NFL Broadcaster Ryan Clark Has a Dream Job: Training His Son, Jordan

“I COULD HAVE been anywhere else in the world,” Ryan Clark tells his son, Jordan, as he backpedals, breaks, and sprints forward on the burnt-out grass of an Arizona football field baked by the desert sun. “But I’m here with you.”

The elder Clark squints against the brightness of the day, sweat soaking his shirt, his beard streaked with gray—but there’s a glint in his eye as Ryan fixes his gaze on Jordan. The father marvels at the skills of the son. The quickness. The toughness. The intellect. The instinct. All, he says, better than his own at the same age. Better than he ever was. This sentiment fills Ryan with pride as he mirrors his middle child at the line of scrimmage, drilling footwork, weight shift, and explosiveness.

Twice a month, 44-year-old Ryan Clark still trains his 23-year-old son. Ryan had a 13-year NFL career at safety, a Pro-Bowler and a Super Bowl champ; he recorded five tackles in the Pittsburgh Steelers 2009 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Since his retirement in 2015, he has been a broadcaster for ESPN, and he also hosts The Pivot Podcast with NFL pals Fred Taylor and Channing Crowder. But it’s the role of “Dad” that Ryan cherishes most. “There are only two things I loved the first time I ever held them,” he says. “A football and my children.”

As a prep player, Ryan missed out on attending Notre Dame, his dream school, and landed at Louisiana State University. Despite starting 36 consecutive games for the Tigers, he went undrafted in 2002, and had to battle to make his NFL dreams come true. He vowed to do whatever he could to make things easier on his kids. When his oldest daughter Jaden declared she wanted to be a fashion designer, he introduced her to his tailor and let her design his suits. “Those things were awful, but I wore them with such pride,” he recalls. His youngest daughter, Loghan, who is now in culinary school, has always wanted to be a baker. When she was just a little girl, Clark and wife Yonka helped her start a business called Lolo’s Yummy Cakes.

jordan and ryan clark

The girls, however, never had much of an interest in football. It was Jordan who tagged along to the Steelers’ Saturday walkthroughs, corralling Troy Polamalu’s kids on the sidelines. And when 13-year-old Jordan announced he was giving up soccer and hoops to focus on football with the goal of playing in college, his father went all in. “I retired for Jordan,” Ryan says. “Yes, I was old and beat up, but when he told me he wanted to play college football, I felt like I could give him that opportunity.”

For the last 10 years, Ryan has trained Jordan, which has encompassed everything from 5 a.m. wake-ups for footwork and conditioning drills to fierce bouts of “Danney Ball”— essentially 2-on-2 beach volleyball played with a 12-pound medicine ball. Ryan coached Jordan’s 7-on-7 team, where he first introduced Jordan to the idea of evolving from the cornerback he was to the nickelback he has become. When Jordan was at University Lab High School in New Orleans, he’d huddle up with the rest of his team after drives and listen to what his coach had to say. Then, his coach would nod, and Jordan would trot over to the fence for a download with his dad. “I knew he knew more than my coaches did, and they knew it too,” Jordan says.

Many of the lessons were physical, like after Jordan missed three tackles against Livonia High School running back Patrick Queen (now with the Steelers) in a game his sophomore year. In the pre-dawn hours of the next morning, 205-pound, 37-year-old Ryan, in his old Riddell helmet from the Super Bowl, too-small shoulder pads, and Lululemon pants, lined up for tackling drills against 15-year-old, 135-pound Jordan. Ryan had Jordan work on getting off blocks, wrapping the arms and driving the legs, and doing it violently and aggressively while remaining safe. “I told him, ‘If you miss a tackle, you’re going to miss the tackle like you missed it because you wanted to make it too badly, not because you didn’t want to make it at all,’” Ryan says. Jordan, who still claims his father is the best tackler he’s ever seen, took that early-morning lesson as inspiration. Ryan now says Jordan is “pound-for-pound, one of the toughest humans I’ve ever been around.”

ryan clark and jordan clark

courtesy clark

Ryan watching as Jordan works in the gym. 

ryan clark and jordan clark

courtesy clark

The father and son drill Jordan’s DB skills. 

JORDAN ALSO WATCHED his undrafted father’s perpetual drive to be better to prove he belonged, his knack for surrounding himself with people who were strong in areas he wasn’t, and the humble way he asked questions because there was always something else to learn. Ryan taught Jordan to let go of what he can’t control, to trust himself and act decisively, and to always give his all. “There is no short-changing football—there is no short-changing anything you do—because if you short-change, it’s going to show up,” Jordan says. “I got that mindset from my Dad.”

Jordan had a career-high 50 tackles last season at Arizona State before hitting the transfer portal and getting picked up by Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish were looking for a new nickelback, and though he’s just 5’10” and 185 pounds, Jordan has earned a reputation as an intelligent, instinctive, and aggressive hitter in the slot. Ryan, who wore a fake Notre Dame letterman jacket all through high school despite New Orleans’ crushing heat, could not be more thrilled. “I get to watch my son play at the school that was my dream school,” Ryan says. “God has a funny way of giving you your dreams in better ways than you could have imagined. That’s what he did for me through Jordan this year.”

The Clarks have an understanding about football. As Jordan moves up the ranks, there is no pressure for him to match or eclipse his father’s accomplishments or compete over how they’d have stacked up against each other. Ryan will be there at every game (and for their regular training sessions, too). Jordan takes pride in his family name, but his journey will be his own.

On this Father’s Day, though they’ll be far apart—Jordan at Notre Dame’s summer program in South Bend, Ryan at home in Louisiana—Jordan will send Ryan a gift. But Ryan thinks only about what he hopes football will give his son: Discipline, work ethic, forever friends, and a lifetime of memories.

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