Imagine working for two seasons at a junior college in southern Mississippi, working hard enough to earn a college scholarship at the FBS level – and even working hard enough to enroll a semester early at your new institution to help get acclimated to life at the next level.
Throughout spring practice, summer workouts and preseason camp you’ve put yourself in position to start at defensive end. Then, on the second play of your Division I career, crack.
“I felt my ankle snap when I went down,” Carson Jordan said. “I got up and it was just kind of numb – adrenaline was going so I didn’t really feel it. I jumped back up and when I tried to push off of it again (on the next play) I felt it snap again and I couldn’t even step on it.”
Jordan spent the rest of his junior season on the sidelines for Western Kentucky. He was told rehabilitation could take as little as six weeks – it ended up lasting between 10-11.
The silver lining? Jordan (6-foot-2, 255) is back and in better position than he’s ever been to produce on the field. Being forced to watch his teammates during the entirety of the 2017 season allowed him to grow as a football player.
Now he makes his return against one of the best offensive lines in the country at 8 p.m. Aug. 31 at No. 4 Wisconsin.
“At first I didn’t realize it, but now I’ve learned the playbook. I’ve learned the play calls a lot better. The game’s slowed down for me,” Jordan said. “(WKU defensive line) coach (Jimmy) Lindsey has really helped me out with my technique a lot. I feel like that’s my biggest improvement – my football IQ and my technique on the field.”
Jordan assisted on two tackles in three snaps in his one and only game last year, the season-opener against Eastern Kentucky. His 68 tackles in two seasons at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College would seem to indicate the Mississippi native has a knack for finding the ball.
That’s why the Western defensive staff believes Jordan has such a high ceiling with two full years remaining as a Hilltoper.
“He’s light years away from where he was spring 2017 and now he’s more mature,” Lindsey said. “He understands this system now, he can register the calls quicker. Technique standpoint – he’s 10 times better, not as much free styling that he was probably allowed to do in junior college.”
Jeremy Darvin, like Jordan, hopes to have a breakout season after a relatively quiet career to this point. A once highly-touted recruit from Father Ryan High School in Nashville (Darvin was considered a three-star prospect with offers from Tennessee, Cincinnati, Louisville, Marshall and Navy), Darvin redshirted in 2016 and was buried on the depth chart in 2017.
The 6-foot-1, 300-pound redshirt-sophomore didn’t make his college debut until Oct. 14 in a game against Charlotte. He had registered just 10 stops until a coming-out party in the Cure Bowl loss to Georgia State saw him make a career-high seven tackles.
“Last year to start the season off I wasn’t getting a lot of playing time. Toward the end of the season I came and I started getting those in-game reps – that’s a great experience, that’s great teaching,” Darvin said. “There’s nothing better than going out against another opponent because there’s no leeway going whatsoever. I think that helped me a lot. Those three, four games, I felt like I grew a lot.”
Darvin credited his offseason improvement to the coaching of former WKU defensive lineman and current WKU defensive tackles coach Kenneth Martin. Martin has taught Darvin how better to use his hands and how to improve his footwork.
Those tools will allow Darvin to be in the heart of the defensive tackle rotation when the season starts next week.
“We had all those injuries toward the end of the season (last year) up front and he was a guy that really wasn’t quite ready at the beginning of the year as a redshirt-freshman, but toward the end of the season, we saw what he could do,” Lindsey said. “He plateaued that into the spring and the summer and has made himself into a huge contributor for our defense.”
Both Darvin and Jordan, and all of Lindsey's troops on the defensive line, will be tested immediately in the harshest way possible Aug. 31.
Wisconsin’s offensive line has been heavily – excuse the pun – featured in Sports Illustrated and at The Athletic and in numerous other places throughout the summer. It’s a group most around college football consider to be one of the best collection of linemen in the country.
Michael Deiter (6-6, 310), Jon Dietzen (6-6, 325), David Edwards (6-7, 315), Beau Benzschawel (6-6, 315) and Tyler Biadasz (6-3, 320) are an imposing force that pave the way for Heisman Trophy candidate Jonathan Taylor at running back while keeping junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook clean and upright in the backfield.
“It’s gonna be a treasure. I can’t wait for it. We’ve been prepping all season,” Darvin said of the matchup. “We knew what we had going in to the first game. Been trying to bring it because as everybody knows in the nation they got one of the best O-lines – if not the best. So we wanna bring our best as well and so we can stick with anybody in the nation.
“With all the work we’ve put in this year, it’s a great test to see where you’re at. We’ve really emphasized on being that dominant force and what better say to show that than coming out against them. So we’re ready.”
The Badgers. ranked No. 4 by The Associated Press this preseason, averaged 222.8 yards per game on the ground last season. Deiter and Benzschawel are dotting NFL draft boards for 2019. Wisconsin allowed just 21 sacks in 14 games.
Western Kentucky and its defensive front will know exactly where it stands after next Friday’s matchup – but what better to be measured than against the best?
“That’s why you play the game," Lindsey said. "You wouldn’t be a college football player or you wouldn’t be into coaching if you didn’t accept challenges. So I get it. It’s part of the business.”
— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop