(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
Jordan Pendleton stands out in a crowd. At 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, Pendleton has the look of a Division I football player. An outside linebacker hailing from South Jordan, Utah, Pendleton has not always been such an intimidating figure.
Coming out of Bingham High School as a two-star recruit in 2007, Pendleton weighed nearly 50 pounds less than he does today and was seen as a potential star wide receiver or defensive back.
A lot has changed since his days as a high school star, including his size and position, but consistency has remained a theme of Pendleton’s life since leading Bingham to a Utah 5A State football championship in 2006.
Previous to Pendleton’s senior year at Bingham the school had not won a football state title in 60 years.
Pendleton, who would be named the Deseret Morning News 5A Player of the Year following the 2006 season, was the most talented athlete on the Bingham team. As a leader that refused to lose, Pendleton led the Miners to the championship that would then set off a high school football dynasty at Bingham.
“I was there at the beginning,” Pendleton said. “We took the state title for Bingham for the first time in 60 years. That school had plenty of good teams before but we were the first ones that could get it done. Us winning that title helped set up the team that now have won three of the last five Utah championships.”
Following the state championship season, Pendleton was named the Salt Lake Tribune Player of the Year in addition to the Deseret Morning News honor. He also earned the distinction of the best overall athlete in the state by the Deseret Morning News.
“Jordan was one of the best athletes I have coached at Bingham,” Bingham High School head football coach Dave Peck said. “Throughout his high school career he always showed great versatility and athleticism. He played on a state championship basketball team in addition to the football team and he had a couple incredible dunks during the season.”
As a two-star recruit according to Rivals.com, Pendleton was ranked as the sixth-best high school football player in the state of Utah during his senior season. Despite a wealth of options that included Oregon, California, Colorado and Washington, Pendleton decided very early in his recruitment that he wanted to attend BYU and became the first signee for Bronco Mendenhall’s 2007 recruiting class.
“I wasn’t really a BYU fan growing up,” Pendleton said. “My dad (Kirk Pendleton) played wide receiver at BYU, but he really didn’t have much of an impact during the recruiting process. I had always thought it was cool he played at BYU but it didn’t affect the outcome of my decision.”
Pendleton enrolled at BYU in the fall of 2007. After going through summer drills and camp, Pendleton realized his best chance for success at the collegiate and pro level was on the defensive side of the ball, specifically at linebacker. With that in mind, the coaches decided it was best for Pendleton to redshirt during his first season to prepare for the position switch.
“Transitioning to outside linebacker at BYU was difficult for me at first,” Pendleton said. “Before high school I played running back every year, then during high school I always saw myself as an offensive guy despite playing both ways. Luckily, Coach Peck helped me gain a defensive mentality near the end of my high school career, which really worked out for me at BYU.”
During his redshirt season Pendleton worked out constantly to bulk up to the size of a Division I linebacker. Learning a new position was the biggest hurdle for Pendleton, who was a skeptic about the move at first. But after working at it and learning that the outside backer position played to one of his key strengths – versatility – Pendleton developed a newfound pride in his new defensive role.
“Outside linebackers are the best athletes on the field,” Pendleton said. “We literally do it all. We rush the passer, we cover receivers and backs, and we play the run and are asked to be all over the field on every single play. I grew to love this position because I love playing all over the field and take pride in being a versatile athlete.”
After redshirting his first season, Pendleton blossomed in his new role. As a freshman he saw limited action on defense and special teams but recorded his first career interception. In 2009, Pendleton played a significant role on defense in all 13 games and recorded 52 total tackles, six tackles-for-loss and three sacks.
Pendleton also made one of the most athletic plays of the 2009 season when he snagged an interception with one hand on the sideline against UNLV. That same year he had a momentum-changing hit against Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn in a game the Cougars would go on to win in overtime.
“Sacks and interceptions are both unbelievable experiences,” Pendleton said. “It really depends on the game situation as to which is more satisfying. There is no other feeling like getting a sack, especially when it swings the momentum. I think big hits are great too, because the entire team can feed of that hit.”
Every athlete enjoys big plays but Pendleton has a little extra motivation every game to get that big hit, interception or sack. Pendleton’s older sister, Brooke, has been providing that extra motivation since he was in high school.
“She (Brooke) always makes deals with me before games,” Pendleton said. “She always promises to take me out to dinner if I make a big play, like snagging an interception or getting a sack. So every time I make a big play in a game I make sure she is the first person I call afterwards so I can cash in on it.”
When he is not making big plays to earn dinners with Brooke, Pendleton is often calling or texting her husband, former BYU and current Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Austin Collie. Pendleton played with Collie from 2007-09 and the two maintain a close relationship. Pendleton speaks to Collie on a weekly basis about things on and off the field.
“He never really gives me game day advice or tries to tell me what to do on the field, but he is a great motivator before games,” Pendleton said. “He always sends me short pep talk text messages. He is great to talk to because he is always positive. He is never one to critique my performance or be negative.”
Pendleton used Collie’s positive motivation throughout last season, after the Cougars got off to a 1-4 start and Pendleton struggled with an injury that limited him to five starts and six games. Despite the early struggles and injury-ridden season, Pendleton rallied around the defense, as it became the strength of the team in the second half of the season.
The second half performance of the BYU defense, which finished 2010 ranked 24th in the nation, got Pendleton and the remainder of the team motivated and ready for 2011.
“I was just so ready to get back on the field for my senior season,” Pendleton said. “Everything just felt so much better around the team. We were more excited, we love playing together and there was just a unified feeling among the entire team. Coach (Mendenhall) helped turn the defense around near the end of last season and that just got us ready to build on our success.”
A normal offseason for Pendleton is spent getting into what he calls, “beast mode.” He conditions like he is still a wide receiver or defensive back, hits the weights as hard as any athlete in the country and uses his desire to get better as motivation everyday. In high school, Peck said Pendleton rarely ever lost a conditioning competition at the end of practice and was always one of his hardest workers in the offseason.
With a self-proclaimed love for working out, Pendleton says he would spend his time pumping iron even if he no longer played football.
Any regular exerciser that falls out of their routine often feels out of sync, restless and even lazy. That was the struggle that Pendleton faced in the 2010 offseason as he worked to recover from his injury.
“It was really different for me because I couldn’t do all the lifting and conditioning I wanted to do,” Pendleton said. “I had to force myself to take it slow. I had to listen to my body. In previous years I would be out there grinding and working myself hard, but when your body tells you to stop you have to listen.”
Rather than focusing on his maxes during lifting and his sprinting speed during conditioning, Pendleton spent the offseason working on endurance and flexibility. The long offseason helped Pendleton recover successfully for 2011.
His time away from the game also gave him time to focus on other parts of his life, namely his human anatomy class, a class considered to be among the most time-consuming at BYU. An exercise and wellness major, the class fascinated Pendleton.
“I have always valued the body that God gave me,” Pendleton said. “I want to do as much with this body as I possibly can. I always want to go out and use my talents and become the best at what I do, which right now is play football. Honestly, football is what gets me out of the bed every morning.”
After a unique offseason of recovery and anatomy, Pendleton came into 2011 ready to embrace a new type of BYU football team. With independence brought the opportunity to play a new variety of teams at several big time venues, an opportunity Pendleton relished.
“Coming into this year the biggest game I had ever played in was against Oklahoma in Dallas in 2009,” Pendleton said.
In addition to focusing on just the next game, Pendleton also subscribes to a specific pregame ritual before every game.
“I always say I’m not superstitious but that’s not completely true,” Pendleton said. “I like to clean my room before every game. I like to come home after a game to a nice, clean room. I started doing it during high school and it turned into an every week thing.”
Pendleton is also on the superstitious side when it comes to one other aspect of his game: his number. However, after coming to BYU his traditional number had to change.
Since starting football at a young age, Pendleton had been number 21. He wore the number throughout his youth leagues and even while playing basketball, his original favorite sport. But when he arrived at BYU as a freshman, upperclassman Ben Criddle had the number. As a sophomore, senior Scott Johnson snagged 21 before he could get a hold of it. That’s when Pendleton decided to part ways with tradition and cut the two out of 21 and started playing with his current No. 1 jersey.
“I was just tired of switching numbers every season,” Pendleton said. “I figured I just needed to find a number other than 21 that fit me well. My sophomore year No. 1 was one of the only numbers left, so I decided to make it my own.”
The number switch, which took place just before the beginning of the 2009 season, worked out well for Pendleton. It was Pendleton’s first full year as a starter and is also the only season in his BYU career that he has seen action in all 13 games. Injuries shortened his 2010 season and have disrupted his 2011 senior season as well. Despite the injury bug, Pendleton remains as committed as anyone on the team to winning and improving.
“Jordan has been a leader and a worker since high school,” Peck said. “When we faced adversity or trials as a team, Jordan always stepped up and helped lead our team. He has faced a lot of trials at BYU (with injuries), but I’m sure he will battle through them and continue to succeed.”
Consistency is Key
Every Division I football player has to make major adjustments between high school and college. The players are bigger, faster and stronger, while the plays are more complex, confusing and specific.
Players at BYU have an especially intense adjustment to make in this aspect due to the enforcement of the BYU Honor Code and a strict set of rules set in place by both the school and the football team. Luckily for Jordan Pendleton, he already had most of these values and rules in place while at Bingham High School.
“The way Coach Peck coached me at Bingham is really similar to how I have been coached at BYU,” Pendleton said. “We had a code of ethics at Bingham. With that code everyone knew what was expected of them and what we needed to do on the field as players and off the field as citizens of the community.”
Dave Peck has been the head coach at Bingham since 2000 and won his first Utah State Championship in 2006, Pendleton’s senior year. Since then he has guided the Miners to three state titles and has started a mini-dynasty at Bingham High. Peck credits the Code of Ethics he instituted as a big reason for the team’s continued success.
“We got the idea for the ethics code from a BYU coaching clinic a few years ago,” Peck said. “We have raised players’ GPAs and have seen the overall commitment level of the kids improve.”
Pendleton is sure that Peck’s code of ethics helped his 2006 team win the state title five years ago. According to Pendleton, the code increased the bond between the players and Bingham and brought them closer as a team.
In addition to the code of ethics, Peck also modeled some of his defensive schemes and practices after aspects of Bronco Mendenhall’s strategies at BYU. The similarities in the drills and coaching styles allowed Pendleton to flow easily into a new defense.
“Coach Peck and Coach Mendenhall are similar in a lot of ways,” Pendleton said. “They are both very passionate about what they do. Coach Peck could always get me motivated before games like no one else ever could and Coach Mendenhall is the same way.”
Pendleton even carried the success he had at Bingham to BYU. After winning the state title as senior in 2006 at Bingham, Pendleton helped the Cougars to three straight 10-win seasons and a 3-1 bowl record in the past four years.