The journey from a diabetes diagnosis at the age of 11 to leading Georgia Tech to an upset win over then-No. 14 Virginia Tech this past Saturday spans years and miles. Tech quarterback Matthew Jordan can connect the dots at either end of the timeline with a straight line.
“Being diabetic, that’s everything to me,” Jordan said. “That’s what made me who I am today.”
Among other things, he’s Tech’s backup quarterback and possibly its future starter. He is a solid student, majoring in business administration. He’s a country boy from Alabama who loves jet skiing and mud-riding in his GMC pickup. And, he isn’t shy to note, a Type 1 diabetic.
“It made him grow up, mature quicker,” Jordan’s father Rodney said.
There is no known cause of Type 1 diabetes, a condition that afflicts approximately 1.25 million American adults and children, according to the American Diabetes Association. Type 1 diabetes cases make up about five percent of all diabetes diagnoses.
It is a condition in which the body’s immune system destroys the cells that produce insulin, a hormone that the body needs to bring energy-providing glucose from the bloodstream to the body’s cells. Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes increase a person’s risk for complications such as blindness, kidney failure and amputations.
Jordan was diagnosed after showing typical symptoms, including sluggishness, fatigue, thirst and using the bathroom frequently at night. The diagnosis struck fear in Jordan, his family and those around them. Jordan’s father said he wanted to quit football, which he had been playing since the age of four. His coaches, uncertain of what the diagnosis meant, weren’t sure if he should keep playing.
“They were scared of it just like the rest of us,” Rodney Jordan said.
Jordan’s parents made him play through the season. More critical to his development, Rodney and Lisa Jordan placed the responsibility of testing his blood sugar and administering insulin shots on him, knowing that they couldn’t always be there for him. If he was falling asleep before a scheduled injection, he had to set an alarm clock to wake him. If he went to a friend’s house for a sleepover, Mom or Dad weren’t going to call to check up on him.
“It’s scary for everybody, but you just don’t baby him,” Rodney Jordan said.
He had his slip-ups, but soon thrived off of the structure that he had created. The discipline and perseverance that he needed to maintain his health, he applied to football and school. He became an all-state quarterback at Jackson (Ala.) High and a three-star prospect. He graduated in 3 ½ years with a 4.0 GPA. His parents get an assist on the spotless transcript – Jordan had to earn all A’s if he wanted to play football.
“That’s the way you raise ’em,” Rodney Jordan said.
Since arriving in January 2014, he has made an unsurprising impression on Tech coaches.
“He’s a tough kid,” quarterbacks and B-backs coach Bryan Cook said. “You kind of know what you’re going to get out of Matthew.”
It was this core strength that the Jackets leaned upon Saturday to lead them to their 30-20 upset of the Hokies in Blacksburg, Va. Jordan suspected he would start early last week, as starter Justin Thomas did not practice, but did not find out for certain until Saturday. During the week and in the game, Jordan tried to assume a leadership role with the offense. In the din of Lane Stadium, wide receiver Brad Stewart noticed his quarterback’s calm.
“He was just relaxed and knew he could get the job done and just had fun with it,” Stewart said.
Jordan struck for the first touchdown of the game, hurrying 53 yards on a quarterback follow play to give the Jackets a 13-0 lead in the second quarter.
“I was like, alright, we can definitely win this ballgame,” Jordan said.
Late in the game, Jordan sensed his blood sugar dropping. During a timeout, he ate a packet of fruit snacks. He made the clinching play of the game, fielding the Hokies’ onside kick in the final minute to ensure the upset. After the game, Jordan told coach Paul Johnson that he could yell at him on Monday, but that he planned to celebrate that night.
But, bushed from 32 carries, Jordan returned to the Atlantic Station apartment that he shares with teammates Trey Klock and Jake Whitley and went straight to bed.
They are stories he can share with children with diabetes, whom Jordan talks to, meets with and writes letters to when asked. Last summer, he spoke at Camp Kudzu, a camp for children and teens with Type 1 diabetes held at Camp Twin Lakes in Rutledge. His message?
“Just that you can do it,” he said. “You have diabetes, you can still play sports. You can do whatever you want.”
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