Yale University co-defensive coordinator Jordan Stevens speaks with a player during a game. The Mt. Blue graduate and University of Maine standout coaches the Bulldogs’ linebackers. (Yale University photo)
Football is what makes Jordan Stevens tick, and following his playing days, he found another passion to keep him in the game – coaching.
After giving the National Football League his best shot and playing for the United Football League for a year, Stevens, 31, knew he couldn’t stay away from a sport that has become his lifeblood.
“I kind of moved on from playing and knowing I wanted to get into coaching,” the 2005 Mt. Blue High School graduate said. “It was a way to stay involved with the game because I felt a huge void from not playing anymore — just the routine, the atmosphere, the environment.
“It is just kind of a part of who I am, and I think when I didn’t have it, I felt like there was something missing. And then I had an opportunity to start (coaching) at Maine at restricted earnings. I was an assistant to the line coach and I helped out … for two years.”
For the past four years, Stevens has been coaching the Yale University Bulldogs, but the road he took to get to New Haven, Connecticut, was the result of his determination and love of the game.
Man with a plan
Before he began coaching at Yale, where he is the co-defensive coordinator and mentors the Bulldogs’ linebackers, Stevens devised a plan to play Division I college on a scholarship after he graduated from Mt. Blue.
Stevens received offers to play football or ski at several Division III schools, but his heart was set on competing at the D-I level, and preferably at the University of Maine. He grew up watching the Black Bears and had been a fan for years.
“I had looked into Bridgton Academy (a college prep school in North Bridgton, Maine), not knowing a lot about it,” Stevens said. “I had known a couple of coaches there … but I had to sell it to my parents first that it was going to be a worthwhile investment (and) that I was going to make the most of it. I was big on that year to get a scholarship out of it.
“I had the academics to play Division I. I was probably a late bloomer and underdeveloped. So going there was huge in my development. It all worked, so then I ended up with a scholarship to Rhode Island or Maine.”
Dreams come true
Heading to Orono to play for the Black Bears was an easy sell for the 6-foot, 2-inch linebacker.
“Growing up, I went to a bunch of Maine games,” Stevens said. “Only a couple of times had students from Mt. Blue gone there. My heart was completely set on going to UMaine to play football. I didn’t get that opportunity at the high school. I didn’t know how to go about getting that opportunity. I might have got a letter, but it wasn’t like they were actively recruiting me.
“Like I said, I think I was a late bloomer. When I went to Bridgton Academy, it was the best decision I ever made in terms of my future, even moving forward today, because when I went there, I kind of bet on myself. I was there for one thing and I was on a mission to do that. So it was a really cool experience, looking back on it. It’s certainly something I am really proud of.”
Former UMaine coach Jack Cosgrove, who is now coaching at Colby College, immediately recognized that Stevens was a valuable asset, and he quickly put the business administration major to work.
“At Maine, I was recruited as a linebacker,” Stevens said. “I started my sophomore year at linebacker. My junior year I was moved to defensive end. I started at defensive end my junior and senior year.
“With coach Cosgrove, I liked his message to the kids, like how he handled situations. He is a no-nonsense kind of guy when it comes to player discipline, player-coach relationships, so I respect him a lot.”
According to the 2008 University of Maine football media guide, Stevens switched from linebacker to defensive end following the 2007 season. At the rover linebacker position, he started 10 of the 11 games. He went on to record 69 tackles (31 ST, 38 AT), including five for loss (minus-29 yards), and had two sacks (minus-4 yards), one pass breakup, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
He was an All-CAA defensive end for the Black Bears and helped lead the team to the 2008 NCAA playoffs while also earning All-New England honors. He also captained the team in 2009.
“He was an outstanding player,” Cosgrove said. “You know, I think during his time at Maine he played right away as a true freshman. So he didn’t get the benefit of a fifth year.
“He came from Bridgton Academy, so we played him right away and he had an impact on our special teams initially and then he worked himself into a regular role with us. He had an outstanding junior, senior year.”
Old (post-)college try
After a stellar career at UMaine, the ambitious Stevens knocked on the NFL’s door with thoughts of becoming a pro.
“I pursued that really hard, which I ended up with a tryout with the Lions,” Stevens said. “I went there to their rookie minicamp.
“Obviously, I would have pursued that 1,000 percent. It was a surreal moment being from Temple, Maine. To be from the state of Maine, that is a rarity. People don’t come out of where I grew up and do those type of things. It is such a far-fetched dream. That is one of the hardest things to do is playing in the NFL.”
But Stevens wasn’t discouraged when he wasn’t drafted by the NFL. He signed with the UFL and played for the Hartford Colonials for a year.
“He had NFL aspirations,” Cosgrove said. “I think one of the benefits he missed out there was we didn’t redshirt him.
“He had to play right away. A lot of those guys who had those NFL opportunities, they benefited from the redshirt, where they they got bigger, stronger and faster.”
The UFL went away after a year and Stevens joined the Georgia Force — an Arena Football team. But he was wise enough to see that this venue of football wasn’t worth his time and wasn’t exactly a career move.
“So when that ended, my head was keyed into coaching,” Stevens said. “It was something I really wanted to do.”
Back to Maine, onto Yale
There was no way Stevens was going to turn his back on the game he loved and played for most of his life. He saw coaching was the perfect opportunity to keep him connected to the sport and gainfully employed.
So he loaded up the car and moved back to Orono to begin coaching with Cosgrove for the next four years.
“I thought about coaching here and there,” Stevens said. “At Maine, I would work our summer camps. I coached high school kids out that way. I started thinking about it more and more, but when I left in Maine, I wanted to play in the NFL.”
He became an assistant defensive line coach for two years, then moved up to the head defensive line coach for two years before accepting a job at Yale.
“It (coaching) is probably something I don’t recommend to everybody, but Jordan really loved the game,” Cosgrove said. “Jordan is really one of those young men who had the work ethic that you could see that is totally required by this profession. You know, the hours, and the hours invested to lead to success, and Jordan is a guy who really understands that — and it was just a matter of time, gaining the experience of how to coach and going about his business that way.”
“He was a quick rise up the ladder for us,” Cosgrove added. “He really grew up fast and obviously got promoted to full-time, and he really did a great job for us.”
Cosgrove addsaid that Stevens has a presence, and his positive influence inspires college players.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Cosgrove said. “I want to see guys who played with us in the coaching ranks. It gives you a lot of pride because you have been an influence in their lives.
“You’ve recruited them, coached them … it gives me pride to see that happen. The sky’s the limit for him.”
Like a linebacker who reads an offense and makes his move, Stevens saw another opportunity open and he joined the Yale football coaching staff in 2015.
“I came here in 2015. Kevin Cahill, Steve Vashel were two coaches who were on the staff at Maine when I was a player,” Stevens said. “I kind of had a connection here. Then the defensive line job came open here and they asked me to interview, and I came down and got the job.
“It was a real tough decision for me to leave Maine, just because of where I played and I felt there was a connection to the kids because I felt like I had been in their shoes. Then coming here was a positive because the people have been great. It has been a good adjustment.”
Over the past four years, Stevens has coached three All-Ivy selections — defensive linemen John Herubin, Kyle Mullen and Charles Callender, while his group helped the Bulldogs snatch the Ivy League Championship.
Stevens has been impressed with the players’ dedication at Yale.
“There is definitely a commitment to winning here,” Stevens said. “There is a commitment to be the best in everything we do — whether that’s academically or athletically. We want to make sure we are committed to our kids every week.
“They have really shown that in the last couple of years in the way they performed and have done a really great job in turning football around.”
Opportunities continue to come for Stevens, who takes advantage of all that Yale has to offer him.
“I want to continue at the college level,” Stevens said. “I coached the D-line for three years. I coach the linebackers now, which has been a great transition for me in my development, just because you are coaching the whole formation. You are seeing a lot more.
“The thing for me, it is helping my development as a coach, working toward (being) a coordinator, and that’s what my goal is to be a coordinator.”
Then and now
Former Mt. Blue coach Gary Parlin was pleasantly surprised that Stevens turned to coaching to make a living.
“He was such a quiet kid,” Parlin said. “If someone would have told me when he was a sophomore, junior, he would be a coach — he definitely had the knowledge and respect, but, by God, he didn’t say too much. He was a pretty quiet kid.”
But when Stevens did speak, people listened, and his advice resonated with players, especially when it came to standing up for what is right.
Parlin remembers when two of his players were caught racing to school by the athletic directors and they were suspended for one game.
“They got caught by the ADs, and that’s our rules,” Parlin said. “And there was a bunch of people complaining about it, and (Stevens) was in class and one of the teachers asked him about the suspension, and Jordan said, ‘We have rules, and if they broke them, that’s the way it is. The coaches did the right thing,’
“A lot of kids on that team didn’t think we did the right thing. That’s the type of kid he was.”
Parlin said Stevens was introduced to football by his father, David, who was an outstanding athlete at Mt. Blue.
“His father was one of the all-timers at Mt. Blue,” Parlin said. “He played for Ray Caldwell before I was coaching. He had all the school records in scoring. He was a tailback — a great big kid — linebacker, and he was also a kicker. Those teams scored a lot of points.
“(Jordan) was the type of kid who wanted to play football from the time he was 2 years old. He would always go to the Maine football camp. He wanted to play at Maine in the worst way.”
But Jordan Stevens was also a heckuva an Alpine skier who helped Mt. Blue dominate Class A skiing. The boys’ team won the Class A Alpine championship four years in a row, and Stevens snatched the slalom state championship his junior and senior years.
“I grew up five minutes from Titcomb Mountain,” Stevens said. “Skiing-wise, I started when I was 2 years old. That’s what I did everyday after school and every day on the weekend.
“I was able to develop and become a good skier by the end of senior year.”
Stevens is now facing a challenge perhaps bigger than preparing Yale’s defense to face arch-rival Harvard University — raising a 6-month-old daughter Noella with his wife Ellen.
“So that’s been a game-changer,” Stevens said. “For the first five months, it was crazy. I didn’t know how were going to make it out of it.”
Cosgrove is proud of his protege becoming a family man.
“Just excited he had his first baby,” Cosgrove said. “He is growing up. It is great to see.”
Jordan Stevens mixes it up with St. Cloud State’s Scott Ferguson while Stevens was playng at the University of Maine in 2009. (Sun Journal file photo)
Mt. Blue graduate Jordan Stevens, pictured in 2009, was a defensive standout at the University of Maine. (Sun Journal file photo)
Former Mt. Blue High School standout Jordan Stevens, center, talks with University of Maine teammates Kris Enslen, left, and Mark Masterson before the 2009 college football season. (Sun Journal file photo)