Bound for Columbia and an uncertain future, Jordan Harold laced up his favorite red Timberlands last August and hopped in the car with his mom, Aleshia Jordan.
Harold, a graduate of McCluer North High in St. Louis, had spent two seasons with NCAA Division II football powerhouse Northwest Missouri, but he was ready for a change of scenery.
“There was a lot of stuff going on with me internally, emotionally, and I wasn’t happy with my placement where I was,” Harold said.
He loved his teammates and coaches, but the pace of life rural Maryville, Mo., was uncomfortably slow for a big-city kid.
Now, Harold hoped for a chance to walk on with the Tigers.
“I just decided to take a leap of faith and my heart told me to come here …,” said Harold, who also considered Rutgers before discovering its prohibitive out-of-state tuition price tag. “The whole thing was just blind.”
Harold wore those red Timberlands because they’re his favorite shoes and provide a boost of confidence, but Harold’s choice of footwear had a strategic purpose, too.
“Being a shorter D-end, I kind of cheated a little bit and put on some boots to make it seem like I was 6-4 or something,” said Harold, who actually stands 6-feet-2 and weighs 263 pounds.
Fate smiled on the Harolds upon pulling into the Mizzou Athletic Training Center’s parking lot and immediately spotted former Mizzou defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski.
With a quick prod from Aleshia, Harold hustled to intercept “Coach Kool” and, after a brief conversation, went to meet with then-director of recruiting Nick Otterbacher.
“From there, the rest is history,” said Harold, who currently is working with the first-team at left defensive end in the Tigers’ fall camp.
Harold didn’t factor into Missouri’s deep defensive-line rotation last season, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort.
“I remember a guy that, the first day he was out at practice, had a tremendous motor,” said first-year Mizzou coach Barry Odom, who was defensive coordinator last season. “That hasn’t stopped. He plays with a chip on his shoulder and enjoys the game. It’s important to him.”
If anything, trying to prove himself has driven Harold — who was recruited by Tennessee-Martin, Ball State and took an unofficial visit to Illinois in high school — to work harder.
“He’s damn near working as hard as me,” junior defensive end Charles Harris said. “He’s right there on my level. I work out with him almost every day. We work out in the weight room, and he’s a guy that has the same mentality I have. ... He doesn’t have the best talent; I don’t have the best talent. I work for everything I have today, and he’s going to work for everything he has today, too.”
Harold’s effort is being rewarded. He started fall camp this summer as the backup right defensive end behind Harris, but now has worked his way into a possible starting spot opposite Harris.
“I set goals, and I’m reaching them,” Harold said. “One thing I believe in is that, at the end of the day, all you’ve got is yourself and God. If you believe in yourself, you can do anything.”
He’s also made a few believers along the way.
“Jordan Harold is a beast,” said sophomore Josh Moore, who switched to defensive end from tackle early in camp. “That boy is a beast. I like him a lot, and the coaches like him a lot. He’s doing what he does best, which is just bulling people. Hats off to him. He’s just crazy.”
Harold, an economics major mulling a change to business and marketing, played for the U.S. National Football Team during the International Federation of American Football Under-19 World Championship two summers ago in Kuwait.
He served as a captain for the gold medal-winning squad that beat Mexico, Germany, Japan and Canada.
“It was a good experience,” Harold said. “I kind of had to pull them together. We had a lot of fun though, a lot of bonding time together.”
Harold returned to the USA Football team camp in May 2015 to share his experience, which — fantastic as it was — won’t compare to staring in the Southeastern Conference.
“You’re talking about a guy who has come out here and competed with everybody,” new defensive coordinator Jackie Shipp said. “He’s made plays. He has ability. He’s learned the defense and he’s performed out here, playing the run and the pass. The bottom line is you put your best players on the field and he earned to go with the ones here these past couple days.”
Not that the other Tigers are surprised.
“He’s always had the pass-rush ability and been strong and stocky, but mentally he took it to a whole other level,” Harris said. “In terms of being smart on the defensive line, he’s probably the smartest when it comes to reading keys and stuff like that. He’s going to make great plays this year. I’m looking forward to playing with him on the other side.”