Like other Utah Utes before him, there came a time for Jordan Wynn to hang up his cleats and call it a day — as a football player.
Most probably didn’t have to call it quits the week leading up to the BYU game, however.
That’s precisely what Wynn had to do. With help from his father and head coach Kyle Whittingham and staff, Wynn decided he had enough.
After today’s news, it’s hard to believe Wynn was Utah’s future — and the future was bright — just three years ago. But the last two years spelled out that pain.
From short hair to long hair grown out in part to his dying grandmother, back to short hair after she left this Earth, it was clear Wynn may not have known where he was going — though now it’s clear he knows where he’s been.
In 2009, Wynn entered the program during spring ball as a 17-year-old. Teammates teased him about his scant whiskers of facial hair but even then it was clear he had poise and charisma that belied his age.
And frankly, after Brian Johnson’s successful playing career as Utes quarterback that included a BCS bowl win over Alabama, Wynn had big shoes to fill — to borrow an overused sports cliche.
He certainly played his role in his freshman season. In the eighth game of the season, Wynn got the call — and never looked back — eventually finishing up 2009 as the Poinsettia Bowl MVP. He threw for over 1,300 yards and eight touchdowns.
Going into his sophomore season, Wynn was ready. He flourished in a non-conference game against Iowa State, throwing for 325 yards in a 68-27 thumping that earned the Utes national acclaim and a Top 15 ranking. At the time the Utes were still a BCS-buster — so a win over a BCS team was still big news.
He followed up that performance with two more 300-yard passing games against then-conference foes Colorado State and San Diego State, the latter which was his career-high in passing yards (362), set in his home state of California.
But with those great performances also came the first nicks of his career: a loss against Notre Dame, a thorough annihilation that ended the Utes’ BCS-busting dreams of 2010, then a thumb sprain that kept him from playing UNLV and New Mexico later in the season.
And that was all before a BYU defender crushed his shoulder in the Holy War, a 17-16 Ute win. The injury, which Utah medical staff determined was severe enough to have him miss the Las Vegas Bowl, resulted in a 26-3 Utah loss to the Boise State Broncos.
The Utes entered the Pac-12 Conference South Division with a new lease on life, a new title as a legitimate BCS member school and, seemingly, a veteran quarterback with a surgically repaired shoulder.
But it didn’t take a trained eye to realize under new offensive coordinator Norm Chow and a pro-style offense predicated on a quick release and a strong arm that Wynn was not the boy wonder he used to be.
He was obviously laboring as he threw what looked like fluttering ducks to his receivers. Even against FCS foe Montana State in the season opener, Wynn did not have the same zip on his throws – which he clearly exhibited in 2010.
Even still, he labored through his first four games with determination and leadership, throwing for over 200 yards in two games against BYU — his signature performance of the year after being hammered last season by the Cougar defense — and at USC where he once dreamed of playing, nearly leading the Utes to an improbable win.
But life can be unfair; it sometimes comes back around in a cruel way, and Wynn’s streak of bad luck hit a new personal low against Washington. Hit again by a defender — and this time, it was his left (non-throwing) shoulder, Wynn watched his junior year of Division I college football disappear after just five games, and observed play with a clipboard as Jon Hays led the Utes to a Sun Bowl win over Georgia Tech.
At this point many wondered why Wynn would even come back. After two surgeries on different shoulders it seemed as though things were not going his way. Wynn certainly had competition as the Utes were forced to recruit another quarterback capable to leading them to the promised land. Hays and newcomer Travis Wilson — a highly touted California kid much like Wynn in that he entered spring ball at age 17 — were there as well.
But Whittingham must have seen something, a la Brian Johnson of 2008, to make him think that Wynn was the guy. He was steady in the opener under Johnson, the Utes’ new offensive coordinator replacing an ineffective Chow. The pace was faster with Johnson’s schemes, and Wynn’s passes had that zip again. A 41-0 season opening win over Northern Colorado had fans thinking Utah might even upset USC — and possibly look past a game but meek Utah State team.
That turned out to be a mistake. In an 27-20 upset loss in overtime which Whittingham termed as “one of the worst in my coaching career,” the Pac-12 Utes were out-hustled, outplayed and out-coached by Utah State and former Utah defensive coordinator/now-Aggie head coach Gary Andersen. Even so, Wynn threw balls over the middle with zip and verve — until he was slammed to the turf by USU redshirt freshman defensive tackle Jordan Nielsen in the third quarter.
And just like that, 1,000 miles from home in a place where the Utes hadn’t lost in a decade and a half, Wynn’s career was over. Never mind that the NCAA just granted him two years of football eligibility for his injury-plagued hardships, or that he graduated in May with a Bachelor’s degree — just three and one-half years after he stepped foot on campus.
The junior quarterback who endured four years — two great seasons of football and two years of pain and rehabilitation — must have known that it was time to go.
Life After Football
Wynn will still reportedly have his third shoulder surgery in as many years, reminding you that again, life is a cruel thing. He will stay on through the season helping his team, and the quarterbacks, Hays and Wilson, learn the position from his perspective — all while he sits there, with his clip board, and two years of eligibility.
Which is precisely why you should commend him for helping your team, Ute fans. Instead of booing him, or jeering him, or criticizing his every move, decision or indecision, it’s clear to say you haven’t been where he’s been, or done what he’s done.
You certainly haven’t had three shoulder surgeries in three years due to vicious hits jarring your shoulder out of its socket, tearing bone from bone and leaving damaged cartilage in its wake. But that’s what Wynn did, and it, Ute fans, was all for you.
He also had good days; there aren’t many in Ute lore who can say in their career they got to play on the hallowed turf of Notre Dame Stadium, or walked along the historic lines of the L.A. Coliseum before a game against USC, or led their team to victory in the stadium LaVell built — and did so by 44 points.
The least you could do is say thank you.
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