coach of the Seahawks. Azim knew that Cable’s son, Alex, had struggled with drug and alcohol addictions, gone to rehab at a wilderness retreat, changed his life and admirably decided to counsel other addicts. “This is driving me crazy,” Azim told Cable. “I’ve put in all this work and now he’s going to the dark side again. I’m legitimately heartbroken. Because I’m like, how has he given up after everything we’ve accomplished?”

“Don’t give up on him,” Cable responded.

The Dolphins allowed Jordan to return to San Francisco in December. He went back to Azim. They mapped out a daily schedule:

All day—focus on yourself and winning
9:20: pray for gratitude and forgiveness
10: Empower training camp
11:30: NFL Counselor Check-In
Noon: AA meeting

Azim and Cable discussed possible next steps, and Cable suggested his son move to San Francisco to live with Jordan and help him sustain his sobriety. So Alex moved into Jordan’s one-bedroom apartment, sleeping on a pullout couch, accompanying Jordan to meetings and eating takeout with him every night. “It felt like Alex genuinely cared about me,” Jordan says.

“He didn’t ask me for anything.”

The Dolphins released Jordan in late March. He understood. Local writers tabbed him the biggest draft bust in team history. Still, more than a dozen teams reached out to Hendrickson to inquire about his status. Jordan wanted to stay on the west coast, if possible, to remain closer to his family in San Francisco and the trainer who changed his life.

Tom Cable’s presence in Seattle helped Jordan decide to sign with the Seahawks. Well, that and an unlikely voice of support. Azim happened to see Lynch, his longtime client, for a training session in the Bay Area. He handed over the list of teams that wanted to sign Jordan. Lynch glanced at the list quickly, then said, “Seattle is the best place for Dion,” citing Cable and the team’s support system.

Jordan says he hasn’t had a drop of alcohol since February, right around the Super Bowl. “I just have to wake up every morning and make the right decisions,” he says. “That’s on me.”

On Nov. 9, after two knee surgeries and months in physical rehabilitation, Jordan played in his first NFL game in more than 1,000 days. It took place a short drive from his aunt’s house, where he lived after he was taken from his mother. Both women were in the stands at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, along with Jordan’s siblings and a cadre of childhood friends.

Jordan put together his best career performance, registering 33 snaps, five quarterback pressures, two quarterback hits, two hurries and a sack. Coach Pete Carroll described Jordan as “a little raw at times.” But he also acknowledged the obvious: Not many humans could play like that after a 1,000-plus-day layoff.

Later that month Jordan and Pettis hosted their families for Thanksgiving. Jordan looked into the faces of all the people who had stood by him, who saw his struggles, whose warnings he had ignored as he nearly ruined his career and health. He thanked them. He also thanked Azim.

“Tareq saved his life,” Hendrickson says.

Now Jordan hopes to serve as something of a model for the NFL. He wants to show the league what players on one-year suspensions really need—full-time support, with the teams they play for, not some brief NFL symposium before their issues are compounded by the confluence of money, fame, free time and bad decisions. He remembers sitting in the first row of his rookie symposium, listening to Adam Jones try to scare the NFL neophytes straight with tales of players gone bad. That will never be me, he thought.

There’s a reason, Jordan says, that only a handful of players—himself, Josh Gordon, Johnny Jolly, a few others—have returned to the NFL after one-year suspensions. Banning players from facilities sets them up to fail, Jordan says. “As far as the NFL, the league is abandoning its players,” he says. “They’re saying the Shield is more important. To protect it, they’re taking away support.”

Jordan injured his neck in his second game back, against the Falcons, while recording two tackles. He was inactive for Seattle’s next three contests, and it seemed fair to wonder how he’d cope with again not playing, how he’d handle another round of disappointment. This time, it turns out, the answer was quite well. He had sacks against the Rams and Cowboys, upping his season total to three—doubling his career total—in only four games. He added seven tackles against the Rams, setting himself up for a free-agent payday this spring.

As his comeback continues to unfurl, Jordan says all the right things. He says he had to expect some bruises after a two-year layoff, as his body acclimated to full-time contact again. He says he didn’t feel sorry for himself when he got injured after the Falcons game. He says he continued his routine, the meetings, the counseling sessions, all of it. Only Jordan knows for sure.

He knows something else, too. “I’ll play one way,” he says. “Fearless.”

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

<p>In the summer of 2015, while serving a one-year suspension from the NFL for failing drug tests, Dion Jordan disappeared. He didn’t return phone calls or respond to text messages sent by his agent, Doug Hendrickson, who kept hearing from Jordan’s concerned cousins. They told Hendrickson that Jordan was binge-drinking for weeks at a time by himself at home in Arizona.</p><p>Hendrickson eventually reached Jordan’s girlfriend, Paige Pettis. “Listen,” he told her, “we gotta get him out here.”</p><p><em>Out here </em>meant San Francisco, where Jordan is from and where Hendrickson is based. As Jordan recounts his version of the story, he says he was under the impression that Pettis planned the trip so they could watch his favorite baseball team, the Giants. And while they did catch a game, that does not appear to be the true purpose of their excursion. What unfolded the next morning was closer to an intervention.</p><p>“He came into my office and was just a f------ wreck,” Hendrickson says. “I mean, I would quantify it as literally near death. He looked homeless, just awful.”</p><p>Jordan wrapped both arms tightly around his agent’s shoulders and cried for 20 minutes. He needed a haircut, and he wore a ratty T-shirt and a long, stained black coat. No one spoke, as Jordan sobbed and sobbed. “I just knew that I had to do something to get myself back where I wanted to go,” Jordan says now, more than two years later. “Ya feel me?”</p><p>Hendrickson didn’t know what to do, so he did the only thing that came to mind. He walked Jordan across the street in downtown San Francisco, then pushed open the doors at Empower, the gym run by Tareq Azim, a trainer who’s more like a life coach. “Dion needs you,” Hendrickson said.</p><p>Azim did a double take. He couldn’t believe <em>that</em> was Dion Jordan, the Oregon star who was drafted by the Dolphins third overall in 2013. Azim recalled Jordan as a “freak” and a “badass.” He says, “I was blown away. I could have knocked him over. He looked that frail and just not healthy.”</p><p>They started with an honest, uncomfortable conversation. No small talk. This, Azim told Jordan, is life and death. Jordan opened up about his alcohol and drug use, how he’d drink often and all night and sometimes he’d take MDMA. Jordan was dizzy and yet comfortable. For the first time in a long time, he felt safe. But he also wondered: “What the f--- have I gotten myself into?”</p><p>They made a list of mental and emotional deficiencies, all the stuff that Jordan held onto, that tormented him. Then they put a plan together, right then, Day 1. “It wasn’t even how he ended up there,” Azim says. “It was simple.</p><p><em>“What are you hiding from?”</em></p><p>In the long, sad, anguished history of draft busts, there’s a checklist of common problems. Jordan struggled with most of them, from drinking and drug use to injury and ambivalence. Hence his plummet from promising young talent to football pariah in two seasons.</p><p>Jordan cops to all of it. He didn’t take his career seriously enough. He ignored anyone who warned him. He prioritized bad habits. He hung around the wrong friends. And he was distracted by South Beach and all that Miami glamour. As a rookie in 2013 Jordan had just 19 tackles and two sacks, playing in all 16 games as a Dolphins reserve. “My production was directly related to what I was doing off the field,” he says. “I put nothing into it. I was just showing up.”</p><p>He was 23 then, rich—his four-year contract was worth roughly $20 million—almost famous and living in Miami. He deserved to have fun, he reasoned, and he could handle it. He dabbled in molly and ecstasy and smoked marijuana. Mostly he liked to drink. He preferred hard alcohol and consumed all kinds. He told himself he’d party only on some weekends. That became every weekend, and that became every weekend and some weeknights. Eventually, he says, he could drink all night without blacking out. “It becomes exhausting,” Jordan says. “Because every day you’re trying to chase that feeling you had yesterday.”</p><p>The Dolphins had traded picks Nos. 12 and 42 to move up and draft Jordan, based almost entirely on his potential. He had managed only 14.5 sacks in four seasons at Oregon, where the Ducks rotated defensive linemen in shifts like hockey lines. Still, Jordan stood 6&#39; 6&quot; and weighed 248 pounds and ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, and that combination of size and speed is what made him so enticing. He ran faster than some NFL receivers.</p><p>That is, when he was on the field. The NFL suspended Jordan for four games to start the 2014 season after he tested positive for a stimulant on the league’s banned substance list, and he had two games added to that suspension for a failed drug test.</p><p>He never stopped partying during that first suspension. At that point he had not yet tried to quit. He says the Dolphins went out of their way to offer him help, and from the very top. His biggest supporter was Stephen Ross, the team’s owner and billionaire real estate developer, who checked in with Jordan regularly via phone calls and offered to take care of whatever treatment Jordan might need. “He did all he could to keep me a Miami Dolphin,” Jordan says. “They don’t let too many people make as many mistakes as I did.”</p><p>After more failed drug tests, Jordan was suspended for all of 2015. He lost $5.6 million in salary and bonus money, and he didn’t really care. His life was a mess, and the circumstances only made it worse. Per NFL rules he was banned from the team facility. He had no mentors, a serious drinking problem, money to spend and endless free time. “When things aren’t going his way, he doesn’t seek more attention by trying to cause chaos,” Azim says. “He hides. He locks himself in a room.”</p><p>Jordan had never been in that kind of trouble before. When he saw his name scrolling across the sports news ticker, he knew. He had “f----- up big time.”</p><p>“It was like my whole world crumbled,” he says. “I didn’t have anything but football, and then I didn’t have that.”</p><p>Back in San Francisco, Azim told Jordan his own story, emphasizing how the events of his life had led here, to this gym, his methods and athletes like Jordan who needed help. Azim’s family was from Afghanistan, where his grandfather was in the air force, stationed at Bagram Airfield in the late ’70s, before, Azim says, he was murdered by the communist regime. Given the danger, Azim’s family moved to Germany, where he was born a refugee. When they moved again, to America two years later, he started in sports as soon as he could run, learning taekwondo, boxing, soccer and football. He played linebacker at Fresno State.</p><p>After college, Azim returned to Afghanistan in 2004 to support his father, who he says had been in and out of mental hospitals as he dealt with severe depression. Azim planned to visit for a month and ended up staying for more than four years, working with youth soccer players and launching the Afghan Women’s Boxing Federation. He says two of his boxers were the daughters of a “notorious Taliban warlord.” But the federation was a success.</p><p>Azim returned to the U.S. in 2008, became an MMA coach (for welterweight champion Jake Shields, among others) and started to train pro football players. Raiders quarterbacks Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye became his first clients in 2009, and that led to a friendship with their coach, Tom Cable, who went to Seattle in 2011 and called Azim one day. “We’ve got this guy, if we can get him to unleash his potential, he’ll probably be one of the best things to happen to the NFL,” Cable said.</p><p>“Who is it?” Azim asked.</p><p>“His name is Marshawn,” Cable responded.</p><p><em>Marshawn Lynch</em>. So Azim opened Empower, where he trained Lynch and other NFL Pro Bowlers and MMA stars and celebrities and CEOs of tech startups. “I saw them struggling with the same disease I saw in Afghanistan,” he says. “That disease is fear. Fear paralyzes people.”</p><p>Says Jordan: “Fear paralyzed me.”</p><p>After the initial meeting with Azim, Jordan quit drinking. Or tried to. For the first few days, his hands shook and he felt sick. Azim kept him him busy, filling Jordan’s days with workouts, AA meetings and therapy sessions. He gave Jordan a book to read, <em>Purification of the Heart</em>, which explores Islamic spirituality. He assigned Jordan to complete one good deed a day. Jordan engaged in conversations with strangers he might previously have ignored and even once gave his sweatpants—the ones he was wearing—to a homeless person.</p><p>Azim expected what he calls “hiccups,” and the first one happened on Day 4 in that summer of ’15 when Jordan went AWOL. Azim didn’t hear from him for two days, and Jordan told him he had been drinking by himself. He apologized. “This is just really hard for me,” he said.</p><p>“Bro, you’re safe here,” Azim responded. “There’s no judgment. I got your back.”</p><p>Jordan moved from Arizona into the guest house of a family Hendrickson knew in San Francisco. He filled the idle hours by ordering Uber Eats and playing NBA2K, creating his own franchise and guiding it through season after season.</p><p>The trainer designed workouts to humble Jordan, to show him “you’re not as tough as you think you are,” Azim says. They focused on body-weight exercises. At first Jordan could do only a handful of push-ups on his fingertips. By the end the summer he could pump out more than 100.</p><p>Jordan attended AA meetings every day, sometimes twice, choosing not to speak at first but listening to the stories others told. He came to the same realization as many addicts: He wasn’t alone. He went longer between “hiccups,” and sometimes when he’d start drinking, like with friends or when visiting family, he’d call Azim and admit the truth, right then.</p><p>After six months of regular but uneven progress, Azim was in New York on business when a friend in the Hamptons suggested they stop by Stephen Ross’s estate. Azim did not know Ross, but they took a quiet stroll by the water as Azim filled the Dolphins owner in on Jordan’s progress. “Getting Dion healthy is my No. 1 priority,” Ross said.</p><p>When Azim returned to San Francisco, he told Jordan, “Listen, man, they’re going to take you back.” Jordan smiled. That’s all he wanted.</p><p>More important progress was already underway. In therapy, Jordan learned his carousing wasn’t really harmless partying but rather the way he masked deeper issues from his childhood he had never dealt with. “Fear,” Azim says.</p><p>Jordan grew up for part of his childhood in the Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco. He says his mother was a drug addict, and he saw her get physically abused. He says his dad was around much.</p><p>At age 12, Jordan and his two younger siblings were taken from their mother and sent to live with an aunt in Chandler, Ariz. That was the first time he realized his home life didn’t have to be so chaotic, and his mom got clean and moved there, too.</p><p>Jordan calls her “my dog” and “my angel.” But while he acknowledges she struggled with a disease, her actions in his childhood had a deep, lasting impact on him. “Her choosing [drugs] over her kids is probably the worst thing,” he says. “It hurt me more than anything. Even to this day, that was the first and only person who’s broken my heart to that extent.”</p><p>He pauses, looks away. “I love her so much,” he says.</p><p>Jordan buried all that pain. Just like he buried the memories of the time he almost burned to death in 2007, while trying to siphon gas from a car with a vacuum cleaner, which caught on fire. He says he’d often transfer gas from one family car to another this way. He spent a month in the burn unit at a local hospital, underwent skin grafts and tried to pretend that despite the physical scars—burns covered 40 percent of his body—the accident didn’t affect him. Doctors told him he’d never walk again, let alone play football.</p><p>Except he made it to the NFL, only to bury more pain, mostly by suppressing all his anger over the family members who saw dollar signs when he became a star. Jordan wanted to help—he <em>did</em> help—but he felt used.</p><p>While suspended, Jordan believed he had failed all those people who depended on him. Like the mom who kicked drugs only to watch her son succumb to alcohol. That hurt, so he drank. Reports surfaced that the Dolphins wanted to trade him. That stung, so he drank. He obtained reinstatement from the NFL in July 2016 and felt not peace but pressure. His solution: drink. “I decided to feel sorry for myself,” he says.</p><p>The more he went to therapy, the more he realized he had only one person to blame for all his problems: Dion Jordan. He’s asked how much responsibility he should take, given the events of his childhood, the expectations in the NFL, the family obligations. “All of it,” Jordan says. “At every turn, I had options. I could have spoken up and told someone I was hurting. I just pushed it down and kept moving.”</p><p>Azim and his therapist taught Jordan that trust is not weakness but strength. “That’s the true definition of manhood,” Azim says. “In the NFL, there’s this massive level of hypocrisy in the development of players. All these coaches and mentors who tell these players not to be vulnerable, not to show weakness.</p><p>“Someone like Dion just retreats.”</p><p>After his reinstatement, Jordan returned to Miami for the 2016 season. Except that he had injured his left knee during those workouts in San Francisco. The Dolphins put him on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list, shelving him for at least the first part of the season while he recovered. Here he was, 3,000 miles from Azim and his support system, alone and again not playing football. He figured he could have one drink when he went out. That became two drinks and then four. This “hiccup” was not one incident but a series of them. “It was getting worse and worse,” Azim says. “Like, oh, s---, this is getting dangerous.”</p><p>Out of options, a panicked Azim called an old friend: Cable, now the assistant head coach of the Seahawks. Azim knew that Cable’s son, Alex, had struggled with drug and alcohol addictions, gone to rehab at a wilderness retreat, changed his life and admirably decided to counsel other addicts. “This is driving me crazy,” Azim told Cable. “I’ve put in all this work and now he’s going to the dark side again. I’m legitimately heartbroken. Because I’m like, how has he given up after everything we’ve accomplished?”</p><p>“Don’t give up on him,” Cable responded.</p><p>The Dolphins allowed Jordan to return to San Francisco in December. He went back to Azim. They mapped out a daily schedule:</p><p><em><strong>All day</strong>—focus on yourself and winning</em><br><em><strong>9:20: </strong>pray for gratitude and forgiveness</em><br><em><strong>10:</strong> Empower training </em><em>camp</em><br><strong><em>11</em></strong><em><strong>:30:</strong> NFL Counselor Check-In</em><br><em><strong>Noon:</strong> AA meeting</em></p><p>Azim and Cable discussed possible next steps, and Cable suggested his son move to San Francisco to live with Jordan and help him sustain his sobriety. So Alex moved into Jordan’s one-bedroom apartment, sleeping on a pullout couch, accompanying Jordan to meetings and eating takeout with him every night. “It felt like Alex genuinely cared about me,” Jordan says.</p><p>“He didn’t ask me for anything.”</p><p>The Dolphins released Jordan in late March. He understood. Local writers tabbed him the biggest draft bust in team history. Still, more than a dozen teams reached out to Hendrickson to inquire about his status. Jordan wanted to stay on the west coast, if possible, to remain closer to his family in San Francisco and the trainer who changed his life.</p><p>Tom Cable’s presence in Seattle helped Jordan decide to sign with the Seahawks. Well, that and an unlikely voice of support. Azim happened to see Lynch, his longtime client, for a training session in the Bay Area. He handed over the list of teams that wanted to sign Jordan. Lynch glanced at the list quickly, then said, “Seattle is the best place for Dion,” citing Cable and the team’s support system.</p><p>Jordan says he hasn’t had a drop of alcohol since February, right around the Super Bowl. “I just have to wake up every morning and make the right decisions,” he says. “That’s on me.”</p><p>On Nov. 9, after two knee surgeries and months in physical rehabilitation, Jordan played in his first NFL game in more than 1,000 days. It took place a short drive from his aunt’s house, where he lived after he was taken from his mother. Both women were in the stands at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, along with Jordan’s siblings and a cadre of childhood friends.</p><p>Jordan put together his best career performance, registering 33 snaps, five quarterback pressures, two quarterback hits, two hurries and a sack. Coach Pete Carroll described Jordan as “a little raw at times.” But he also acknowledged the obvious: Not many humans could play like that after a 1,000-plus-day layoff.</p><p>Later that month Jordan and Pettis hosted their families for Thanksgiving. Jordan looked into the faces of all the people who had stood by him, who saw his struggles, whose warnings he had ignored as he nearly ruined his career and health. He thanked them. He also thanked Azim.</p><p>“Tareq saved his life,” Hendrickson says.</p><p>Now Jordan hopes to serve as something of a model for the NFL. He wants to show the league what players on one-year suspensions really need—full-time support, with the teams they play for, not some brief NFL symposium before their issues are compounded by the confluence of money, fame, free time and bad decisions. He remembers sitting in the first row of his rookie symposium, listening to Adam Jones try to scare the NFL neophytes straight with tales of players gone bad. That will never be me, he thought.</p><p>There’s a reason, Jordan says, that only a handful of players—himself, Josh Gordon, Johnny Jolly, a few others—have returned to the NFL after one-year suspensions. Banning players from facilities sets them up to fail, Jordan says. “As far as the NFL, the league is abandoning its players,” he says. “They’re saying the Shield is more important. To protect it, they’re taking away support.”</p><p>Jordan injured his neck in his second game back, against the Falcons, while recording two tackles. He was inactive for Seattle’s next three contests, and it seemed fair to wonder how he’d cope with again not playing, how he’d handle another round of disappointment. This time, it turns out, the answer was quite well. He had sacks against the Rams and Cowboys, upping his season total to three—doubling his career total—in only four games. He added seven tackles against the Rams, setting himself up for a free-agent payday this spring.</p><p>As his comeback continues to unfurl, Jordan says all the right things. He says he had to expect some bruises after a two-year layoff, as his body acclimated to full-time contact again. He says he didn’t feel sorry for himself when he got injured after the Falcons game. He says he continued his routine, the meetings, the counseling sessions, all of it. Only Jordan knows for sure.</p><p>He knows something else, too. “I’ll play one way,” he says. “Fearless.”</p><p><strong><em>Question or comment? </em></strong><em>Email us at <span>talkback@themmqb.com</span>.</em></p>
Dion Jordan: Draft Bust, Back from the Abyss

In the summer of 2015, while serving a one-year suspension from the NFL for failing drug tests, Dion Jordan disappeared. He didn’t return phone calls or respond to text messages sent by his agent, Doug Hendrickson, who kept hearing from Jordan’s concerned cousins. They told Hendrickson that Jordan was binge-drinking for weeks at a time by himself at home in Arizona.

Hendrickson eventually reached Jordan’s girlfriend, Paige Pettis. “Listen,” he told her, “we gotta get him out here.”

Out here meant San Francisco, where Jordan is from and where Hendrickson is based. As Jordan recounts his version of the story, he says he was under the impression that Pettis planned the trip so they could watch his favorite baseball team, the Giants. And while they did catch a game, that does not appear to be the true purpose of their excursion. What unfolded the next morning was closer to an intervention.

“He came into my office and was just a f------ wreck,” Hendrickson says. “I mean, I would quantify it as literally near death. He looked homeless, just awful.”

Jordan wrapped both arms tightly around his agent’s shoulders and cried for 20 minutes. He needed a haircut, and he wore a ratty T-shirt and a long, stained black coat. No one spoke, as Jordan sobbed and sobbed. “I just knew that I had to do something to get myself back where I wanted to go,” Jordan says now, more than two years later. “Ya feel me?”

Hendrickson didn’t know what to do, so he did the only thing that came to mind. He walked Jordan across the street in downtown San Francisco, then pushed open the doors at Empower, the gym run by Tareq Azim, a trainer who’s more like a life coach. “Dion needs you,” Hendrickson said.

Azim did a double take. He couldn’t believe that was Dion Jordan, the Oregon star who was drafted by the Dolphins third overall in 2013. Azim recalled Jordan as a “freak” and a “badass.” He says, “I was blown away. I could have knocked him over. He looked that frail and just not healthy.”

They started with an honest, uncomfortable conversation. No small talk. This, Azim told Jordan, is life and death. Jordan opened up about his alcohol and drug use, how he’d drink often and all night and sometimes he’d take MDMA. Jordan was dizzy and yet comfortable. For the first time in a long time, he felt safe. But he also wondered: “What the f--- have I gotten myself into?”

They made a list of mental and emotional deficiencies, all the stuff that Jordan held onto, that tormented him. Then they put a plan together, right then, Day 1. “It wasn’t even how he ended up there,” Azim says. “It was simple.

“What are you hiding from?”

In the long, sad, anguished history of draft busts, there’s a checklist of common problems. Jordan struggled with most of them, from drinking and drug use to injury and ambivalence. Hence his plummet from promising young talent to football pariah in two seasons.

Jordan cops to all of it. He didn’t take his career seriously enough. He ignored anyone who warned him. He prioritized bad habits. He hung around the wrong friends. And he was distracted by South Beach and all that Miami glamour. As a rookie in 2013 Jordan had just 19 tackles and two sacks, playing in all 16 games as a Dolphins reserve. “My production was directly related to what I was doing off the field,” he says. “I put nothing into it. I was just showing up.”

He was 23 then, rich—his four-year contract was worth roughly $20 million—almost famous and living in Miami. He deserved to have fun, he reasoned, and he could handle it. He dabbled in molly and ecstasy and smoked marijuana. Mostly he liked to drink. He preferred hard alcohol and consumed all kinds. He told himself he’d party only on some weekends. That became every weekend, and that became every weekend and some weeknights. Eventually, he says, he could drink all night without blacking out. “It becomes exhausting,” Jordan says. “Because every day you’re trying to chase that feeling you had yesterday.”

The Dolphins had traded picks Nos. 12 and 42 to move up and draft Jordan, based almost entirely on his potential. He had managed only 14.5 sacks in four seasons at Oregon, where the Ducks rotated defensive linemen in shifts like hockey lines. Still, Jordan stood 6' 6" and weighed 248 pounds and ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, and that combination of size and speed is what made him so enticing. He ran faster than some NFL receivers.

That is, when he was on the field. The NFL suspended Jordan for four games to start the 2014 season after he tested positive for a stimulant on the league’s banned substance list, and he had two games added to that suspension for a failed drug test.

He never stopped partying during that first suspension. At that point he had not yet tried to quit. He says the Dolphins went out of their way to offer him help, and from the very top. His biggest supporter was Stephen Ross, the team’s owner and billionaire real estate developer, who checked in with Jordan regularly via phone calls and offered to take care of whatever treatment Jordan might need. “He did all he could to keep me a Miami Dolphin,” Jordan says. “They don’t let too many people make as many mistakes as I did.”

After more failed drug tests, Jordan was suspended for all of 2015. He lost $5.6 million in salary and bonus money, and he didn’t really care. His life was a mess, and the circumstances only made it worse. Per NFL rules he was banned from the team facility. He had no mentors, a serious drinking problem, money to spend and endless free time. “When things aren’t going his way, he doesn’t seek more attention by trying to cause chaos,” Azim says. “He hides. He locks himself in a room.”

Jordan had never been in that kind of trouble before. When he saw his name scrolling across the sports news ticker, he knew. He had “f----- up big time.”

“It was like my whole world crumbled,” he says. “I didn’t have anything but football, and then I didn’t have that.”

Back in San Francisco, Azim told Jordan his own story, emphasizing how the events of his life had led here, to this gym, his methods and athletes like Jordan who needed help. Azim’s family was from Afghanistan, where his grandfather was in the air force, stationed at Bagram Airfield in the late ’70s, before, Azim says, he was murdered by the communist regime. Given the danger, Azim’s family moved to Germany, where he was born a refugee. When they moved again, to America two years later, he started in sports as soon as he could run, learning taekwondo, boxing, soccer and football. He played linebacker at Fresno State.

After college, Azim returned to Afghanistan in 2004 to support his father, who he says had been in and out of mental hospitals as he dealt with severe depression. Azim planned to visit for a month and ended up staying for more than four years, working with youth soccer players and launching the Afghan Women’s Boxing Federation. He says two of his boxers were the daughters of a “notorious Taliban warlord.” But the federation was a success.

Azim returned to the U.S. in 2008, became an MMA coach (for welterweight champion Jake Shields, among others) and started to train pro football players. Raiders quarterbacks Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye became his first clients in 2009, and that led to a friendship with their coach, Tom Cable, who went to Seattle in 2011 and called Azim one day. “We’ve got this guy, if we can get him to unleash his potential, he’ll probably be one of the best things to happen to the NFL,” Cable said.

“Who is it?” Azim asked.

“His name is Marshawn,” Cable responded.

Marshawn Lynch. So Azim opened Empower, where he trained Lynch and other NFL Pro Bowlers and MMA stars and celebrities and CEOs of tech startups. “I saw them struggling with the same disease I saw in Afghanistan,” he says. “That disease is fear. Fear paralyzes people.”

Says Jordan: “Fear paralyzed me.”

After the initial meeting with Azim, Jordan quit drinking. Or tried to. For the first few days, his hands shook and he felt sick. Azim kept him him busy, filling Jordan’s days with workouts, AA meetings and therapy sessions. He gave Jordan a book to read, Purification of the Heart, which explores Islamic spirituality. He assigned Jordan to complete one good deed a day. Jordan engaged in conversations with strangers he might previously have ignored and even once gave his sweatpants—the ones he was wearing—to a homeless person.

Azim expected what he calls “hiccups,” and the first one happened on Day 4 in that summer of ’15 when Jordan went AWOL. Azim didn’t hear from him for two days, and Jordan told him he had been drinking by himself. He apologized. “This is just really hard for me,” he said.

“Bro, you’re safe here,” Azim responded. “There’s no judgment. I got your back.”

Jordan moved from Arizona into the guest house of a family Hendrickson knew in San Francisco. He filled the idle hours by ordering Uber Eats and playing NBA2K, creating his own franchise and guiding it through season after season.

The trainer designed workouts to humble Jordan, to show him “you’re not as tough as you think you are,” Azim says. They focused on body-weight exercises. At first Jordan could do only a handful of push-ups on his fingertips. By the end the summer he could pump out more than 100.

Jordan attended AA meetings every day, sometimes twice, choosing not to speak at first but listening to the stories others told. He came to the same realization as many addicts: He wasn’t alone. He went longer between “hiccups,” and sometimes when he’d start drinking, like with friends or when visiting family, he’d call Azim and admit the truth, right then.

After six months of regular but uneven progress, Azim was in New York on business when a friend in the Hamptons suggested they stop by Stephen Ross’s estate. Azim did not know Ross, but they took a quiet stroll by the water as Azim filled the Dolphins owner in on Jordan’s progress. “Getting Dion healthy is my No. 1 priority,” Ross said.

When Azim returned to San Francisco, he told Jordan, “Listen, man, they’re going to take you back.” Jordan smiled. That’s all he wanted.

More important progress was already underway. In therapy, Jordan learned his carousing wasn’t really harmless partying but rather the way he masked deeper issues from his childhood he had never dealt with. “Fear,” Azim says.

Jordan grew up for part of his childhood in the Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco. He says his mother was a drug addict, and he saw her get physically abused. He says his dad was around much.

At age 12, Jordan and his two younger siblings were taken from their mother and sent to live with an aunt in Chandler, Ariz. That was the first time he realized his home life didn’t have to be so chaotic, and his mom got clean and moved there, too.

Jordan calls her “my dog” and “my angel.” But while he acknowledges she struggled with a disease, her actions in his childhood had a deep, lasting impact on him. “Her choosing [drugs] over her kids is probably the worst thing,” he says. “It hurt me more than anything. Even to this day, that was the first and only person who’s broken my heart to that extent.”

He pauses, looks away. “I love her so much,” he says.

Jordan buried all that pain. Just like he buried the memories of the time he almost burned to death in 2007, while trying to siphon gas from a car with a vacuum cleaner, which caught on fire. He says he’d often transfer gas from one family car to another this way. He spent a month in the burn unit at a local hospital, underwent skin grafts and tried to pretend that despite the physical scars—burns covered 40 percent of his body—the accident didn’t affect him. Doctors told him he’d never walk again, let alone play football.

Except he made it to the NFL, only to bury more pain, mostly by suppressing all his anger over the family members who saw dollar signs when he became a star. Jordan wanted to help—he did help—but he felt used.

While suspended, Jordan believed he had failed all those people who depended on him. Like the mom who kicked drugs only to watch her son succumb to alcohol. That hurt, so he drank. Reports surfaced that the Dolphins wanted to trade him. That stung, so he drank. He obtained reinstatement from the NFL in July 2016 and felt not peace but pressure. His solution: drink. “I decided to feel sorry for myself,” he says.

The more he went to therapy, the more he realized he had only one person to blame for all his problems: Dion Jordan. He’s asked how much responsibility he should take, given the events of his childhood, the expectations in the NFL, the family obligations. “All of it,” Jordan says. “At every turn, I had options. I could have spoken up and told someone I was hurting. I just pushed it down and kept moving.”

Azim and his therapist taught Jordan that trust is not weakness but strength. “That’s the true definition of manhood,” Azim says. “In the NFL, there’s this massive level of hypocrisy in the development of players. All these coaches and mentors who tell these players not to be vulnerable, not to show weakness.

“Someone like Dion just retreats.”

After his reinstatement, Jordan returned to Miami for the 2016 season. Except that he had injured his left knee during those workouts in San Francisco. The Dolphins put him on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list, shelving him for at least the first part of the season while he recovered. Here he was, 3,000 miles from Azim and his support system, alone and again not playing football. He figured he could have one drink when he went out. That became two drinks and then four. This “hiccup” was not one incident but a series of them. “It was getting worse and worse,” Azim says. “Like, oh, s---, this is getting dangerous.”

Out of options, a panicked Azim called an old friend: Cable, now the assistant head coach of the Seahawks. Azim knew that Cable’s son, Alex, had struggled with drug and alcohol addictions, gone to rehab at a wilderness retreat, changed his life and admirably decided to counsel other addicts. “This is driving me crazy,” Azim told Cable. “I’ve put in all this work and now he’s going to the dark side again. I’m legitimately heartbroken. Because I’m like, how has he given up after everything we’ve accomplished?”

“Don’t give up on him,” Cable responded.

The Dolphins allowed Jordan to return to San Francisco in December. He went back to Azim. They mapped out a daily schedule:

All day—focus on yourself and winning
9:20: pray for gratitude and forgiveness
10: Empower training camp
11:30: NFL Counselor Check-In
Noon: AA meeting

Azim and Cable discussed possible next steps, and Cable suggested his son move to San Francisco to live with Jordan and help him sustain his sobriety. So Alex moved into Jordan’s one-bedroom apartment, sleeping on a pullout couch, accompanying Jordan to meetings and eating takeout with him every night. “It felt like Alex genuinely cared about me,” Jordan says.

“He didn’t ask me for anything.”

The Dolphins released Jordan in late March. He understood. Local writers tabbed him the biggest draft bust in team history. Still, more than a dozen teams reached out to Hendrickson to inquire about his status. Jordan wanted to stay on the west coast, if possible, to remain closer to his family in San Francisco and the trainer who changed his life.

Tom Cable’s presence in Seattle helped Jordan decide to sign with the Seahawks. Well, that and an unlikely voice of support. Azim happened to see Lynch, his longtime client, for a training session in the Bay Area. He handed over the list of teams that wanted to sign Jordan. Lynch glanced at the list quickly, then said, “Seattle is the best place for Dion,” citing Cable and the team’s support system.

Jordan says he hasn’t had a drop of alcohol since February, right around the Super Bowl. “I just have to wake up every morning and make the right decisions,” he says. “That’s on me.”

On Nov. 9, after two knee surgeries and months in physical rehabilitation, Jordan played in his first NFL game in more than 1,000 days. It took place a short drive from his aunt’s house, where he lived after he was taken from his mother. Both women were in the stands at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, along with Jordan’s siblings and a cadre of childhood friends.

Jordan put together his best career performance, registering 33 snaps, five quarterback pressures, two quarterback hits, two hurries and a sack. Coach Pete Carroll described Jordan as “a little raw at times.” But he also acknowledged the obvious: Not many humans could play like that after a 1,000-plus-day layoff.

Later that month Jordan and Pettis hosted their families for Thanksgiving. Jordan looked into the faces of all the people who had stood by him, who saw his struggles, whose warnings he had ignored as he nearly ruined his career and health. He thanked them. He also thanked Azim.

“Tareq saved his life,” Hendrickson says.

Now Jordan hopes to serve as something of a model for the NFL. He wants to show the league what players on one-year suspensions really need—full-time support, with the teams they play for, not some brief NFL symposium before their issues are compounded by the confluence of money, fame, free time and bad decisions. He remembers sitting in the first row of his rookie symposium, listening to Adam Jones try to scare the NFL neophytes straight with tales of players gone bad. That will never be me, he thought.

There’s a reason, Jordan says, that only a handful of players—himself, Josh Gordon, Johnny Jolly, a few others—have returned to the NFL after one-year suspensions. Banning players from facilities sets them up to fail, Jordan says. “As far as the NFL, the league is abandoning its players,” he says. “They’re saying the Shield is more important. To protect it, they’re taking away support.”

Jordan injured his neck in his second game back, against the Falcons, while recording two tackles. He was inactive for Seattle’s next three contests, and it seemed fair to wonder how he’d cope with again not playing, how he’d handle another round of disappointment. This time, it turns out, the answer was quite well. He had sacks against the Rams and Cowboys, upping his season total to three—doubling his career total—in only four games. He added seven tackles against the Rams, setting himself up for a free-agent payday this spring.

As his comeback continues to unfurl, Jordan says all the right things. He says he had to expect some bruises after a two-year layoff, as his body acclimated to full-time contact again. He says he didn’t feel sorry for himself when he got injured after the Falcons game. He says he continued his routine, the meetings, the counseling sessions, all of it. Only Jordan knows for sure.

He knows something else, too. “I’ll play one way,” he says. “Fearless.”

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

<p>In the summer of 2015, while serving a one-year suspension from the NFL for failing drug tests, Dion Jordan disappeared. He didn’t return phone calls or respond to text messages sent by his agent, Doug Hendrickson, who kept hearing from Jordan’s concerned cousins. They told Hendrickson that Jordan was binge-drinking for weeks at a time by himself at home in Arizona.</p><p>Hendrickson eventually reached Jordan’s girlfriend, Paige Pettis. “Listen,” he told her, “we gotta get him out here.”</p><p><em>Out here </em>meant San Francisco, where Jordan is from and where Hendrickson is based. As Jordan recounts his version of the story, he says he was under the impression that Pettis planned the trip so they could watch his favorite baseball team, the Giants. And while they did catch a game, that does not appear to be the true purpose of their excursion. What unfolded the next morning was closer to an intervention.</p><p>“He came into my office and was just a f------ wreck,” Hendrickson says. “I mean, I would quantify it as literally near death. He looked homeless, just awful.”</p><p>Jordan wrapped both arms tightly around his agent’s shoulders and cried for 20 minutes. He needed a haircut, and he wore a ratty T-shirt and a long, stained black coat. No one spoke, as Jordan sobbed and sobbed. “I just knew that I had to do something to get myself back where I wanted to go,” Jordan says now, more than two years later. “Ya feel me?”</p><p>Hendrickson didn’t know what to do, so he did the only thing that came to mind. He walked Jordan across the street in downtown San Francisco, then pushed open the doors at Empower, the gym run by Tareq Azim, a trainer who’s more like a life coach. “Dion needs you,” Hendrickson said.</p><p>Azim did a double take. He couldn’t believe <em>that</em> was Dion Jordan, the Oregon star who was drafted by the Dolphins third overall in 2013. Azim recalled Jordan as a “freak” and a “badass.” He says, “I was blown away. I could have knocked him over. He looked that frail and just not healthy.”</p><p>They started with an honest, uncomfortable conversation. No small talk. This, Azim told Jordan, is life and death. Jordan opened up about his alcohol and drug use, how he’d drink often and all night and sometimes he’d take MDMA. Jordan was dizzy and yet comfortable. For the first time in a long time, he felt safe. But he also wondered: “What the f--- have I gotten myself into?”</p><p>They made a list of mental and emotional deficiencies, all the stuff that Jordan held onto, that tormented him. Then they put a plan together, right then, Day 1. “It wasn’t even how he ended up there,” Azim says. “It was simple.</p><p><em>“What are you hiding from?”</em></p><p>In the long, sad, anguished history of draft busts, there’s a checklist of common problems. Jordan struggled with most of them, from drinking and drug use to injury and ambivalence. Hence his plummet from promising young talent to football pariah in two seasons.</p><p>Jordan cops to all of it. He didn’t take his career seriously enough. He ignored anyone who warned him. He prioritized bad habits. He hung around the wrong friends. And he was distracted by South Beach and all that Miami glamour. As a rookie in 2013 Jordan had just 19 tackles and two sacks, playing in all 16 games as a Dolphins reserve. “My production was directly related to what I was doing off the field,” he says. “I put nothing into it. I was just showing up.”</p><p>He was 23 then, rich—his four-year contract was worth roughly $20 million—almost famous and living in Miami. He deserved to have fun, he reasoned, and he could handle it. He dabbled in molly and ecstasy and smoked marijuana. Mostly he liked to drink. He preferred hard alcohol and consumed all kinds. He told himself he’d party only on some weekends. That became every weekend, and that became every weekend and some weeknights. Eventually, he says, he could drink all night without blacking out. “It becomes exhausting,” Jordan says. “Because every day you’re trying to chase that feeling you had yesterday.”</p><p>The Dolphins had traded picks Nos. 12 and 42 to move up and draft Jordan, based almost entirely on his potential. He had managed only 14.5 sacks in four seasons at Oregon, where the Ducks rotated defensive linemen in shifts like hockey lines. Still, Jordan stood 6&#39; 6&quot; and weighed 248 pounds and ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, and that combination of size and speed is what made him so enticing. He ran faster than some NFL receivers.</p><p>That is, when he was on the field. The NFL suspended Jordan for four games to start the 2014 season after he tested positive for a stimulant on the league’s banned substance list, and he had two games added to that suspension for a failed drug test.</p><p>He never stopped partying during that first suspension. At that point he had not yet tried to quit. He says the Dolphins went out of their way to offer him help, and from the very top. His biggest supporter was Stephen Ross, the team’s owner and billionaire real estate developer, who checked in with Jordan regularly via phone calls and offered to take care of whatever treatment Jordan might need. “He did all he could to keep me a Miami Dolphin,” Jordan says. “They don’t let too many people make as many mistakes as I did.”</p><p>After more failed drug tests, Jordan was suspended for all of 2015. He lost $5.6 million in salary and bonus money, and he didn’t really care. His life was a mess, and the circumstances only made it worse. Per NFL rules he was banned from the team facility. He had no mentors, a serious drinking problem, money to spend and endless free time. “When things aren’t going his way, he doesn’t seek more attention by trying to cause chaos,” Azim says. “He hides. He locks himself in a room.”</p><p>Jordan had never been in that kind of trouble before. When he saw his name scrolling across the sports news ticker, he knew. He had “f----- up big time.”</p><p>“It was like my whole world crumbled,” he says. “I didn’t have anything but football, and then I didn’t have that.”</p><p>Back in San Francisco, Azim told Jordan his own story, emphasizing how the events of his life had led here, to this gym, his methods and athletes like Jordan who needed help. Azim’s family was from Afghanistan, where his grandfather was in the air force, stationed at Bagram Airfield in the late ’70s, before, Azim says, he was murdered by the communist regime. Given the danger, Azim’s family moved to Germany, where he was born a refugee. When they moved again, to America two years later, he started in sports as soon as he could run, learning taekwondo, boxing, soccer and football. He played linebacker at Fresno State.</p><p>After college, Azim returned to Afghanistan in 2004 to support his father, who he says had been in and out of mental hospitals as he dealt with severe depression. Azim planned to visit for a month and ended up staying for more than four years, working with youth soccer players and launching the Afghan Women’s Boxing Federation. He says two of his boxers were the daughters of a “notorious Taliban warlord.” But the federation was a success.</p><p>Azim returned to the U.S. in 2008, became an MMA coach (for welterweight champion Jake Shields, among others) and started to train pro football players. Raiders quarterbacks Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye became his first clients in 2009, and that led to a friendship with their coach, Tom Cable, who went to Seattle in 2011 and called Azim one day. “We’ve got this guy, if we can get him to unleash his potential, he’ll probably be one of the best things to happen to the NFL,” Cable said.</p><p>“Who is it?” Azim asked.</p><p>“His name is Marshawn,” Cable responded.</p><p><em>Marshawn Lynch</em>. So Azim opened Empower, where he trained Lynch and other NFL Pro Bowlers and MMA stars and celebrities and CEOs of tech startups. “I saw them struggling with the same disease I saw in Afghanistan,” he says. “That disease is fear. Fear paralyzes people.”</p><p>Says Jordan: “Fear paralyzed me.”</p><p>After the initial meeting with Azim, Jordan quit drinking. Or tried to. For the first few days, his hands shook and he felt sick. Azim kept him him busy, filling Jordan’s days with workouts, AA meetings and therapy sessions. He gave Jordan a book to read, <em>Purification of the Heart</em>, which explores Islamic spirituality. He assigned Jordan to complete one good deed a day. Jordan engaged in conversations with strangers he might previously have ignored and even once gave his sweatpants—the ones he was wearing—to a homeless person.</p><p>Azim expected what he calls “hiccups,” and the first one happened on Day 4 in that summer of ’15 when Jordan went AWOL. Azim didn’t hear from him for two days, and Jordan told him he had been drinking by himself. He apologized. “This is just really hard for me,” he said.</p><p>“Bro, you’re safe here,” Azim responded. “There’s no judgment. I got your back.”</p><p>Jordan moved from Arizona into the guest house of a family Hendrickson knew in San Francisco. He filled the idle hours by ordering Uber Eats and playing NBA2K, creating his own franchise and guiding it through season after season.</p><p>The trainer designed workouts to humble Jordan, to show him “you’re not as tough as you think you are,” Azim says. They focused on body-weight exercises. At first Jordan could do only a handful of push-ups on his fingertips. By the end the summer he could pump out more than 100.</p><p>Jordan attended AA meetings every day, sometimes twice, choosing not to speak at first but listening to the stories others told. He came to the same realization as many addicts: He wasn’t alone. He went longer between “hiccups,” and sometimes when he’d start drinking, like with friends or when visiting family, he’d call Azim and admit the truth, right then.</p><p>After six months of regular but uneven progress, Azim was in New York on business when a friend in the Hamptons suggested they stop by Stephen Ross’s estate. Azim did not know Ross, but they took a quiet stroll by the water as Azim filled the Dolphins owner in on Jordan’s progress. “Getting Dion healthy is my No. 1 priority,” Ross said.</p><p>When Azim returned to San Francisco, he told Jordan, “Listen, man, they’re going to take you back.” Jordan smiled. That’s all he wanted.</p><p>More important progress was already underway. In therapy, Jordan learned his carousing wasn’t really harmless partying but rather the way he masked deeper issues from his childhood he had never dealt with. “Fear,” Azim says.</p><p>Jordan grew up for part of his childhood in the Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco. He says his mother was a drug addict, and he saw her get physically abused. He says his dad was around much.</p><p>At age 12, Jordan and his two younger siblings were taken from their mother and sent to live with an aunt in Chandler, Ariz. That was the first time he realized his home life didn’t have to be so chaotic, and his mom got clean and moved there, too.</p><p>Jordan calls her “my dog” and “my angel.” But while he acknowledges she struggled with a disease, her actions in his childhood had a deep, lasting impact on him. “Her choosing [drugs] over her kids is probably the worst thing,” he says. “It hurt me more than anything. Even to this day, that was the first and only person who’s broken my heart to that extent.”</p><p>He pauses, looks away. “I love her so much,” he says.</p><p>Jordan buried all that pain. Just like he buried the memories of the time he almost burned to death in 2007, while trying to siphon gas from a car with a vacuum cleaner, which caught on fire. He says he’d often transfer gas from one family car to another this way. He spent a month in the burn unit at a local hospital, underwent skin grafts and tried to pretend that despite the physical scars—burns covered 40 percent of his body—the accident didn’t affect him. Doctors told him he’d never walk again, let alone play football.</p><p>Except he made it to the NFL, only to bury more pain, mostly by suppressing all his anger over the family members who saw dollar signs when he became a star. Jordan wanted to help—he <em>did</em> help—but he felt used.</p><p>While suspended, Jordan believed he had failed all those people who depended on him. Like the mom who kicked drugs only to watch her son succumb to alcohol. That hurt, so he drank. Reports surfaced that the Dolphins wanted to trade him. That stung, so he drank. He obtained reinstatement from the NFL in July 2016 and felt not peace but pressure. His solution: drink. “I decided to feel sorry for myself,” he says.</p><p>The more he went to therapy, the more he realized he had only one person to blame for all his problems: Dion Jordan. He’s asked how much responsibility he should take, given the events of his childhood, the expectations in the NFL, the family obligations. “All of it,” Jordan says. “At every turn, I had options. I could have spoken up and told someone I was hurting. I just pushed it down and kept moving.”</p><p>Azim and his therapist taught Jordan that trust is not weakness but strength. “That’s the true definition of manhood,” Azim says. “In the NFL, there’s this massive level of hypocrisy in the development of players. All these coaches and mentors who tell these players not to be vulnerable, not to show weakness.</p><p>“Someone like Dion just retreats.”</p><p>After his reinstatement, Jordan returned to Miami for the 2016 season. Except that he had injured his left knee during those workouts in San Francisco. The Dolphins put him on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list, shelving him for at least the first part of the season while he recovered. Here he was, 3,000 miles from Azim and his support system, alone and again not playing football. He figured he could have one drink when he went out. That became two drinks and then four. This “hiccup” was not one incident but a series of them. “It was getting worse and worse,” Azim says. “Like, oh, s---, this is getting dangerous.”</p><p>Out of options, a panicked Azim called an old friend: Cable, now the assistant head coach of the Seahawks. Azim knew that Cable’s son, Alex, had struggled with drug and alcohol addictions, gone to rehab at a wilderness retreat, changed his life and admirably decided to counsel other addicts. “This is driving me crazy,” Azim told Cable. “I’ve put in all this work and now he’s going to the dark side again. I’m legitimately heartbroken. Because I’m like, how has he given up after everything we’ve accomplished?”</p><p>“Don’t give up on him,” Cable responded.</p><p>The Dolphins allowed Jordan to return to San Francisco in December. He went back to Azim. They mapped out a daily schedule:</p><p><em><strong>All day</strong>—focus on yourself and winning</em><br><em><strong>9:20: </strong>pray for gratitude and forgiveness</em><br><em><strong>10:</strong> Empower training </em><em>camp</em><br><strong><em>11</em></strong><em><strong>:30:</strong> NFL Counselor Check-In</em><br><em><strong>Noon:</strong> AA meeting</em></p><p>Azim and Cable discussed possible next steps, and Cable suggested his son move to San Francisco to live with Jordan and help him sustain his sobriety. So Alex moved into Jordan’s one-bedroom apartment, sleeping on a pullout couch, accompanying Jordan to meetings and eating takeout with him every night. “It felt like Alex genuinely cared about me,” Jordan says.</p><p>“He didn’t ask me for anything.”</p><p>The Dolphins released Jordan in late March. He understood. Local writers tabbed him the biggest draft bust in team history. Still, more than a dozen teams reached out to Hendrickson to inquire about his status. Jordan wanted to stay on the west coast, if possible, to remain closer to his family in San Francisco and the trainer who changed his life.</p><p>Tom Cable’s presence in Seattle helped Jordan decide to sign with the Seahawks. Well, that and an unlikely voice of support. Azim happened to see Lynch, his longtime client, for a training session in the Bay Area. He handed over the list of teams that wanted to sign Jordan. Lynch glanced at the list quickly, then said, “Seattle is the best place for Dion,” citing Cable and the team’s support system.</p><p>Jordan says he hasn’t had a drop of alcohol since February, right around the Super Bowl. “I just have to wake up every morning and make the right decisions,” he says. “That’s on me.”</p><p>On Nov. 9, after two knee surgeries and months in physical rehabilitation, Jordan played in his first NFL game in more than 1,000 days. It took place a short drive from his aunt’s house, where he lived after he was taken from his mother. Both women were in the stands at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, along with Jordan’s siblings and a cadre of childhood friends.</p><p>Jordan put together his best career performance, registering 33 snaps, five quarterback pressures, two quarterback hits, two hurries and a sack. Coach Pete Carroll described Jordan as “a little raw at times.” But he also acknowledged the obvious: Not many humans could play like that after a 1,000-plus-day layoff.</p><p>Later that month Jordan and Pettis hosted their families for Thanksgiving. Jordan looked into the faces of all the people who had stood by him, who saw his struggles, whose warnings he had ignored as he nearly ruined his career and health. He thanked them. He also thanked Azim.</p><p>“Tareq saved his life,” Hendrickson says.</p><p>Now Jordan hopes to serve as something of a model for the NFL. He wants to show the league what players on one-year suspensions really need—full-time support, with the teams they play for, not some brief NFL symposium before their issues are compounded by the confluence of money, fame, free time and bad decisions. He remembers sitting in the first row of his rookie symposium, listening to Adam Jones try to scare the NFL neophytes straight with tales of players gone bad. That will never be me, he thought.</p><p>There’s a reason, Jordan says, that only a handful of players—himself, Josh Gordon, Johnny Jolly, a few others—have returned to the NFL after one-year suspensions. Banning players from facilities sets them up to fail, Jordan says. “As far as the NFL, the league is abandoning its players,” he says. “They’re saying the Shield is more important. To protect it, they’re taking away support.”</p><p>Jordan injured his neck in his second game back, against the Falcons, while recording two tackles. He was inactive for Seattle’s next three contests, and it seemed fair to wonder how he’d cope with again not playing, how he’d handle another round of disappointment. This time, it turns out, the answer was quite well. He had sacks against the Rams and Cowboys, upping his season total to three—doubling his career total—in only four games. He added seven tackles against the Rams, setting himself up for a free-agent payday this spring.</p><p>As his comeback continues to unfurl, Jordan says all the right things. He says he had to expect some bruises after a two-year layoff, as his body acclimated to full-time contact again. He says he didn’t feel sorry for himself when he got injured after the Falcons game. He says he continued his routine, the meetings, the counseling sessions, all of it. Only Jordan knows for sure.</p><p>He knows something else, too. “I’ll play one way,” he says. “Fearless.”</p><p><strong><em>Question or comment? </em></strong><em>Email us at <span>talkback@themmqb.com</span>.</em></p>
Dion Jordan: Draft Bust, Back from the Abyss

In the summer of 2015, while serving a one-year suspension from the NFL for failing drug tests, Dion Jordan disappeared. He didn’t return phone calls or respond to text messages sent by his agent, Doug Hendrickson, who kept hearing from Jordan’s concerned cousins. They told Hendrickson that Jordan was binge-drinking for weeks at a time by himself at home in Arizona.

Hendrickson eventually reached Jordan’s girlfriend, Paige Pettis. “Listen,” he told her, “we gotta get him out here.”

Out here meant San Francisco, where Jordan is from and where Hendrickson is based. As Jordan recounts his version of the story, he says he was under the impression that Pettis planned the trip so they could watch his favorite baseball team, the Giants. And while they did catch a game, that does not appear to be the true purpose of their excursion. What unfolded the next morning was closer to an intervention.

“He came into my office and was just a f------ wreck,” Hendrickson says. “I mean, I would quantify it as literally near death. He looked homeless, just awful.”

Jordan wrapped both arms tightly around his agent’s shoulders and cried for 20 minutes. He needed a haircut, and he wore a ratty T-shirt and a long, stained black coat. No one spoke, as Jordan sobbed and sobbed. “I just knew that I had to do something to get myself back where I wanted to go,” Jordan says now, more than two years later. “Ya feel me?”

Hendrickson didn’t know what to do, so he did the only thing that came to mind. He walked Jordan across the street in downtown San Francisco, then pushed open the doors at Empower, the gym run by Tareq Azim, a trainer who’s more like a life coach. “Dion needs you,” Hendrickson said.

Azim did a double take. He couldn’t believe that was Dion Jordan, the Oregon star who was drafted by the Dolphins third overall in 2013. Azim recalled Jordan as a “freak” and a “badass.” He says, “I was blown away. I could have knocked him over. He looked that frail and just not healthy.”

They started with an honest, uncomfortable conversation. No small talk. This, Azim told Jordan, is life and death. Jordan opened up about his alcohol and drug use, how he’d drink often and all night and sometimes he’d take MDMA. Jordan was dizzy and yet comfortable. For the first time in a long time, he felt safe. But he also wondered: “What the f--- have I gotten myself into?”

They made a list of mental and emotional deficiencies, all the stuff that Jordan held onto, that tormented him. Then they put a plan together, right then, Day 1. “It wasn’t even how he ended up there,” Azim says. “It was simple.

“What are you hiding from?”

In the long, sad, anguished history of draft busts, there’s a checklist of common problems. Jordan struggled with most of them, from drinking and drug use to injury and ambivalence. Hence his plummet from promising young talent to football pariah in two seasons.

Jordan cops to all of it. He didn’t take his career seriously enough. He ignored anyone who warned him. He prioritized bad habits. He hung around the wrong friends. And he was distracted by South Beach and all that Miami glamour. As a rookie in 2013 Jordan had just 19 tackles and two sacks, playing in all 16 games as a Dolphins reserve. “My production was directly related to what I was doing off the field,” he says. “I put nothing into it. I was just showing up.”

He was 23 then, rich—his four-year contract was worth roughly $20 million—almost famous and living in Miami. He deserved to have fun, he reasoned, and he could handle it. He dabbled in molly and ecstasy and smoked marijuana. Mostly he liked to drink. He preferred hard alcohol and consumed all kinds. He told himself he’d party only on some weekends. That became every weekend, and that became every weekend and some weeknights. Eventually, he says, he could drink all night without blacking out. “It becomes exhausting,” Jordan says. “Because every day you’re trying to chase that feeling you had yesterday.”

The Dolphins had traded picks Nos. 12 and 42 to move up and draft Jordan, based almost entirely on his potential. He had managed only 14.5 sacks in four seasons at Oregon, where the Ducks rotated defensive linemen in shifts like hockey lines. Still, Jordan stood 6' 6" and weighed 248 pounds and ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, and that combination of size and speed is what made him so enticing. He ran faster than some NFL receivers.

That is, when he was on the field. The NFL suspended Jordan for four games to start the 2014 season after he tested positive for a stimulant on the league’s banned substance list, and he had two games added to that suspension for a failed drug test.

He never stopped partying during that first suspension. At that point he had not yet tried to quit. He says the Dolphins went out of their way to offer him help, and from the very top. His biggest supporter was Stephen Ross, the team’s owner and billionaire real estate developer, who checked in with Jordan regularly via phone calls and offered to take care of whatever treatment Jordan might need. “He did all he could to keep me a Miami Dolphin,” Jordan says. “They don’t let too many people make as many mistakes as I did.”

After more failed drug tests, Jordan was suspended for all of 2015. He lost $5.6 million in salary and bonus money, and he didn’t really care. His life was a mess, and the circumstances only made it worse. Per NFL rules he was banned from the team facility. He had no mentors, a serious drinking problem, money to spend and endless free time. “When things aren’t going his way, he doesn’t seek more attention by trying to cause chaos,” Azim says. “He hides. He locks himself in a room.”

Jordan had never been in that kind of trouble before. When he saw his name scrolling across the sports news ticker, he knew. He had “f----- up big time.”

“It was like my whole world crumbled,” he says. “I didn’t have anything but football, and then I didn’t have that.”

Back in San Francisco, Azim told Jordan his own story, emphasizing how the events of his life had led here, to this gym, his methods and athletes like Jordan who needed help. Azim’s family was from Afghanistan, where his grandfather was in the air force, stationed at Bagram Airfield in the late ’70s, before, Azim says, he was murdered by the communist regime. Given the danger, Azim’s family moved to Germany, where he was born a refugee. When they moved again, to America two years later, he started in sports as soon as he could run, learning taekwondo, boxing, soccer and football. He played linebacker at Fresno State.

After college, Azim returned to Afghanistan in 2004 to support his father, who he says had been in and out of mental hospitals as he dealt with severe depression. Azim planned to visit for a month and ended up staying for more than four years, working with youth soccer players and launching the Afghan Women’s Boxing Federation. He says two of his boxers were the daughters of a “notorious Taliban warlord.” But the federation was a success.

Azim returned to the U.S. in 2008, became an MMA coach (for welterweight champion Jake Shields, among others) and started to train pro football players. Raiders quarterbacks Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye became his first clients in 2009, and that led to a friendship with their coach, Tom Cable, who went to Seattle in 2011 and called Azim one day. “We’ve got this guy, if we can get him to unleash his potential, he’ll probably be one of the best things to happen to the NFL,” Cable said.

“Who is it?” Azim asked.

“His name is Marshawn,” Cable responded.

Marshawn Lynch. So Azim opened Empower, where he trained Lynch and other NFL Pro Bowlers and MMA stars and celebrities and CEOs of tech startups. “I saw them struggling with the same disease I saw in Afghanistan,” he says. “That disease is fear. Fear paralyzes people.”

Says Jordan: “Fear paralyzed me.”

After the initial meeting with Azim, Jordan quit drinking. Or tried to. For the first few days, his hands shook and he felt sick. Azim kept him him busy, filling Jordan’s days with workouts, AA meetings and therapy sessions. He gave Jordan a book to read, Purification of the Heart, which explores Islamic spirituality. He assigned Jordan to complete one good deed a day. Jordan engaged in conversations with strangers he might previously have ignored and even once gave his sweatpants—the ones he was wearing—to a homeless person.

Azim expected what he calls “hiccups,” and the first one happened on Day 4 in that summer of ’15 when Jordan went AWOL. Azim didn’t hear from him for two days, and Jordan told him he had been drinking by himself. He apologized. “This is just really hard for me,” he said.

“Bro, you’re safe here,” Azim responded. “There’s no judgment. I got your back.”

Jordan moved from Arizona into the guest house of a family Hendrickson knew in San Francisco. He filled the idle hours by ordering Uber Eats and playing NBA2K, creating his own franchise and guiding it through season after season.

The trainer designed workouts to humble Jordan, to show him “you’re not as tough as you think you are,” Azim says. They focused on body-weight exercises. At first Jordan could do only a handful of push-ups on his fingertips. By the end the summer he could pump out more than 100.

Jordan attended AA meetings every day, sometimes twice, choosing not to speak at first but listening to the stories others told. He came to the same realization as many addicts: He wasn’t alone. He went longer between “hiccups,” and sometimes when he’d start drinking, like with friends or when visiting family, he’d call Azim and admit the truth, right then.

After six months of regular but uneven progress, Azim was in New York on business when a friend in the Hamptons suggested they stop by Stephen Ross’s estate. Azim did not know Ross, but they took a quiet stroll by the water as Azim filled the Dolphins owner in on Jordan’s progress. “Getting Dion healthy is my No. 1 priority,” Ross said.

When Azim returned to San Francisco, he told Jordan, “Listen, man, they’re going to take you back.” Jordan smiled. That’s all he wanted.

More important progress was already underway. In therapy, Jordan learned his carousing wasn’t really harmless partying but rather the way he masked deeper issues from his childhood he had never dealt with. “Fear,” Azim says.

Jordan grew up for part of his childhood in the Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco. He says his mother was a drug addict, and he saw her get physically abused. He says his dad was around much.

At age 12, Jordan and his two younger siblings were taken from their mother and sent to live with an aunt in Chandler, Ariz. That was the first time he realized his home life didn’t have to be so chaotic, and his mom got clean and moved there, too.

Jordan calls her “my dog” and “my angel.” But while he acknowledges she struggled with a disease, her actions in his childhood had a deep, lasting impact on him. “Her choosing [drugs] over her kids is probably the worst thing,” he says. “It hurt me more than anything. Even to this day, that was the first and only person who’s broken my heart to that extent.”

He pauses, looks away. “I love her so much,” he says.

Jordan buried all that pain. Just like he buried the memories of the time he almost burned to death in 2007, while trying to siphon gas from a car with a vacuum cleaner, which caught on fire. He says he’d often transfer gas from one family car to another this way. He spent a month in the burn unit at a local hospital, underwent skin grafts and tried to pretend that despite the physical scars—burns covered 40 percent of his body—the accident didn’t affect him. Doctors told him he’d never walk again, let alone play football.

Except he made it to the NFL, only to bury more pain, mostly by suppressing all his anger over the family members who saw dollar signs when he became a star. Jordan wanted to help—he did help—but he felt used.

While suspended, Jordan believed he had failed all those people who depended on him. Like the mom who kicked drugs only to watch her son succumb to alcohol. That hurt, so he drank. Reports surfaced that the Dolphins wanted to trade him. That stung, so he drank. He obtained reinstatement from the NFL in July 2016 and felt not peace but pressure. His solution: drink. “I decided to feel sorry for myself,” he says.

The more he went to therapy, the more he realized he had only one person to blame for all his problems: Dion Jordan. He’s asked how much responsibility he should take, given the events of his childhood, the expectations in the NFL, the family obligations. “All of it,” Jordan says. “At every turn, I had options. I could have spoken up and told someone I was hurting. I just pushed it down and kept moving.”

Azim and his therapist taught Jordan that trust is not weakness but strength. “That’s the true definition of manhood,” Azim says. “In the NFL, there’s this massive level of hypocrisy in the development of players. All these coaches and mentors who tell these players not to be vulnerable, not to show weakness.

“Someone like Dion just retreats.”

After his reinstatement, Jordan returned to Miami for the 2016 season. Except that he had injured his left knee during those workouts in San Francisco. The Dolphins put him on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list, shelving him for at least the first part of the season while he recovered. Here he was, 3,000 miles from Azim and his support system, alone and again not playing football. He figured he could have one drink when he went out. That became two drinks and then four. This “hiccup” was not one incident but a series of them. “It was getting worse and worse,” Azim says. “Like, oh, s---, this is getting dangerous.”

Out of options, a panicked Azim called an old friend: Cable, now the assistant head coach of the Seahawks. Azim knew that Cable’s son, Alex, had struggled with drug and alcohol addictions, gone to rehab at a wilderness retreat, changed his life and admirably decided to counsel other addicts. “This is driving me crazy,” Azim told Cable. “I’ve put in all this work and now he’s going to the dark side again. I’m legitimately heartbroken. Because I’m like, how has he given up after everything we’ve accomplished?”

“Don’t give up on him,” Cable responded.

The Dolphins allowed Jordan to return to San Francisco in December. He went back to Azim. They mapped out a daily schedule:

All day—focus on yourself and winning
9:20: pray for gratitude and forgiveness
10: Empower training camp
11:30: NFL Counselor Check-In
Noon: AA meeting

Azim and Cable discussed possible next steps, and Cable suggested his son move to San Francisco to live with Jordan and help him sustain his sobriety. So Alex moved into Jordan’s one-bedroom apartment, sleeping on a pullout couch, accompanying Jordan to meetings and eating takeout with him every night. “It felt like Alex genuinely cared about me,” Jordan says.

“He didn’t ask me for anything.”

The Dolphins released Jordan in late March. He understood. Local writers tabbed him the biggest draft bust in team history. Still, more than a dozen teams reached out to Hendrickson to inquire about his status. Jordan wanted to stay on the west coast, if possible, to remain closer to his family in San Francisco and the trainer who changed his life.

Tom Cable’s presence in Seattle helped Jordan decide to sign with the Seahawks. Well, that and an unlikely voice of support. Azim happened to see Lynch, his longtime client, for a training session in the Bay Area. He handed over the list of teams that wanted to sign Jordan. Lynch glanced at the list quickly, then said, “Seattle is the best place for Dion,” citing Cable and the team’s support system.

Jordan says he hasn’t had a drop of alcohol since February, right around the Super Bowl. “I just have to wake up every morning and make the right decisions,” he says. “That’s on me.”

On Nov. 9, after two knee surgeries and months in physical rehabilitation, Jordan played in his first NFL game in more than 1,000 days. It took place a short drive from his aunt’s house, where he lived after he was taken from his mother. Both women were in the stands at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, along with Jordan’s siblings and a cadre of childhood friends.

Jordan put together his best career performance, registering 33 snaps, five quarterback pressures, two quarterback hits, two hurries and a sack. Coach Pete Carroll described Jordan as “a little raw at times.” But he also acknowledged the obvious: Not many humans could play like that after a 1,000-plus-day layoff.

Later that month Jordan and Pettis hosted their families for Thanksgiving. Jordan looked into the faces of all the people who had stood by him, who saw his struggles, whose warnings he had ignored as he nearly ruined his career and health. He thanked them. He also thanked Azim.

“Tareq saved his life,” Hendrickson says.

Now Jordan hopes to serve as something of a model for the NFL. He wants to show the league what players on one-year suspensions really need—full-time support, with the teams they play for, not some brief NFL symposium before their issues are compounded by the confluence of money, fame, free time and bad decisions. He remembers sitting in the first row of his rookie symposium, listening to Adam Jones try to scare the NFL neophytes straight with tales of players gone bad. That will never be me, he thought.

There’s a reason, Jordan says, that only a handful of players—himself, Josh Gordon, Johnny Jolly, a few others—have returned to the NFL after one-year suspensions. Banning players from facilities sets them up to fail, Jordan says. “As far as the NFL, the league is abandoning its players,” he says. “They’re saying the Shield is more important. To protect it, they’re taking away support.”

Jordan injured his neck in his second game back, against the Falcons, while recording two tackles. He was inactive for Seattle’s next three contests, and it seemed fair to wonder how he’d cope with again not playing, how he’d handle another round of disappointment. This time, it turns out, the answer was quite well. He had sacks against the Rams and Cowboys, upping his season total to three—doubling his career total—in only four games. He added seven tackles against the Rams, setting himself up for a free-agent payday this spring.

As his comeback continues to unfurl, Jordan says all the right things. He says he had to expect some bruises after a two-year layoff, as his body acclimated to full-time contact again. He says he didn’t feel sorry for himself when he got injured after the Falcons game. He says he continued his routine, the meetings, the counseling sessions, all of it. Only Jordan knows for sure.

He knows something else, too. “I’ll play one way,” he says. “Fearless.”

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

<p>In the summer of 2015, while serving a one-year suspension from the NFL for failing drug tests, Dion Jordan disappeared. He didn’t return phone calls or respond to text messages sent by his agent, Doug Hendrickson, who kept hearing from Jordan’s concerned cousins. They told Hendrickson that Jordan was binge-drinking for weeks at a time by himself at home in Arizona.</p><p>Hendrickson eventually reached Jordan’s girlfriend, Paige Pettis. “Listen,” he told her, “we gotta get him out here.”</p><p><em>Out here </em>meant San Francisco, where Jordan is from and where Hendrickson is based. As Jordan recounts his version of the story, he says he was under the impression that Pettis planned the trip so they could watch his favorite baseball team, the Giants. And while they did catch a game, that does not appear to be the true purpose of their excursion. What unfolded the next morning was closer to an intervention.</p><p>“He came into my office and was just a f------ wreck,” Hendrickson says. “I mean, I would quantify it as literally near death. He looked homeless, just awful.”</p><p>Jordan wrapped both arms tightly around his agent’s shoulders and cried for 20 minutes. He needed a haircut, and he wore a ratty T-shirt and a long, stained black coat. No one spoke, as Jordan sobbed and sobbed. “I just knew that I had to do something to get myself back where I wanted to go,” Jordan says now, more than two years later. “Ya feel me?”</p><p>Hendrickson didn’t know what to do, so he did the only thing that came to mind. He walked Jordan across the street in downtown San Francisco, then pushed open the doors at Empower, the gym run by Tareq Azim, a trainer who’s more like a life coach. “Dion needs you,” Hendrickson said.</p><p>Azim did a double take. He couldn’t believe <em>that</em> was Dion Jordan, the Oregon star who was drafted by the Dolphins third overall in 2013. Azim recalled Jordan as a “freak” and a “badass.” He says, “I was blown away. I could have knocked him over. He looked that frail and just not healthy.”</p><p>They started with an honest, uncomfortable conversation. No small talk. This, Azim told Jordan, is life and death. Jordan opened up about his alcohol and drug use, how he’d drink often and all night and sometimes he’d take MDMA. Jordan was dizzy and yet comfortable. For the first time in a long time, he felt safe. But he also wondered: “What the f--- have I gotten myself into?”</p><p>They made a list of mental and emotional deficiencies, all the stuff that Jordan held onto, that tormented him. Then they put a plan together, right then, Day 1. “It wasn’t even how he ended up there,” Azim says. “It was simple.</p><p><em>“What are you hiding from?”</em></p><p>In the long, sad, anguished history of draft busts, there’s a checklist of common problems. Jordan struggled with most of them, from drinking and drug use to injury and ambivalence. Hence his plummet from promising young talent to football pariah in two seasons.</p><p>Jordan cops to all of it. He didn’t take his career seriously enough. He ignored anyone who warned him. He prioritized bad habits. He hung around the wrong friends. And he was distracted by South Beach and all that Miami glamour. As a rookie in 2013 Jordan had just 19 tackles and two sacks, playing in all 16 games as a Dolphins reserve. “My production was directly related to what I was doing off the field,” he says. “I put nothing into it. I was just showing up.”</p><p>He was 23 then, rich—his four-year contract was worth roughly $20 million—almost famous and living in Miami. He deserved to have fun, he reasoned, and he could handle it. He dabbled in molly and ecstasy and smoked marijuana. Mostly he liked to drink. He preferred hard alcohol and consumed all kinds. He told himself he’d party only on some weekends. That became every weekend, and that became every weekend and some weeknights. Eventually, he says, he could drink all night without blacking out. “It becomes exhausting,” Jordan says. “Because every day you’re trying to chase that feeling you had yesterday.”</p><p>The Dolphins had traded picks Nos. 12 and 42 to move up and draft Jordan, based almost entirely on his potential. He had managed only 14.5 sacks in four seasons at Oregon, where the Ducks rotated defensive linemen in shifts like hockey lines. Still, Jordan stood 6&#39; 6&quot; and weighed 248 pounds and ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, and that combination of size and speed is what made him so enticing. He ran faster than some NFL receivers.</p><p>That is, when he was on the field. The NFL suspended Jordan for four games to start the 2014 season after he tested positive for a stimulant on the league’s banned substance list, and he had two games added to that suspension for a failed drug test.</p><p>He never stopped partying during that first suspension. At that point he had not yet tried to quit. He says the Dolphins went out of their way to offer him help, and from the very top. His biggest supporter was Stephen Ross, the team’s owner and billionaire real estate developer, who checked in with Jordan regularly via phone calls and offered to take care of whatever treatment Jordan might need. “He did all he could to keep me a Miami Dolphin,” Jordan says. “They don’t let too many people make as many mistakes as I did.”</p><p>After more failed drug tests, Jordan was suspended for all of 2015. He lost $5.6 million in salary and bonus money, and he didn’t really care. His life was a mess, and the circumstances only made it worse. Per NFL rules he was banned from the team facility. He had no mentors, a serious drinking problem, money to spend and endless free time. “When things aren’t going his way, he doesn’t seek more attention by trying to cause chaos,” Azim says. “He hides. He locks himself in a room.”</p><p>Jordan had never been in that kind of trouble before. When he saw his name scrolling across the sports news ticker, he knew. He had “f----- up big time.”</p><p>“It was like my whole world crumbled,” he says. “I didn’t have anything but football, and then I didn’t have that.”</p><p>Back in San Francisco, Azim told Jordan his own story, emphasizing how the events of his life had led here, to this gym, his methods and athletes like Jordan who needed help. Azim’s family was from Afghanistan, where his grandfather was in the air force, stationed at Bagram Airfield in the late ’70s, before, Azim says, he was murdered by the communist regime. Given the danger, Azim’s family moved to Germany, where he was born a refugee. When they moved again, to America two years later, he started in sports as soon as he could run, learning taekwondo, boxing, soccer and football. He played linebacker at Fresno State.</p><p>After college, Azim returned to Afghanistan in 2004 to support his father, who he says had been in and out of mental hospitals as he dealt with severe depression. Azim planned to visit for a month and ended up staying for more than four years, working with youth soccer players and launching the Afghan Women’s Boxing Federation. He says two of his boxers were the daughters of a “notorious Taliban warlord.” But the federation was a success.</p><p>Azim returned to the U.S. in 2008, became an MMA coach (for welterweight champion Jake Shields, among others) and started to train pro football players. Raiders quarterbacks Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye became his first clients in 2009, and that led to a friendship with their coach, Tom Cable, who went to Seattle in 2011 and called Azim one day. “We’ve got this guy, if we can get him to unleash his potential, he’ll probably be one of the best things to happen to the NFL,” Cable said.</p><p>“Who is it?” Azim asked.</p><p>“His name is Marshawn,” Cable responded.</p><p><em>Marshawn Lynch</em>. So Azim opened Empower, where he trained Lynch and other NFL Pro Bowlers and MMA stars and celebrities and CEOs of tech startups. “I saw them struggling with the same disease I saw in Afghanistan,” he says. “That disease is fear. Fear paralyzes people.”</p><p>Says Jordan: “Fear paralyzed me.”</p><p>After the initial meeting with Azim, Jordan quit drinking. Or tried to. For the first few days, his hands shook and he felt sick. Azim kept him him busy, filling Jordan’s days with workouts, AA meetings and therapy sessions. He gave Jordan a book to read, <em>Purification of the Heart</em>, which explores Islamic spirituality. He assigned Jordan to complete one good deed a day. Jordan engaged in conversations with strangers he might previously have ignored and even once gave his sweatpants—the ones he was wearing—to a homeless person.</p><p>Azim expected what he calls “hiccups,” and the first one happened on Day 4 in that summer of ’15 when Jordan went AWOL. Azim didn’t hear from him for two days, and Jordan told him he had been drinking by himself. He apologized. “This is just really hard for me,” he said.</p><p>“Bro, you’re safe here,” Azim responded. “There’s no judgment. I got your back.”</p><p>Jordan moved from Arizona into the guest house of a family Hendrickson knew in San Francisco. He filled the idle hours by ordering Uber Eats and playing NBA2K, creating his own franchise and guiding it through season after season.</p><p>The trainer designed workouts to humble Jordan, to show him “you’re not as tough as you think you are,” Azim says. They focused on body-weight exercises. At first Jordan could do only a handful of push-ups on his fingertips. By the end the summer he could pump out more than 100.</p><p>Jordan attended AA meetings every day, sometimes twice, choosing not to speak at first but listening to the stories others told. He came to the same realization as many addicts: He wasn’t alone. He went longer between “hiccups,” and sometimes when he’d start drinking, like with friends or when visiting family, he’d call Azim and admit the truth, right then.</p><p>After six months of regular but uneven progress, Azim was in New York on business when a friend in the Hamptons suggested they stop by Stephen Ross’s estate. Azim did not know Ross, but they took a quiet stroll by the water as Azim filled the Dolphins owner in on Jordan’s progress. “Getting Dion healthy is my No. 1 priority,” Ross said.</p><p>When Azim returned to San Francisco, he told Jordan, “Listen, man, they’re going to take you back.” Jordan smiled. That’s all he wanted.</p><p>More important progress was already underway. In therapy, Jordan learned his carousing wasn’t really harmless partying but rather the way he masked deeper issues from his childhood he had never dealt with. “Fear,” Azim says.</p><p>Jordan grew up for part of his childhood in the Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco. He says his mother was a drug addict, and he saw her get physically abused. He says his dad was around much.</p><p>At age 12, Jordan and his two younger siblings were taken from their mother and sent to live with an aunt in Chandler, Ariz. That was the first time he realized his home life didn’t have to be so chaotic, and his mom got clean and moved there, too.</p><p>Jordan calls her “my dog” and “my angel.” But while he acknowledges she struggled with a disease, her actions in his childhood had a deep, lasting impact on him. “Her choosing [drugs] over her kids is probably the worst thing,” he says. “It hurt me more than anything. Even to this day, that was the first and only person who’s broken my heart to that extent.”</p><p>He pauses, looks away. “I love her so much,” he says.</p><p>Jordan buried all that pain. Just like he buried the memories of the time he almost burned to death in 2007, while trying to siphon gas from a car with a vacuum cleaner, which caught on fire. He says he’d often transfer gas from one family car to another this way. He spent a month in the burn unit at a local hospital, underwent skin grafts and tried to pretend that despite the physical scars—burns covered 40 percent of his body—the accident didn’t affect him. Doctors told him he’d never walk again, let alone play football.</p><p>Except he made it to the NFL, only to bury more pain, mostly by suppressing all his anger over the family members who saw dollar signs when he became a star. Jordan wanted to help—he <em>did</em> help—but he felt used.</p><p>While suspended, Jordan believed he had failed all those people who depended on him. Like the mom who kicked drugs only to watch her son succumb to alcohol. That hurt, so he drank. Reports surfaced that the Dolphins wanted to trade him. That stung, so he drank. He obtained reinstatement from the NFL in July 2016 and felt not peace but pressure. His solution: drink. “I decided to feel sorry for myself,” he says.</p><p>The more he went to therapy, the more he realized he had only one person to blame for all his problems: Dion Jordan. He’s asked how much responsibility he should take, given the events of his childhood, the expectations in the NFL, the family obligations. “All of it,” Jordan says. “At every turn, I had options. I could have spoken up and told someone I was hurting. I just pushed it down and kept moving.”</p><p>Azim and his therapist taught Jordan that trust is not weakness but strength. “That’s the true definition of manhood,” Azim says. “In the NFL, there’s this massive level of hypocrisy in the development of players. All these coaches and mentors who tell these players not to be vulnerable, not to show weakness.</p><p>“Someone like Dion just retreats.”</p><p>After his reinstatement, Jordan returned to Miami for the 2016 season. Except that he had injured his left knee during those workouts in San Francisco. The Dolphins put him on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list, shelving him for at least the first part of the season while he recovered. Here he was, 3,000 miles from Azim and his support system, alone and again not playing football. He figured he could have one drink when he went out. That became two drinks and then four. This “hiccup” was not one incident but a series of them. “It was getting worse and worse,” Azim says. “Like, oh, s---, this is getting dangerous.”</p><p>Out of options, a panicked Azim called an old friend: Cable, now the assistant head coach of the Seahawks. Azim knew that Cable’s son, Alex, had struggled with drug and alcohol addictions, gone to rehab at a wilderness retreat, changed his life and admirably decided to counsel other addicts. “This is driving me crazy,” Azim told Cable. “I’ve put in all this work and now he’s going to the dark side again. I’m legitimately heartbroken. Because I’m like, how has he given up after everything we’ve accomplished?”</p><p>“Don’t give up on him,” Cable responded.</p><p>The Dolphins allowed Jordan to return to San Francisco in December. He went back to Azim. They mapped out a daily schedule:</p><p><em><strong>All day</strong>—focus on yourself and winning</em><br><em><strong>9:20: </strong>pray for gratitude and forgiveness</em><br><em><strong>10:</strong> Empower training </em><em>camp</em><br><strong><em>11</em></strong><em><strong>:30:</strong> NFL Counselor Check-In</em><br><em><strong>Noon:</strong> AA meeting</em></p><p>Azim and Cable discussed possible next steps, and Cable suggested his son move to San Francisco to live with Jordan and help him sustain his sobriety. So Alex moved into Jordan’s one-bedroom apartment, sleeping on a pullout couch, accompanying Jordan to meetings and eating takeout with him every night. “It felt like Alex genuinely cared about me,” Jordan says.</p><p>“He didn’t ask me for anything.”</p><p>The Dolphins released Jordan in late March. He understood. Local writers tabbed him the biggest draft bust in team history. Still, more than a dozen teams reached out to Hendrickson to inquire about his status. Jordan wanted to stay on the west coast, if possible, to remain closer to his family in San Francisco and the trainer who changed his life.</p><p>Tom Cable’s presence in Seattle helped Jordan decide to sign with the Seahawks. Well, that and an unlikely voice of support. Azim happened to see Lynch, his longtime client, for a training session in the Bay Area. He handed over the list of teams that wanted to sign Jordan. Lynch glanced at the list quickly, then said, “Seattle is the best place for Dion,” citing Cable and the team’s support system.</p><p>Jordan says he hasn’t had a drop of alcohol since February, right around the Super Bowl. “I just have to wake up every morning and make the right decisions,” he says. “That’s on me.”</p><p>On Nov. 9, after two knee surgeries and months in physical rehabilitation, Jordan played in his first NFL game in more than 1,000 days. It took place a short drive from his aunt’s house, where he lived after he was taken from his mother. Both women were in the stands at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, along with Jordan’s siblings and a cadre of childhood friends.</p><p>Jordan put together his best career performance, registering 33 snaps, five quarterback pressures, two quarterback hits, two hurries and a sack. Coach Pete Carroll described Jordan as “a little raw at times.” But he also acknowledged the obvious: Not many humans could play like that after a 1,000-plus-day layoff.</p><p>Later that month Jordan and Pettis hosted their families for Thanksgiving. Jordan looked into the faces of all the people who had stood by him, who saw his struggles, whose warnings he had ignored as he nearly ruined his career and health. He thanked them. He also thanked Azim.</p><p>“Tareq saved his life,” Hendrickson says.</p><p>Now Jordan hopes to serve as something of a model for the NFL. He wants to show the league what players on one-year suspensions really need—full-time support, with the teams they play for, not some brief NFL symposium before their issues are compounded by the confluence of money, fame, free time and bad decisions. He remembers sitting in the first row of his rookie symposium, listening to Adam Jones try to scare the NFL neophytes straight with tales of players gone bad. That will never be me, he thought.</p><p>There’s a reason, Jordan says, that only a handful of players—himself, Josh Gordon, Johnny Jolly, a few others—have returned to the NFL after one-year suspensions. Banning players from facilities sets them up to fail, Jordan says. “As far as the NFL, the league is abandoning its players,” he says. “They’re saying the Shield is more important. To protect it, they’re taking away support.”</p><p>Jordan injured his neck in his second game back, against the Falcons, while recording two tackles. He was inactive for Seattle’s next three contests, and it seemed fair to wonder how he’d cope with again not playing, how he’d handle another round of disappointment. This time, it turns out, the answer was quite well. He had sacks against the Rams and Cowboys, upping his season total to three—doubling his career total—in only four games. He added seven tackles against the Rams, setting himself up for a free-agent payday this spring.</p><p>As his comeback continues to unfurl, Jordan says all the right things. He says he had to expect some bruises after a two-year layoff, as his body acclimated to full-time contact again. He says he didn’t feel sorry for himself when he got injured after the Falcons game. He says he continued his routine, the meetings, the counseling sessions, all of it. Only Jordan knows for sure.</p><p>He knows something else, too. “I’ll play one way,” he says. “Fearless.”</p><p><strong><em>Question or comment? </em></strong><em>Email us at <span>talkback@themmqb.com</span>.</em></p>
Dion Jordan: Draft Bust, Back from the Abyss

In the summer of 2015, while serving a one-year suspension from the NFL for failing drug tests, Dion Jordan disappeared. He didn’t return phone calls or respond to text messages sent by his agent, Doug Hendrickson, who kept hearing from Jordan’s concerned cousins. They told Hendrickson that Jordan was binge-drinking for weeks at a time by himself at home in Arizona.

Hendrickson eventually reached Jordan’s girlfriend, Paige Pettis. “Listen,” he told her, “we gotta get him out here.”

Out here meant San Francisco, where Jordan is from and where Hendrickson is based. As Jordan recounts his version of the story, he says he was under the impression that Pettis planned the trip so they could watch his favorite baseball team, the Giants. And while they did catch a game, that does not appear to be the true purpose of their excursion. What unfolded the next morning was closer to an intervention.

“He came into my office and was just a f------ wreck,” Hendrickson says. “I mean, I would quantify it as literally near death. He looked homeless, just awful.”

Jordan wrapped both arms tightly around his agent’s shoulders and cried for 20 minutes. He needed a haircut, and he wore a ratty T-shirt and a long, stained black coat. No one spoke, as Jordan sobbed and sobbed. “I just knew that I had to do something to get myself back where I wanted to go,” Jordan says now, more than two years later. “Ya feel me?”

Hendrickson didn’t know what to do, so he did the only thing that came to mind. He walked Jordan across the street in downtown San Francisco, then pushed open the doors at Empower, the gym run by Tareq Azim, a trainer who’s more like a life coach. “Dion needs you,” Hendrickson said.

Azim did a double take. He couldn’t believe that was Dion Jordan, the Oregon star who was drafted by the Dolphins third overall in 2013. Azim recalled Jordan as a “freak” and a “badass.” He says, “I was blown away. I could have knocked him over. He looked that frail and just not healthy.”

They started with an honest, uncomfortable conversation. No small talk. This, Azim told Jordan, is life and death. Jordan opened up about his alcohol and drug use, how he’d drink often and all night and sometimes he’d take MDMA. Jordan was dizzy and yet comfortable. For the first time in a long time, he felt safe. But he also wondered: “What the f--- have I gotten myself into?”

They made a list of mental and emotional deficiencies, all the stuff that Jordan held onto, that tormented him. Then they put a plan together, right then, Day 1. “It wasn’t even how he ended up there,” Azim says. “It was simple.

“What are you hiding from?”

In the long, sad, anguished history of draft busts, there’s a checklist of common problems. Jordan struggled with most of them, from drinking and drug use to injury and ambivalence. Hence his plummet from promising young talent to football pariah in two seasons.

Jordan cops to all of it. He didn’t take his career seriously enough. He ignored anyone who warned him. He prioritized bad habits. He hung around the wrong friends. And he was distracted by South Beach and all that Miami glamour. As a rookie in 2013 Jordan had just 19 tackles and two sacks, playing in all 16 games as a Dolphins reserve. “My production was directly related to what I was doing off the field,” he says. “I put nothing into it. I was just showing up.”

He was 23 then, rich—his four-year contract was worth roughly $20 million—almost famous and living in Miami. He deserved to have fun, he reasoned, and he could handle it. He dabbled in molly and ecstasy and smoked marijuana. Mostly he liked to drink. He preferred hard alcohol and consumed all kinds. He told himself he’d party only on some weekends. That became every weekend, and that became every weekend and some weeknights. Eventually, he says, he could drink all night without blacking out. “It becomes exhausting,” Jordan says. “Because every day you’re trying to chase that feeling you had yesterday.”

The Dolphins had traded picks Nos. 12 and 42 to move up and draft Jordan, based almost entirely on his potential. He had managed only 14.5 sacks in four seasons at Oregon, where the Ducks rotated defensive linemen in shifts like hockey lines. Still, Jordan stood 6' 6" and weighed 248 pounds and ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, and that combination of size and speed is what made him so enticing. He ran faster than some NFL receivers.

That is, when he was on the field. The NFL suspended Jordan for four games to start the 2014 season after he tested positive for a stimulant on the league’s banned substance list, and he had two games added to that suspension for a failed drug test.

He never stopped partying during that first suspension. At that point he had not yet tried to quit. He says the Dolphins went out of their way to offer him help, and from the very top. His biggest supporter was Stephen Ross, the team’s owner and billionaire real estate developer, who checked in with Jordan regularly via phone calls and offered to take care of whatever treatment Jordan might need. “He did all he could to keep me a Miami Dolphin,” Jordan says. “They don’t let too many people make as many mistakes as I did.”

After more failed drug tests, Jordan was suspended for all of 2015. He lost $5.6 million in salary and bonus money, and he didn’t really care. His life was a mess, and the circumstances only made it worse. Per NFL rules he was banned from the team facility. He had no mentors, a serious drinking problem, money to spend and endless free time. “When things aren’t going his way, he doesn’t seek more attention by trying to cause chaos,” Azim says. “He hides. He locks himself in a room.”

Jordan had never been in that kind of trouble before. When he saw his name scrolling across the sports news ticker, he knew. He had “f----- up big time.”

“It was like my whole world crumbled,” he says. “I didn’t have anything but football, and then I didn’t have that.”

Back in San Francisco, Azim told Jordan his own story, emphasizing how the events of his life had led here, to this gym, his methods and athletes like Jordan who needed help. Azim’s family was from Afghanistan, where his grandfather was in the air force, stationed at Bagram Airfield in the late ’70s, before, Azim says, he was murdered by the communist regime. Given the danger, Azim’s family moved to Germany, where he was born a refugee. When they moved again, to America two years later, he started in sports as soon as he could run, learning taekwondo, boxing, soccer and football. He played linebacker at Fresno State.

After college, Azim returned to Afghanistan in 2004 to support his father, who he says had been in and out of mental hospitals as he dealt with severe depression. Azim planned to visit for a month and ended up staying for more than four years, working with youth soccer players and launching the Afghan Women’s Boxing Federation. He says two of his boxers were the daughters of a “notorious Taliban warlord.” But the federation was a success.

Azim returned to the U.S. in 2008, became an MMA coach (for welterweight champion Jake Shields, among others) and started to train pro football players. Raiders quarterbacks Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye became his first clients in 2009, and that led to a friendship with their coach, Tom Cable, who went to Seattle in 2011 and called Azim one day. “We’ve got this guy, if we can get him to unleash his potential, he’ll probably be one of the best things to happen to the NFL,” Cable said.

“Who is it?” Azim asked.

“His name is Marshawn,” Cable responded.

Marshawn Lynch. So Azim opened Empower, where he trained Lynch and other NFL Pro Bowlers and MMA stars and celebrities and CEOs of tech startups. “I saw them struggling with the same disease I saw in Afghanistan,” he says. “That disease is fear. Fear paralyzes people.”

Says Jordan: “Fear paralyzed me.”

After the initial meeting with Azim, Jordan quit drinking. Or tried to. For the first few days, his hands shook and he felt sick. Azim kept him him busy, filling Jordan’s days with workouts, AA meetings and therapy sessions. He gave Jordan a book to read, Purification of the Heart, which explores Islamic spirituality. He assigned Jordan to complete one good deed a day. Jordan engaged in conversations with strangers he might previously have ignored and even once gave his sweatpants—the ones he was wearing—to a homeless person.

Azim expected what he calls “hiccups,” and the first one happened on Day 4 in that summer of ’15 when Jordan went AWOL. Azim didn’t hear from him for two days, and Jordan told him he had been drinking by himself. He apologized. “This is just really hard for me,” he said.

“Bro, you’re safe here,” Azim responded. “There’s no judgment. I got your back.”

Jordan moved from Arizona into the guest house of a family Hendrickson knew in San Francisco. He filled the idle hours by ordering Uber Eats and playing NBA2K, creating his own franchise and guiding it through season after season.

The trainer designed workouts to humble Jordan, to show him “you’re not as tough as you think you are,” Azim says. They focused on body-weight exercises. At first Jordan could do only a handful of push-ups on his fingertips. By the end the summer he could pump out more than 100.

Jordan attended AA meetings every day, sometimes twice, choosing not to speak at first but listening to the stories others told. He came to the same realization as many addicts: He wasn’t alone. He went longer between “hiccups,” and sometimes when he’d start drinking, like with friends or when visiting family, he’d call Azim and admit the truth, right then.

After six months of regular but uneven progress, Azim was in New York on business when a friend in the Hamptons suggested they stop by Stephen Ross’s estate. Azim did not know Ross, but they took a quiet stroll by the water as Azim filled the Dolphins owner in on Jordan’s progress. “Getting Dion healthy is my No. 1 priority,” Ross said.

When Azim returned to San Francisco, he told Jordan, “Listen, man, they’re going to take you back.” Jordan smiled. That’s all he wanted.

More important progress was already underway. In therapy, Jordan learned his carousing wasn’t really harmless partying but rather the way he masked deeper issues from his childhood he had never dealt with. “Fear,” Azim says.

Jordan grew up for part of his childhood in the Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco. He says his mother was a drug addict, and he saw her get physically abused. He says his dad was around much.

At age 12, Jordan and his two younger siblings were taken from their mother and sent to live with an aunt in Chandler, Ariz. That was the first time he realized his home life didn’t have to be so chaotic, and his mom got clean and moved there, too.

Jordan calls her “my dog” and “my angel.” But while he acknowledges she struggled with a disease, her actions in his childhood had a deep, lasting impact on him. “Her choosing [drugs] over her kids is probably the worst thing,” he says. “It hurt me more than anything. Even to this day, that was the first and only person who’s broken my heart to that extent.”

He pauses, looks away. “I love her so much,” he says.

Jordan buried all that pain. Just like he buried the memories of the time he almost burned to death in 2007, while trying to siphon gas from a car with a vacuum cleaner, which caught on fire. He says he’d often transfer gas from one family car to another this way. He spent a month in the burn unit at a local hospital, underwent skin grafts and tried to pretend that despite the physical scars—burns covered 40 percent of his body—the accident didn’t affect him. Doctors told him he’d never walk again, let alone play football.

Except he made it to the NFL, only to bury more pain, mostly by suppressing all his anger over the family members who saw dollar signs when he became a star. Jordan wanted to help—he did help—but he felt used.

While suspended, Jordan believed he had failed all those people who depended on him. Like the mom who kicked drugs only to watch her son succumb to alcohol. That hurt, so he drank. Reports surfaced that the Dolphins wanted to trade him. That stung, so he drank. He obtained reinstatement from the NFL in July 2016 and felt not peace but pressure. His solution: drink. “I decided to feel sorry for myself,” he says.

The more he went to therapy, the more he realized he had only one person to blame for all his problems: Dion Jordan. He’s asked how much responsibility he should take, given the events of his childhood, the expectations in the NFL, the family obligations. “All of it,” Jordan says. “At every turn, I had options. I could have spoken up and told someone I was hurting. I just pushed it down and kept moving.”

Azim and his therapist taught Jordan that trust is not weakness but strength. “That’s the true definition of manhood,” Azim says. “In the NFL, there’s this massive level of hypocrisy in the development of players. All these coaches and mentors who tell these players not to be vulnerable, not to show weakness.

“Someone like Dion just retreats.”

After his reinstatement, Jordan returned to Miami for the 2016 season. Except that he had injured his left knee during those workouts in San Francisco. The Dolphins put him on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list, shelving him for at least the first part of the season while he recovered. Here he was, 3,000 miles from Azim and his support system, alone and again not playing football. He figured he could have one drink when he went out. That became two drinks and then four. This “hiccup” was not one incident but a series of them. “It was getting worse and worse,” Azim says. “Like, oh, s---, this is getting dangerous.”

Out of options, a panicked Azim called an old friend: Cable, now the assistant head coach of the Seahawks. Azim knew that Cable’s son, Alex, had struggled with drug and alcohol addictions, gone to rehab at a wilderness retreat, changed his life and admirably decided to counsel other addicts. “This is driving me crazy,” Azim told Cable. “I’ve put in all this work and now he’s going to the dark side again. I’m legitimately heartbroken. Because I’m like, how has he given up after everything we’ve accomplished?”

“Don’t give up on him,” Cable responded.

The Dolphins allowed Jordan to return to San Francisco in December. He went back to Azim. They mapped out a daily schedule:

All day—focus on yourself and winning
9:20: pray for gratitude and forgiveness
10: Empower training camp
11:30: NFL Counselor Check-In
Noon: AA meeting

Azim and Cable discussed possible next steps, and Cable suggested his son move to San Francisco to live with Jordan and help him sustain his sobriety. So Alex moved into Jordan’s one-bedroom apartment, sleeping on a pullout couch, accompanying Jordan to meetings and eating takeout with him every night. “It felt like Alex genuinely cared about me,” Jordan says.

“He didn’t ask me for anything.”

The Dolphins released Jordan in late March. He understood. Local writers tabbed him the biggest draft bust in team history. Still, more than a dozen teams reached out to Hendrickson to inquire about his status. Jordan wanted to stay on the west coast, if possible, to remain closer to his family in San Francisco and the trainer who changed his life.

Tom Cable’s presence in Seattle helped Jordan decide to sign with the Seahawks. Well, that and an unlikely voice of support. Azim happened to see Lynch, his longtime client, for a training session in the Bay Area. He handed over the list of teams that wanted to sign Jordan. Lynch glanced at the list quickly, then said, “Seattle is the best place for Dion,” citing Cable and the team’s support system.

Jordan says he hasn’t had a drop of alcohol since February, right around the Super Bowl. “I just have to wake up every morning and make the right decisions,” he says. “That’s on me.”

On Nov. 9, after two knee surgeries and months in physical rehabilitation, Jordan played in his first NFL game in more than 1,000 days. It took place a short drive from his aunt’s house, where he lived after he was taken from his mother. Both women were in the stands at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, along with Jordan’s siblings and a cadre of childhood friends.

Jordan put together his best career performance, registering 33 snaps, five quarterback pressures, two quarterback hits, two hurries and a sack. Coach Pete Carroll described Jordan as “a little raw at times.” But he also acknowledged the obvious: Not many humans could play like that after a 1,000-plus-day layoff.

Later that month Jordan and Pettis hosted their families for Thanksgiving. Jordan looked into the faces of all the people who had stood by him, who saw his struggles, whose warnings he had ignored as he nearly ruined his career and health. He thanked them. He also thanked Azim.

“Tareq saved his life,” Hendrickson says.

Now Jordan hopes to serve as something of a model for the NFL. He wants to show the league what players on one-year suspensions really need—full-time support, with the teams they play for, not some brief NFL symposium before their issues are compounded by the confluence of money, fame, free time and bad decisions. He remembers sitting in the first row of his rookie symposium, listening to Adam Jones try to scare the NFL neophytes straight with tales of players gone bad. That will never be me, he thought.

There’s a reason, Jordan says, that only a handful of players—himself, Josh Gordon, Johnny Jolly, a few others—have returned to the NFL after one-year suspensions. Banning players from facilities sets them up to fail, Jordan says. “As far as the NFL, the league is abandoning its players,” he says. “They’re saying the Shield is more important. To protect it, they’re taking away support.”

Jordan injured his neck in his second game back, against the Falcons, while recording two tackles. He was inactive for Seattle’s next three contests, and it seemed fair to wonder how he’d cope with again not playing, how he’d handle another round of disappointment. This time, it turns out, the answer was quite well. He had sacks against the Rams and Cowboys, upping his season total to three—doubling his career total—in only four games. He added seven tackles against the Rams, setting himself up for a free-agent payday this spring.

As his comeback continues to unfurl, Jordan says all the right things. He says he had to expect some bruises after a two-year layoff, as his body acclimated to full-time contact again. He says he didn’t feel sorry for himself when he got injured after the Falcons game. He says he continued his routine, the meetings, the counseling sessions, all of it. Only Jordan knows for sure.

He knows something else, too. “I’ll play one way,” he says. “Fearless.”

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

<p>Walkden successfully defended her world taekwondo heavyweight crown in South Korea before winning back-to-back Grand Prix events, including her maiden title in Moscow in August. </p>
Bianca Walkden (Taekwondo)

Walkden successfully defended her world taekwondo heavyweight crown in South Korea before winning back-to-back Grand Prix events, including her maiden title in Moscow in August.

If there was any doubt that the growth of Mixed Martial Arts had slowed in any way, this last month has proven that the sport is burgeoning powerfully into new territories - with extraordinary interest and backing. Bellator MMA enjoyed a sell out event in Tel Aviv, Israel, last week - where even PM Benjamin Netanyahu met prominent legends from the sport - before the fight league moves to Florence, Italy, next month, while the UFC has its first show in mainland China tomorrow as Britain&#39;s Michael Bisping, recently deposed as the middleweight king, returns to action just 21 days after fighting Georges St Pierre, in a headliner with Kelvin Gastelum in Shanghai. The sport, whose traditional stronghold is the United States, rarely stops for breath. In Tel Aviv, rocking to the strains of a new wave supporting the combat sport, Bellator 188 competitors Noad Lahat, who once served in that country&#39;s special forces, and Haim Gozali along with heavyweight legend Fedor Emelianenko and Bellator brand ambassador Royce Gracie, met with Prime Minister of Israel Netanyahu at the nation’s Parliament in Jerusalem. Netanyahu, 68, moreover, has a personal interest in martial arts, having been a practitioner of taekwondo - the Olympic sport - during his life, and during the visit, Netanyahu expressed his support for the Bellator event, the second show in Israel and wghuch featured two prominent Israeli fighters at the top of the card, as Lahat and Gozali competed in co-main events, both winning their bouts. Noad Lahat celebrates victory in Tel Aviv Credit: Lucas Noonan/Bellator Additionally, the preliminary bouts featured many of Israel’s best up-and-coming regional talent. &quot;To have our second event sell out there was incredible, as it was having the support of influential figures such as the Prime Minister, and just shows the level of interest in that country,&quot; Bellator CEO Scott Coker told Telegraph Sport. &quot;Every time we go to a new territory we want to show the people and the fans that it is not a one shot deal. As we have with the UK, Italy, Hungary, and other developing territories, we want to show a commitment to growing the sport there, and having local fighters on the card. Getting eyes on the sport remains vitally important. MMA is here to stay.&quot; Bellator, indeed, announced officially that they will return to Tel Aviv again next year. Bellator also returns to Florence, Italy on Saturday, December 9, when both Bellator MMA and Bellator Kickboxing, along with Oktagon, emanate from the Nelson Mandela Forum for another huge evening of combat sports action. Bellator 190 will be headlined by current middleweight champ Rafael Carvalho (14-1), who will defend his title against Italy’s popular knockout artist, Alessio “Legionarius” Sakara (19-11, 2 NC). In addition, Brandon Girtz (14-7) takes on Luca Jelcic (10-2) at lightweight, while Mihail Nica (6-0) meets Carlos Miranda (10-3) in second lightweight clash. A women’s flyweight offering rounds out the card when Lena Ovchynnikova (12-4, 1 NC) battles Alejandra Lara (6-1). Meanwhile, Bellator Kickboxing 8 will boast a pair of world champions in Raymond Daniels (12-3) and Kevin Ross (45-12) taking on Giannis Boukis (27-1) and Hamza Imane (49-12-2) respectively, in non-title fights.
MMA continues growth in Middle East Europe and China
If there was any doubt that the growth of Mixed Martial Arts had slowed in any way, this last month has proven that the sport is burgeoning powerfully into new territories - with extraordinary interest and backing. Bellator MMA enjoyed a sell out event in Tel Aviv, Israel, last week - where even PM Benjamin Netanyahu met prominent legends from the sport - before the fight league moves to Florence, Italy, next month, while the UFC has its first show in mainland China tomorrow as Britain's Michael Bisping, recently deposed as the middleweight king, returns to action just 21 days after fighting Georges St Pierre, in a headliner with Kelvin Gastelum in Shanghai. The sport, whose traditional stronghold is the United States, rarely stops for breath. In Tel Aviv, rocking to the strains of a new wave supporting the combat sport, Bellator 188 competitors Noad Lahat, who once served in that country's special forces, and Haim Gozali along with heavyweight legend Fedor Emelianenko and Bellator brand ambassador Royce Gracie, met with Prime Minister of Israel Netanyahu at the nation’s Parliament in Jerusalem. Netanyahu, 68, moreover, has a personal interest in martial arts, having been a practitioner of taekwondo - the Olympic sport - during his life, and during the visit, Netanyahu expressed his support for the Bellator event, the second show in Israel and wghuch featured two prominent Israeli fighters at the top of the card, as Lahat and Gozali competed in co-main events, both winning their bouts. Noad Lahat celebrates victory in Tel Aviv Credit: Lucas Noonan/Bellator Additionally, the preliminary bouts featured many of Israel’s best up-and-coming regional talent. "To have our second event sell out there was incredible, as it was having the support of influential figures such as the Prime Minister, and just shows the level of interest in that country," Bellator CEO Scott Coker told Telegraph Sport. "Every time we go to a new territory we want to show the people and the fans that it is not a one shot deal. As we have with the UK, Italy, Hungary, and other developing territories, we want to show a commitment to growing the sport there, and having local fighters on the card. Getting eyes on the sport remains vitally important. MMA is here to stay." Bellator, indeed, announced officially that they will return to Tel Aviv again next year. Bellator also returns to Florence, Italy on Saturday, December 9, when both Bellator MMA and Bellator Kickboxing, along with Oktagon, emanate from the Nelson Mandela Forum for another huge evening of combat sports action. Bellator 190 will be headlined by current middleweight champ Rafael Carvalho (14-1), who will defend his title against Italy’s popular knockout artist, Alessio “Legionarius” Sakara (19-11, 2 NC). In addition, Brandon Girtz (14-7) takes on Luca Jelcic (10-2) at lightweight, while Mihail Nica (6-0) meets Carlos Miranda (10-3) in second lightweight clash. A women’s flyweight offering rounds out the card when Lena Ovchynnikova (12-4, 1 NC) battles Alejandra Lara (6-1). Meanwhile, Bellator Kickboxing 8 will boast a pair of world champions in Raymond Daniels (12-3) and Kevin Ross (45-12) taking on Giannis Boukis (27-1) and Hamza Imane (49-12-2) respectively, in non-title fights.
If there was any doubt that the growth of Mixed Martial Arts had slowed in any way, this last month has proven that the sport is burgeoning powerfully into new territories - with extraordinary interest and backing. Bellator MMA enjoyed a sell out event in Tel Aviv, Israel, last week - where even PM Benjamin Netanyahu met prominent legends from the sport - before the fight league moves to Florence, Italy, next month, while the UFC has its first show in mainland China tomorrow as Britain&#39;s Michael Bisping, recently deposed as the middleweight king, returns to action just 21 days after fighting Georges St Pierre, in a headliner with Kelvin Gastelum in Shanghai. The sport, whose traditional stronghold is the United States, rarely stops for breath. In Tel Aviv, rocking to the strains of a new wave supporting the combat sport, Bellator 188 competitors Noad Lahat, who once served in that country&#39;s special forces, and Haim Gozali along with heavyweight legend Fedor Emelianenko and Bellator brand ambassador Royce Gracie, met with Prime Minister of Israel Netanyahu at the nation’s Parliament in Jerusalem. Netanyahu, 68, moreover, has a personal interest in martial arts, having been a practitioner of taekwondo - the Olympic sport - during his life, and during the visit, Netanyahu expressed his support for the Bellator event, the second show in Israel and wghuch featured two prominent Israeli fighters at the top of the card, as Lahat and Gozali competed in co-main events, both winning their bouts. Noad Lahat celebrates victory in Tel Aviv Credit: Lucas Noonan/Bellator Additionally, the preliminary bouts featured many of Israel’s best up-and-coming regional talent. &quot;To have our second event sell out there was incredible, as it was having the support of influential figures such as the Prime Minister, and just shows the level of interest in that country,&quot; Bellator CEO Scott Coker told Telegraph Sport. &quot;Every time we go to a new territory we want to show the people and the fans that it is not a one shot deal. As we have with the UK, Italy, Hungary, and other developing territories, we want to show a commitment to growing the sport there, and having local fighters on the card. Getting eyes on the sport remains vitally important. MMA is here to stay.&quot; Bellator, indeed, announced officially that they will return to Tel Aviv again next year. Bellator also returns to Florence, Italy on Saturday, December 9, when both Bellator MMA and Bellator Kickboxing, along with Oktagon, emanate from the Nelson Mandela Forum for another huge evening of combat sports action. Bellator 190 will be headlined by current middleweight champ Rafael Carvalho (14-1), who will defend his title against Italy’s popular knockout artist, Alessio “Legionarius” Sakara (19-11, 2 NC). In addition, Brandon Girtz (14-7) takes on Luca Jelcic (10-2) at lightweight, while Mihail Nica (6-0) meets Carlos Miranda (10-3) in second lightweight clash. A women’s flyweight offering rounds out the card when Lena Ovchynnikova (12-4, 1 NC) battles Alejandra Lara (6-1). Meanwhile, Bellator Kickboxing 8 will boast a pair of world champions in Raymond Daniels (12-3) and Kevin Ross (45-12) taking on Giannis Boukis (27-1) and Hamza Imane (49-12-2) respectively, in non-title fights.
MMA continues growth in Middle East Europe and China
If there was any doubt that the growth of Mixed Martial Arts had slowed in any way, this last month has proven that the sport is burgeoning powerfully into new territories - with extraordinary interest and backing. Bellator MMA enjoyed a sell out event in Tel Aviv, Israel, last week - where even PM Benjamin Netanyahu met prominent legends from the sport - before the fight league moves to Florence, Italy, next month, while the UFC has its first show in mainland China tomorrow as Britain's Michael Bisping, recently deposed as the middleweight king, returns to action just 21 days after fighting Georges St Pierre, in a headliner with Kelvin Gastelum in Shanghai. The sport, whose traditional stronghold is the United States, rarely stops for breath. In Tel Aviv, rocking to the strains of a new wave supporting the combat sport, Bellator 188 competitors Noad Lahat, who once served in that country's special forces, and Haim Gozali along with heavyweight legend Fedor Emelianenko and Bellator brand ambassador Royce Gracie, met with Prime Minister of Israel Netanyahu at the nation’s Parliament in Jerusalem. Netanyahu, 68, moreover, has a personal interest in martial arts, having been a practitioner of taekwondo - the Olympic sport - during his life, and during the visit, Netanyahu expressed his support for the Bellator event, the second show in Israel and wghuch featured two prominent Israeli fighters at the top of the card, as Lahat and Gozali competed in co-main events, both winning their bouts. Noad Lahat celebrates victory in Tel Aviv Credit: Lucas Noonan/Bellator Additionally, the preliminary bouts featured many of Israel’s best up-and-coming regional talent. "To have our second event sell out there was incredible, as it was having the support of influential figures such as the Prime Minister, and just shows the level of interest in that country," Bellator CEO Scott Coker told Telegraph Sport. "Every time we go to a new territory we want to show the people and the fans that it is not a one shot deal. As we have with the UK, Italy, Hungary, and other developing territories, we want to show a commitment to growing the sport there, and having local fighters on the card. Getting eyes on the sport remains vitally important. MMA is here to stay." Bellator, indeed, announced officially that they will return to Tel Aviv again next year. Bellator also returns to Florence, Italy on Saturday, December 9, when both Bellator MMA and Bellator Kickboxing, along with Oktagon, emanate from the Nelson Mandela Forum for another huge evening of combat sports action. Bellator 190 will be headlined by current middleweight champ Rafael Carvalho (14-1), who will defend his title against Italy’s popular knockout artist, Alessio “Legionarius” Sakara (19-11, 2 NC). In addition, Brandon Girtz (14-7) takes on Luca Jelcic (10-2) at lightweight, while Mihail Nica (6-0) meets Carlos Miranda (10-3) in second lightweight clash. A women’s flyweight offering rounds out the card when Lena Ovchynnikova (12-4, 1 NC) battles Alejandra Lara (6-1). Meanwhile, Bellator Kickboxing 8 will boast a pair of world champions in Raymond Daniels (12-3) and Kevin Ross (45-12) taking on Giannis Boukis (27-1) and Hamza Imane (49-12-2) respectively, in non-title fights.

What to Read Next