The McDonogh Eagles retired jersey No. 70, worn by Jordan McNair, on Friday night at John McDonogh Stadium. McNair succumbed to heat stroke while practicing for the Maryland Terrapins. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun video)
Martin McNair admired the framed orange jersey his late son wore as an offensive lineman Friday night as McDonogh retired Jordan McNair’s No. 70.
“The relationships he made here … it wasn’t just us as family, it was a whole village that raised Jordan,’’ Martin McNair said of his son’s four years at the Owings Mills school. “He was everybody’s son. He was everybody’s brother. He was everybody’s teammate. If you knew Jordan, if you came across him, his smile alone was everything.”
A two-time All-Metro selection at McDonogh, Jordan McNair was beginning his redshirt freshman season at Maryland when he suffered heatstroke during a Terps conditioning test May 29 and died 15 days later. The 2017 McDonogh graduate redshirted last season in College Park.
His orange No. 70 jersey was presented to his parents, Martin McNair and Tonya Wilson, by McDonogh team captains D’Von Ellies and Jabriel Johnson in a brief ceremony before the Eagles’ game against Malvern Prep (Pa.).
“The last time we were here on the field was senior day, Jordan’s senior year, and we were full of expectations with a life full of potential,” Martin McNair said. “Things happen. However, Tonya and I are proud to be a part of the McDonogh family and this was an excellent, excellent launchpad for success in Jordan’s life.”
Several of McNair’s Maryland teammates who also graduated from McDonogh were allowed to attend the ceremony, including Ellis McKennie, who grew up with McNair and was three years ahead of him at McDonogh.
Honoring McNair as a Terp and as an Eagle has been especially important to McKennie, who lived on the same street with McNair in the Kings Park neighborhood of Randallstown and played recreation baseball and football with him.
“McDonogh’s family is such a tight-knit family, so having this connection with Jordan outside of McDonogh and then knowing what McDonogh means to everyone, just having that honor for him really means a lot,” McKennie said.
“Ever since [his death], I’ve gotten a lot of support from old McDonogh classmates, teachers and coaches — always checking in and that kind of stuff and that’s a bond that will last forever. I’m glad that his memory will get to last forever there as well.”
McDonogh co-athletic director Mickey Deegan read the words spoken at McNair’s funeral by first-year football coach Hakeem Sule, an Eagles assistant throughout McNair’s career.
Sule said at the funeral that McNair knew his purpose in life was not about football and academics. Although he grew from a junior varsity player into one of the Baltimore area’s top offensive linemen and improved his freshman GPA from 2.3 to 3.7 his senior year, “he understood that he was designed to lead and to love. Everything Jordan did was centered on love.”
Sule told The Baltimore Sun, “Retiring his jersey is very important when you talk about what type of kid Jordan was and the impact he made at McDonogh.”
The mother of a McDonogh student emailed coaches and administrators recently, Sule said, saying she didn’t know McNair but that she had a picture of him in her home, a photo of him talking to her daughter after one of the Gilman rivalry games.
“So, clearly he was a guy who just was open and welcoming to anyone in the community,” Sule said. “The thing that really separated him from other people is that he really didn’t see himself as an athlete first. He didn’t let the moment get too big for him. He really just enjoyed being a student at McDonogh.”
Deegan said earlier that his gray jersey will hang in the Athletic Center “as a daily reminder when you walk down the hallways that Jordan’s spirit is still with us.”
The Eagles are wearing No. 70 stickers on their helmets this season to keep McNair’s memory with them.
His parents have founded The Jordan McNair Foundation to honor their son’s memory by teaching others about how to recognize the symptoms of heat-related illness.
“This is where we turn our pain into purpose in starting the Jordan McNair Foundation … an excellent opportunity to honor our son who was a great young man,” Martin McNair said. “He did a lot in his 19 years. I was speaking to the [McDonogh football] team yesterday and one of the things I asked was, ‘Did Jordan’s death bring everyone closer together as teammates, as brothers, as friends, as a community, as family?’ What a wonderful way to honor our son.”
After the emotional ceremony, the Eagles could not get their offense going to add a win to the evening. Malvern Prep (3-0), which came in averaging 42 points, scored on Keith Maguire’s 22-yard interception return in the second quarter and never trailed en route to a 19-3 victory.