22% Better: From Tragedy to Triumph
Two Utah football players who were best of friends and tragically died nine months apart, were in death as they were in life: catalysts for success.
RB Ty Jordan and CB Aaron Lowe were inseparable and were teammates in high school at West Mesquite High School in Mesquite, TX. And they continued that brotherhood with the Utes.
2020: Making a Name for Himself
As a freshman in 2020, a shortened season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jordan did not disappoint. He rushed for 597 yards and 6 touchdowns in 5 games. Jordan rushed for over 100 yards in each of his last three games, scoring all six of his TDs. He averaged 7 yards per carry.
Jordan’s offensive numbers looked like this:
167 yards, 1 touchdown in 30–24 win over Oregon State.
147 yards, 2 TDs in a 38–21 win over Colorado. Jordan averaged over 8 yards per rush in that game.
154 yards, 3 TDs in 45–28 win over Washington State, averaging 7 yards per carry.
Jordan earned PAC-12 Freshman of the Year honors. He was also named Freshman All-American by The Athletic.
A Young Life Taken Too Early
On Christmas Night in 2020, Jordan accidentally shot himself in the stomach. He was rushed to a hospital, where he later died.
He was 19 years old.
His friend Lowe was in shock. Family and fans mourned. The football staff worked to help the team through the grieving process.
Lowe switched his jersey number to #22, to honor his fallen friend and teammate. A scholarship was created in Jordan’s name and Lowe was the first recipient.
A Season in the Aftermath
The 2021 football season began, and the Utes started out at 2–2. Lowe played on Special Teams.
Hours after beating Washington State 24–13, tragedy struck the Utes program again.
On September 26, 2021, Lowe was killed in a shooting at an off-campus house party attended by several Utah football players. Lowe’s girlfriend was also shot.
Two more young people added to the list of victims of gun violence.
If there was a ray of light in the darkness, it was that Utah had a bye week coming up the week of the shooting. It was time available to help the players left behind to understand and cope with losing yet another teammate.
At his funeral, Lowe was buried in his Utah football uniform.
The Utes could have shut down and just went through the “motions” of playing the season. But instead, they became a closer band of brothers. They became stronger.
After Aaron Lowe was laid to rest, Utah earned victories over USC and Arizona State. Then, they lost a game they weren’t supposed to lose…to Oregon State.
This was a turning point in the 2021 season.
“Be 22% Better”
The Utes came up with the mantra “be 22% better,” the 22 referring to the jersey number of both Jordan and Lowe.
Utah proceeded to go on a 6-game winning streak, beating Oregon twice, on their way to winning the school’s first PAC-12 championship.
They earned a berth in the Granddaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl, to face off against Ohio State. In an epic battle, the Utes came up short against the Buckeyes, losing 48–45.
The memory of their fallen teammates gave the Utes purpose and the will to succeed on the football field.
The Utes are set up to “be better in 2022,” with QB Cameron Rising and RB Tavion Thomas (21 rushing TDs) returning on offense, and they have some talent back on defense.
Jersey #22 is officially retired at Utah.
Thanks for reading.
Material for this article was sourced from cfbstats.com; Associated Press story: “Authorities: Utah’s Ty Jordan Died in Accidental Shooting,” December 27, 2020; ESPN story: “How Utah United Through the Grief of Two Players Deaths,” by Kyle Bonagura, December 31, 2021; utahutes.com.