Jordan Dangerfield always looked to his father for guidance, especially when it came to big decisions like where to play college football.
So when Dangerfield's school, Hofstra University, unexpectedly dropped its football program in 2009, the young safety was faced with a most difficult task. He had to find his way without his dad, who had passed away four months earlier.
"It was very emotional, because going through the whole recruiting process in high school I had my father," Dangerfield said. "It was a big adjustment. It was coming to a new school and starting all over again."
The series of events led Dangerfield — an all-state prep player out of Florida who had been recruited by the likes of Louisville, Syracuse and Colorado State — to Towson University last fall. A year ago, he led the Tigers with 96 tackles, and ranked second among Colonial Athletic Association defensive backs in tackles per game.
"I think my dad would've loved it," Dangerfield said of Towson. "It just feels like home."
David Dangerfield had been a firefighter and community leader in Elmont, N.Y., known to many locals as "Papa D," before moving his family to Florida in 2005. He was one of the first responders to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, and was active in the playing careers of Jordan and his three brothers — including younger brother Jared, a wide receiver who spent part of his freshman year at Towson before transferring to a junior college in Kansas.
He succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 51, just six days before Jordan was scheduled to begin his football career at Hofstra.
"It was very unexpected," Jordan said. "Going off right to college, I think that helped me get through it. It kept my mind off of it. He passed away Aug. 1, and camp started Aug. 7. I went to camp, head high, trying to play as a true freshman. I think camp kept me going."
But just four months after losing his dad, Jordan suffered another unexpected loss — this time his football program.
Dangerfield had just completed his freshman season when he and 83 of his teammates received a text message one December morning. It read: "Urgent: team meeting @ 10 in the Pride Lounge."
For players, the news was the worst. Hofstra's board of trustees had voted to shutter the 72-year-old program, citing high costs and a perceived lack of interest among fans.
"I was just stunned," Dangerfield recalled.
Once he learned the news, Towson coach Rob Ambrose quickly pounced on the opportunity to add talent.
"I sent Matt Hachmann, the defensive coordinator, and my brother [quarterbacks coach Jared Ambrose] to New York within 15 minutes," Ambrose said. "I knew a couple guys on staff at Hofstra, and they gave me some skinny on who they had vs. who we needed vs. how many scholarships we had at the time."
Dangerfield, looking for the chance to play right away, was soon headed to Towson. To Ambrose, the safety's physical style of play fit perfectly with the blueprint of an upstart program trying to make its mark in the competitive CAA.
"He loves contact," Ambrose said. "He can play the pass as good as anybody else in the country, but he loves contact. He's not a finesse safety."
Dangerfield this season will serve as one of six co-captains on the team, which hopes to drastically improve on the 34.5 points per game it allowed last year.
The junior plans to be a major part of the turnaround. His father, he said, will be along for the ride.
"I think about him all the time. Coming out, halftime, after a tackle, after a play, he's always with me," said Dangerfield, adding that the hardships of the past have helped sharpen his focus. "I learned to become stronger. Just block certain things out and keep going on my path."
COACH: Rob Ambrose (Third season)
CONFERENCE: Colonial Athletic Association
LAST YEAR: 1-10
RADIO: WNST (1570-AM)
STADIUM: Johnny Unitas Stadium
TICKETS: $15 for adults, $10 for children (2-12), $8 for seniors (65-plus) at the gate
PARKING: Reserved parking sold out; Free in Lot 14 and on campus
OUTLOOK: This will be a critical year for a program that has struggled mightily to carve its niche in the ultra-competitive Colonial Athletic Association. The Tigers are 3-29 against conference foes since 2007, and this year must face five CAA opponents ranked among the top 16 in the Football Championship Subdivision, according to The Sports Network's preseason poll. Grant Enders (Old Mill), a sophomore who threw for 2,098 yards and ran for another 225 last season at Lackawanna College, will begin the year as starting quarterback, after beating out junior Brian Potts and redshirt sophomore Peter Athens during the preseason. He will attempt to inject some excitement into an offense that last year ranked 109th out of 117 FCS teams in scoring, and will get some help with the return of four starters on the offensive line. The team also boasts an impressive stable of running backs, led by junior Tremayne Dameron, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in his first two seasons, and a pair of major college transfers in sophomore Sterlin Phifer (Boston College) and redshirt freshman Trea Jones (Colorado). Eight starters return on defense, led by preseason All-CAA defensive end Frank Beltre and junior safety Jordan Dangerfield (team-leading 96 tackles). Junior linebacker Danzel White, who led the team in tackles in 2009, returns after sitting out last season. Towson has been picked to finish last in the 11-team CAA in a preseason poll of coaches and sports information directors. The schedule also includes an Oct. 1 date at Maryland and season-opening rivalry game against Morgan State.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun