Bill Little commentary: The troubadour
Sept. 6, 2009
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
One of the challenges of "faith" is that you have to believe to make it work.
And sometimes, it isn't just the believing that carries you -- it is the faith in believing.
Jordan Shipley knows this all too well. If there is a poster child for faith -- both that which has been challenged and that which has been validated -- the Longhorns receiver fills the role. When he came to Texas in 2004, the Longhorns were coming off a loss to Washington State in the 2003 Holiday Bowl, and hadn't been to a BCS game. Shipley was the darling of that recruiting class, and with good reason. At Burnet High, he had been a world-class star.
His brilliance had shown through fall training that season. Everything, we would later learn that year, seemed to be "Coming Up Roses" for him and his new love affair with Texas and its fan base. But all of that changed on one leaping catch at the end of one of the final pre-season practices. Shipley came down with the ball, but with a damaged knee. So when the Longhorns finally did get to the Rose Bowl that season, Jordan wasn't playing as UT took the field in the historic meeting with Michigan.
Then came the season of 2005, when again he was projected for stardom. A pulled hamstring before the year started sidetracked another season. Finally, in 2006, two years after he had come as the "boy wonder" to campus, Jordan Shipley finally got to play. With a bonding friendship with quarterback Colt McCoy, he began to play his way back.
The roommates -- Shipley and McCoy -- would follow in the path of their fathers, Bob Shipley and Brad McCoy, who had played football together at Abilene Christian. And by 2006, Shipley was a part of the Texas offense. He had come in the wake of the triple threat -- Roy Williams, B. J. Johnson and Sloan Thomas -- who closed out their careers in 2003.
From a television screen he had watched Tony Jeffrey catch a pass to beat Kansas in 2004, and Limas Sweed grab Vince Young's pass to beat Ohio State in the Horseshoe in 2005. He had moved from the limelight to the background. If ever a young man's faith should have been challenged, it was Jordan Shipley's. Life, at its best, is about goals and dreams. But when goals are not met and dreams seem distant, only faith prevails.
Through all of it, Shipley gave his time to kids in hospitals, spoke for church groups and wrote kids who were struggling with injuries, hoping that they, too, one day could walk through that valley just like Jordan. He had proved he could catch, proved he could take a hit, but the blazing speed which had helped make him the state of Texas' all-time leading high school receiver hadn't yet been tested.
And so it was that on a sunny day in Dallas, right there on the floor of the newly remodeled Cotton Bowl Stadium where so many destinies have traveled, Jordan Shipley caught a kickoff from the Oklahoma Sooners. With his team trailing, 14-0, he turned the game, the season, and Jordan Shipley's world around.
History will tell you that Jordan Shipley returned that kick 96 yards for a touchdown. Texas went on to a 45-35 victory. The season of 2008 turned into one of the best in Texas history, and a big part of it was the receiving tandem of Shipley and Quan Cosby, who helped roommate McCoy earn honors as the most accurate passer in NCAA history for a single season.
As the regular season ended, it was now time to put faith in some human beings who were part of an NCAA committee that considers appeals for those players who had lost seasons of eligibility to injury. Jordan earned his bachelor's degree from UT in December of 2008, and just before the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, he learned that his sixth year had been granted.
All of that brings us to Saturday night in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Throughout the summer, Jordan and Colt and their Longhorn teammates had worked every day for this moment - a crowd of 101,096, the opening of a new season, high hopes, big dreams.
The record will show that Texas defeated the ULM, 59-20. Colt McCoy surpassed 10,000 passing yards in his career, and UT posted an impressive season opener with all of the components of a great night - a tremendous showing with room still for improvement. Call it an impressive "work in progress."
Jordan Shipley was out early for practice on Saturday night, joining the kickers as their holder as the crowd began filtering into the stadium. Before the night was over, he would catch eight passes for 180 yards, including a 78-yard touchdown. His fourth season, in his sixth year at Texas, began with a flourish.
Those whose lives he has touched along the way cheered. When he came to Texas, Vince Young nicknamed him "ESPN" because of some of his highlight catches.
Jordan has now spent more than a quarter of his life at Texas, and in the space of time that has spanned his stay, he has learned the hard lessons of reality and challenges. But most of all, this has never been about him. It is he about the team, and it is about people. He has learned the value of being who you are, and the faith of who you can be - whatever that may look like. They call that maturity I am told.
He's an outstanding golfer, and he writes songs and picks a pretty mean guitar. That fits a country boy from Burnet, Texas who likes to hunt and fish, and it also is a bit prophetic, when you consider one of his favorite performers is country singer George Strait.
Strait's recent album is entitled, "An Old Troubadour," and the hit title song probably strikes a chord with Jordan, even though he's not going to be hanging around any honky tonks. In the song, Strait talks about a mirror of life and offers that a mirror "Don't really tell the whole truth. It don't show what's deep inside...".
And then the refrain says, "I was a young troubadour when I rode in on a song, and I'll be an old troubadour when I'm gone."
In other words, it is not about what you are, but who you are. Time doesn't change that. And faith takes many forms, but the strongest for Jordan Shipley is his faith in his God, which helps fuel his belief in himself.