|Jordan Brand, right, along with linebacker Matt Anderson and others, have brought the defense up front for the Warhawks this season.
UW-Whitewater athletics photo by Michael McLoone
By Brian Lester
Jordan Brand has made quite the impression in his life off the field. While in high school he worked as a certified lifeguard and was part of Big Brothers.
On the gridiron, the UW- Whitewater senior has also made a pretty big mark, playing a pivotal role for a Warhawks team that stands on the doorstep of playing in the NCAA Division III national championship game.
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Brand helps anchor a defensive line that has been relentless. It is a line that is coming off one of its best performances in program history, shutting down the Mary Hardin-Baylor run game in a 26-7 playoff win in Texas last week. The Warhawks held the reigning champion Crusaders to minus-3 rushing yards. They are allowing just 58.7 yards per game on the ground this season, giving up more than 100 only twice.
Brand had no idea UW-Whitewater had been so dominant against the Cru until glancing at the stat sheet after the game.
“It was pretty shocking, but pretty satisfying at the same time,” Brand said. “We’re happy all the way around. We know what our D-line can do and we were able to show the world that we are legit, that we can do something like that.”
Brand helped lead the way. He had three tackles and a sack in the win over UMHB. He has 43 tackles in all this season to go along with his team-best 10.5 sacks.
He only played in three games as a freshman but was confident his day to shine would arrive at some point. The two-time All-WIAC selection was right and is now among the best in the conference in sacks and tackles for a loss (14).
“I had a chance to be mentored by John Flood and I knew if I kept doing what he told me,” I’d get my chance to be a starter and have an impact on the defense,” Brand said.
He put in the work to live up to that potential.
“I came in as a skinny kid but gained a lot of weight. I also improved in my pass rush, finding new moves and learning new pass blocks and how to beat them with different moves.”
UW-Whitewater head coach Kevin Bullis is impressed with how far Brand has come as a player, and with the way the defensive line as a whole has responded to losing one of the best players in D-III football to injury in Mackenzie Balanganayi, the defensive player of the year in the WIAC.
“It hasn’t just been the next man up. It’s been the entire defensive line stepping up,” Bullis said. “The guys have all grabbed a bigger piece of the rope, and Jordan has grabbed the biggest piece. He’s pulling harder and stepping up. He’s having an amazing season. His play and the play of our entire line has really ramped up.”
That D-line will need to ramp itself up another notch or two this week as the Warhawks face a high-powered St. John’s offense anchored by D3football.com West Region Player of the Year Jackson Erdmann, once again one of the nation’s top quarterbacks and the 2018 Gagliardi Trophy winner.
Getting pressure on Erdman is crucial. Bullis expects a similar challenge to the one his team faced against the Cru last week.
“Erdman is a great quarterback and they throw the heck out of the ball,” Bullis said. “They also have an athletic offensive line and we have to be able to attack it. We have to match their effort.”
No one has to tell Brand twice the Warhawks need to be at their best along the defensive front, especially going up against a quarterback who has thrown for nearly 4,700 yards and 46 touchdowns.
“There is a lot of weight on our D-line to get to the quarterback and disrupt the pass game from that standpoint,” Brand said. “We have to make sure he doesn’t have time to get through his reads and make the throws that will allow them to be successful. If we can do that, it will be a good day.”
It’s been a good career for Brand and it’s not over yet. He said from the first time he paid a visit to campus he felt as if he was part of the Warhawk family and has never once questioned his decision to play here.
“Even before I committed I already felt like I was part of the team,” Brand said. “Looking back on it now, it’s the greatest decision I ever made playing football. It’s really paying off. We’re in a position to keep going and make it all the way.”
Brand said football has always been his first love, though that didn’t keep him from giving other sports a try.
“When I was younger, I did everything when it came to sports,” Brand said. “I got into swimming and was on the swim team, and that got me interested in being a lifeguard. It was so much fun. But football was always my first priority. That was the sport I wanted to play in college.”
It turned out to be a good choice for Brand, who has always relished the chance to be a mentor, too. Even now he does his part to help guide younger teammates on a path to success.
“It’s cool to see that younger players do look up to me and I’m always encouraging them to put the work in so that they can get to where I’m at one day.”
Seventh-ranked UW-Whitewater (13-1) was in this spot last season, a win away from the national title. The Warkhawks saw their season end with a 31-14 loss to the Cru.
Brand hasn’t forgotten that day. He’s looking forward to helping his team redeem itself for falling short of getting to the championship game in 2018.
“It means a lot. Last year, we were in the same position and lost. Seeing those seniors that day and knowing how much it hurt them, we don’t want to experience that. We want to put our hearts on the line.
“We are so close to the end but there is so much work to be done. I can’t wait for Saturday. It’s going to be so much fun.”