Sackmaster Jan Jorgensen

If Brigham Young University defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen wrote a story about himself he would have you believe he is just an “Ordinary Joe.”

“I don’t know that my story would be very interesting,” Jorgensen said. “I just think I’m the kind of the guy who goes out there and works hard and tries to do what he’s supposed to do.”

To hear the 6-foot-3, 259-pound senior describe his hobbies you would think he was your average college student. “I’m kind of a movie buff so I just like to chill and hang out and not do a whole lot,” Jorgensen says smiling. “I’m starting to enjoy reading, which is good, but mostly I just chill, watch movies, play the Xbox, that’s about it.”

Jorgensen’s life started out normal enough. The son of Jeff and Julie Jorgensen, two grade school teachers, he was raised in the small coal mining community of Helper, Utah. The youngest of three kids, Jan dreamed of being just like his older brother, J.D. who went on to play football for the University of Utah. Jan said he has played football for as long as he could remember.

It was in little league football that he first began to show signs of greatness.

“In little league we were playing Park City and they quit at the half because they were afraid Jan would hurt them,” Jeff Jorgensen recalled.

In addition to being Jan’s dad, Jeff was also Jan’s coach for a good portion of his early career as he was also the head coach at Carbon High School. Jan said he feels having his father as his coach was a real blessing.

“It was good for me because I learned the game of football on a deeper level than I think most people get the chance to at my age,” Jorgensen said. “He and I don’t butt heads all that much. I’ve got a really laid back attitude so it was good.”

Jorgensen did not start the first game of his freshman year at Carbon High School. When he finally got in the game he proceeded to collect two sacks. It was the beginning of a very special high school career. Jorgensen dominated on the football field playing both quarterback and defensive line.

He was named to the all-state team his junior and senior seasons. Recruiters from BYU, Boise State, Utah and Kentucky began vying for Jan’s attention. In addition, during his senior year Jorgensen decided to wrestle for the first time since middle school and he won the state championship.

Jorgensen grew up an avid Utah fan.

“My entire family hated BYU,” Jorgensen said. “We were all Utah fans.”

Being such an avid fan one would assume that, given the opportunity to play for Utah, the decision of where to play college football would be simple.

Surprisingly, the decision proved to be a tough one for Jorgensen. He did originally commit to play for the Utes, but his plans were altered as a result of a coaching change.

“I was going to go to the University of Utah to play for Ron McBride and then he got fired. He went to coach at University of Kentucky and wanted me to come play for him out there,” Jorgensen explains.

“I also got caught up in the whole SEC thing, because the SEC is the best football conference in the nation.”

And so in July of 2003, Jorgensen signed to play football for the Kentucky Wildcats.

It wasn’t until Jorgensen was three-fourths of the way through his mission for the LDS Church that he began to reconsider his commitment.

“It was then that I realized there are things that are more important in life than football,” he recalls. “I wanted to be somewhere closer to my family, where I had a chance to find a wife and just be in an atmosphere that I could be around LDS people. I wanted to be somewhere I could accomplish my other goals while I was also playing college football.”

Jorgensen served his mission in Boise, Idaho, and he feel his mission was what made him rearrange his priorities.

“My mission effected me a ton,” Jorgensen said. “It really changed my perspective on a lot of things so it was definitely the best thing I have ever done.”

It was for these reasons that upon returning home, Jorgensen found himself somewhere he had previously despised; a place he had never imagined himself attending college. In the fall of 2005, Jorgensen enrolled at BYU.

This decision was tough for his father to swallow.

“You can not print the words that went through my mind,” Jeff says. “Once it settled in I realized that it was easier to become a cougar fan when they are paying for his education and they wantedhim.”

Today Jeff feels good about Jan’s decision.

“He is in the right place and would never had been treated better by any other staff in the nation,” he said with a disclaimer.“Although, I still have trouble with some of the songs at the game.”

Jan felt good about his decision from the moment he first stepped foot on BYU’s campus as a student.

“I just remember feeling really grateful to be here,” Jorgensen remembered. “I was at BYU; a place where I could study my religion as a part of my schooling, a place where the people try to keep the spirit in everything they do.”

Jorgensen now loves BYU and Cougar fans love him. They call him “Janimal” and they call themselves “Jan Fans.” There are Janimal T-shirts for sale online and his Facebook fan page has over 500 members.

All of this adulation is for good reason; Jorgensen set a new MWC all-time sack record during the 2008 season and now has 24 career sacks. He has been on the all-MWC first team the past two seasons and is among 30 preseason candidates for the 2009 Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award.

But it is not only Jorgensen’s dominance on the football field that has made him a fan favorite. In addition to being an extraordinary athlete, he is an exceptional human being.

In July, Jorgensen was one of 52 Football Bowl Subdivision players nominated to the 2009 Allstate American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team. Every year the association honors players for their community service and work with charitable organizations.

“The most rewarding service opportunities for me have been anytime I have had a chance to work with handicapped children.” Jorgensen responded when asked which types of service he enjoys the most. “They know that you are a football player but they don’t care about that. They know that you are there to have fun with them and that is all they care about.”

The first two years Jorgensen was at BYU, Cougar football players conducted a clinic for Handicapped kids in the area. Jorgensen remembers these clinics fondly.

“We would go through football drills with them and teach them how to throw.” Jorgensen recalled. “Doing service with kids in general is so rewarding because you have the opportunity to mold them and you get to see their faces light up. But working with handicapped kids is my favorite.”

Jorgensen would be an appropriate person to teach someone how to do football drills. His coaches are amazed by the work ethic that he demonstrates day after day.

“Jan is an impressive young man, a tireless worker and a fine leader,” said BYU defensive coordinator Jaime Hill. “We are very fortunate to have him on our team.”

His hard work could soon pay big dividends if Jorgensen gets paid to do what he loves by playing in the NFL next year. However, he is not concentrating on that for now.

“My dream has never been to play in the NFL,” Jorgensen said. “My dream has always been to play college football. The NFL has kind of come as a bi-product of having a couple of successful seasons, and it has become something that could be the next step for me but I really try not to focus on it. I’m just worried about playing well for BYU right now.”

So far, so good. The Cougars started the season with what may have been one of the biggest victories in school history by beating No. 3 Oklahoma on Sept. 5 in Cowboys Stadium in Dallas. Jorgensen feels that this team is special and will continue to do great things.

“We have a really good camaraderie on this team,“ Jorgensen explained. “When we’re out there on the field we have fun, we all have really good relationships with each other.I think we have a lot of potential and if we come together like we should we can do a lot of great things this year so that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

Years from now Jorgensen may be a normal guy, teaching school and hopefully coaching.

“Teaching and coaching is something I’ve always wanted to do,“ Jorgensen said. “Both of my parents are teachers so it’s always been something that has been pretty appealing to me. It’s a very gratifying and rewarding profession and I’m one of those people who really believes in doing what makes you happy and I think coaching and teaching would really make me happy.”

But for now, Jorgensen is an extraordinary young man living out his dreams, leading a life that is anything but average and ordinary.


Helper on the Right Track

In the late 1800s trains making their way along the Grand Western Railway encountered little difficulty until they began to chug over the steep terrain of Price Canyon.

Helper engines were needed in order for the locomotives to make it over the mountain. These engines were stored in a small community that later became known as “Helper, Utah.”

Helper natives have greatly “helped” the BYU cougar football team throughout the years. In addition to being the home of Jan Jorgensen, Helper also raised Harold Cunningham, Pete Liapis and BYU Hall of Fame inductee Rex Berry.

Berry, a defensive back, graduated from BYU in 1951 and went on to play professional football for the San Francisco 49ers. He played for the 49ers for six years and was named all-pro defensive back before his retirement in 1956.

Nearby Price, Utah (home of Carbon High School where both Berry and Jorgensen attended) has also contributed its’ share of BYU football players.

The late Ned Alger, Dick Hill, Dave Lindstrom and Max Shifrer all hail from Price. In addition, former BYU defensive line coach Tom Ramage is a Price native. Ramage coached two Outland Trophy winners in Merlin Olsen at Utah State and Jason Buck at BYU before retiring in 2001.

However, instead of going home to Helper Jorgensen stayed in Provo last summer preparing for something very important: this year’s football season.

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