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One last party for Dion Jordan and family at the Fiesta BowlJan 3, 2013 Dion Jordan's return to Arizona to play in the Fiesta Bowl is going to be just that.
"The whole family is going to be there," the Oregon defensive end said. "They're having a Fiesta in Arizona. I'm coming back home."
It isn't as simple as a college player coming back to his home state. Not with what could have been. Not with the scars – emotional and physical – that Jordan has.
Back in October of 2007 when Jordan was a senior at Chandler, he had an incendiary incident that could have changed everything. A friend was trying to siphon gas from one of the family's cars to another by using a vacuum cleaner. When it didn't work all that well, they walked away. Only they didn't turn off the vacuum, so Jordan went back into the garage to turn it off.
One pull of the plug and the battle for his life was on.
It started a flash fire that leapt on to Jordan's body. It was basically a fireball that burned itself out, but not before doing enough damage that he had to be life-flighted to Maricopa Medical Center.
By the time he made his way out of the garage, he had second and third degree burns on 40 percent of his body.
Young athletes often view themselves as invincible. Their bodies are young, resilient and in Jordan's case filled with potential.
He had never been in the hospital before the incident. It was hard to process early on, and he was in for an extended stay, getting three weeks worth of painful skin grafts on his shoulders, arms, hands, finders and lower legs.
Playing for Oregon, where he was an All-Pac-12 first-team selection this year, was far off at that point. So as his career with the Ducks comes to a close, it is pretty special that it will end in Arizona in today's Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State in the University of Phoenix Stadium.
So yes, the family, including his aunt and legal guardian Yative Tiger, will take time to celebrate the journey.
"It's a wonderful time of year," he said. "Who else would I want to spend it with than with my teammates and my family?"
The stabilizing force in his life has been Tiger. Otherwise, none of this might have been possible.
"She's my angel," he said. "She came in, took care of me, let me know things were going to be all right. Since I've been with her, it's been wonderful. I'm going to continue to show her that everything she has done for me, it hasn't been overlooked.
"I'm going to continue to be a better man."
On the field, as Jordan has continued to grow, so has his role. He was recruited as a wide receiver, moved to tight end and eventually defensive end.
Now he is a Butkus Award finalist after racking up 44 tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks for the 11-1 Ducks with hopes of an NFL career as a projected first-round pick. ESPN's Todd McShay ranks him as the 12th overall prospect.
"Dion Jordan's probably the guy that's taken the biggest quantum leap from day one to now," Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti told the Statesman Journal. "The guy is a good student, the guys is a tremendous leader, the guy has an awesome motor, (and) the guys listen to him."
Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothills News staff writer, is an 18-year sports writing veteran. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 480-272-2449.