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The Journal Gazette

Friday, October 06, 2017 8:20 pm

Cougar puts back issues behind him

Defensive end forced to sit out title season due to complications

GREG JONES | The Journal Gazette

Saint Francis

vs. Concordia (Mich.)

When: Noon Saturday

Where: Bishop D’Arcy Stadium

Radio: 106.3 FM

Jordan May had a great view of Saint Francis’ national championship run last year. Maybe a little too good, since it came from the sidelines. 

After battling back issues since his days playing at Hamilton Southeastern, the junior defensive end sat out the 2016 season because of disc complications and watched as the Cougars brought home the program’s first NAIA title in December. 

“Early on last year, I started to lose a little bit of hope, watching the success of everybody else and seeing them do that without me, and that has made me want to give it one more shot,” the 6-foot-2, 242-pound May said. “So I got at it a little bit at a time, and I never really knew if it was going to happen or not. I just kept on progressing and was telling myself as long as I kept getting better, then keep going forward and see what happens.”

May has worked to become a starter, an integral part of the defensive line and a leader for the Cougars (5-0, 1-0 MEL), who have remained unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the nation heading into Saturday’s home game against No. 20 Concordia (5-0, 1-0).

“To see him progress since last year has been amazing,” Saint Francis co-defensive coordinator Joey Didier said. “Last year, we were hoping he would play again, but it was one of those things that we really didn’t count on. He was in a lot of pain. He took his rehab very seriously, and he did a great job of communicating with coaches, trainers, therapists, putting together a plan to get him stronger.

“What he adds for us is that speed off the edge, the dynamic pass-rushing component so to speak; with the graduation of (All-American Lucas) Sparks, him and the combination of (James) Jamicich, (Eric) Dunten and (Marcus) Stepp has allowed us to still move forward. He is a smarter player, with a high motor.”

May’s back health has been unsteady since suffering stress fractures while playing at Hamilton Southeastern for his father, Scott. The issues began to cause him muscular irregularities and disc issues last year, with the theory that squatting weightlifting exercises was exacerbating the problem. May stopped squatting, but it only made the problem worse, so he relearned proper squat and powerlifting techniques and eventually strengthened his back.

“Getting strong again really helped support the structural damage that I had developed,” May said. “I remember thinking if I don’t try this, I am really going to regret not doing it, and also at the same time, if I ignore the rehab and ignore the physical therapy, I am only going to be in pain for the rest of my life, too. So I figured worst-case scenario, let’s get after it and let’s see if I can get better and if I can get into playing shape, great, and if I can’t, then hopefully I am better off.

“It was slow progress, but I kept going forward, and here we are. It has been a good season so far, and it has paid off.”

Didier said the coaches have been impressed by May’s endurance through preseason practices and the first five games. 

“He has exceeded our expectations with rehab, but he is becoming the player we had hoped and planned on him becoming when we recruited him,” Didier said.

So now May has returned to help the Cougars chase back-to-back national championships.

“Having something to work toward and battle against adversity ... that was definitely (a life lesson), and that’s what I will take away,” May said. 

gjones@jg.net