|Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com
By Brian Lester
Jordan McInerney has moments where he’s worn out, where he teeters on the brink of feeling as if he as doesn’t have anything left to give on the football field.
And then the Lake Forest senior defensive lineman looks down at his wristband, one made in honor of his sister Madelyn, who passed away from Stage 4 brain cancer on Nov. 25, 2016 at the age of 17.
“Whenever I feel tired, when I feel like giving up, I look down at the wristband and it makes me want to work that much harder, to go one more step, to do as much as I can for my team,” McInerney said. “My sister is always on my mind.”
That kind of extra effort was highlighted in Lake Forest’s season opener against Wisconsin Lutheran last Thursday night. The quarterback was on the run and McInerney refused to pull back on his pursuit.
“There was one sack he had, the guy was rolling out away from him, and he tackled him outside the numbers on the far side of the field,” Lake Forest coach James Catanzaro said. “He didn’t stop pursuing. That’s just what he does.”
McInerney finished the night with 10 tackles, including 4.5 for a loss. He also recorded 3.5 sacks. He’s now fifth all-time in school history in TFL’s (37) and sixth in sacks (18).
“Things are going great,” McInerney said. “It shows how our program has been training me to the highest standard so I can be successful on the field.”
But rewind to 2017, the year after his sister passed away. Life was tough. Football was tough. His mind wasn’t in a good place. He developed a bad reputation, getting hit with 10 personal fouls. The pain and frustration of losing his sister had boiled over.
“I was known as a dirty player. I got a lot of personal fouls,” McInerney said. “To be honest, I was in a dark place in my mind, not doing what was right for the team. It had a lot to do with my sister passing away. It was hard for me to listen to my coaches to be a better athlete.”
“I was in a dark place in my mind, not doing what was right for the team. It had a lot to do with my sister passing away. It was hard for me to listen to my coaches to be a better athlete.”
All of it was understandable. It’s hard for anyone to imagine just how difficult it was to lose a sister at such a young age.
“It was one of the toughest situations of my life,” McInerney said. “At first, I was selfish. I buried myself in my own thoughts. It took me time to realize and figure out how to be the person I really wanted to be.”
What helped was thinking about his sister, the sacrifices she made to still be at his games his freshman season with the Foresters. He had left NCAA Division II Winona State to be closer to her as she battled cancer and she was there to support him week in and week out.
“She was going through so much and she still made it to my games,” McInerney said. “That meant a lot to me.”
The game against St. Norbert stands out. That season he had injured his shoulder but wasn’t staying on top of his physical therapy.
“I’ll never forget the St. Norbert game my freshman year,” McInerney said. “I was missing lifts and not going to PT all the time. It cost me playing time. But my sister was in the stands and it’s freezing out. She didn’t want to leave. It showed the love my sister had for me. It made me respect her so much more.”
Catanzaro remembers those difficult times for McInerney. He and his staff did the best they could to help him through the loss of his sister.
“There’s no playbook for it. Everyone handles loss differently,” Catanzaro said. “The year before Jordan got here, we had a player pass away and I think that helped our players support him better. They were able to step up and help. And for us coaches, we have that empathy level 18-22-year-olds typically don’t have. We could be there for him as if he were our own son.”
McInerney will never forget his sister. The memory of Madelyn lives on. And McInerney is a much better play from a mental and physical standpoint. He can’t thank his teammates and coaches enough for guiding him through the difficult time.
“Lake Forest was the right fit for me, not only to be closer to my sister, but to have a team that was like a family,” McInerney said. It meant everything to me to have the coaches not give up on me. I’m eternally grateful for them.”
Catanzaro said McInerney has laser focus this season and refuses to rest on his past accomplishments. He’s someone who has helped lay a foundation for success this season.
“He sets the tone for us every day in practice and in games,” Catanzaro said. “I think sometimes he’s not even aware of the example he is setting by how hard he works.”
McInerney is determined to make his team proud this season. To make his family proud this season and to play with the kind of effort, the kind of fight, the kind of intensity that he knows his sister would have been proud of. He is channeling it all to help the Foresters compete for a Midwest Conference title.
“I have high expectations. There is a rock outside Halas Hall and it’s for conference championships. That’s what we are expecting,” McInerney said. “We want to show people what Lake Forest football is all about.”
And if he ever gets tired during the grind of the long season or questions whether he can battle through a tough moment in a game, he’ll just look down at that wristband.
“Thinking back about my sister and the hardships and adversity she went through, it makes me want to work harder as an individual. It constantly motivates me,” McInerney said. “That wristband is a reminder of my sister.”