Jordan Lucas is an expressive individual.
The Nittany Lion cornerback never leaves his dorm room on Penn State’s campus without his headphones. He’s got a playlist for every occasion and a songlist to fit any mood.
Before football practices and games , his earphones spit the verses of his favorite underground Chicago rappers — Lil Bibby, Chief Keef and Lil Herb are in Lucas’ recent rotations. Sometimes he goes old school with New York’s DMX.
If he needs to unwind after football practice, he reverts to smooth R&B sounds to lift his spirits and calm his mind.
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“My earphones are a part of me,” Lucas says. “I love music. It takes me to a certain place. It does everything to me. It calms me down. It fires me up. It puts me in certain types of moods and helps me get out of certain moods.”
He finds talking to be a useful tool. Lucas, although he’s only a sophomore and in just his first season as a starter for Penn State, has quickly become a player who is just as valuable to his team in the post-game media rooms as he is on the field. One of Penn State’s most physical defenders, Lucas is also one of the Nittany Lions’ most outspoken players.
He’s answered the media bell after every game. He speaks from the heart every time. Bright lights don’t intimidate him. Microphones and recording devices in his face don’t cause him to back off when he needs to call it like it is. Brutally honest assessments after each of his team’s losses — he’s a harsh self-critic — have earned him the admiration from his teammates.
His sense of humor isn’t lost on his teammates.
“He’s one of the jokers in the locker room,” senior safety Ryan Keiser said. “He’s a funny guy. He always makes me laugh. He’s a great guy to be around for the team.”
There’s no doubt, Lucas wears his emotions on his sleeves — literally. His arms are covered in tattoos. He insists he’s not fond of going to the doctor and isn’t crazy about needles. But there’s something about getting inked that Lucas is willing to endure. He even relishes it, siting there peacefully each time a tattoo artist’s needle pricks him at a rapid pace.
“I can sit there and get a tattoo for hours,” Lucas said.
Each one has a meaning, he said. The first tattoo he ever got? A football on his right bicep. No piece of body art has more meaning than the name that runs down his right forearm. Lucas points down at it — a first name in script-type letters that starts just below his elbow and ends a few inches above his wrist.
“This one, that’s my little brother, Brandon,” Lucas said.
Just below that, the letters MBK.
“That means ‘My Brother’s Keeper,’” he said.
He continues down his arm where chainlinks wrap around his wrist and a big padlock forever holds them together.
“That’s an unbreakable lock,” he said. “That’s a bond that me and him have. You can’t break that.”
‘My main man’
Brandon, now 15, was born with autism. He struggles to say a few words. He’s never seen his older brother play football in person.
“That’s my main man and he’s never been able to see me do what I do, do what I love,” Lucas says. “It hurts me but at the same time I understand, I’m realistic.”
Yolanda Lucas, Jordan’s stepmom, takes care of Brandon. The two live in White Plains, N.Y. while Jordan’s father, Vincent, lives in New Rochelle.
As Jordan got older, he got more involved with sports. He was always a solid basketball player but realized he wanted to chase football before his sophomore year of high school. New Rochelle, a much bigger school of nearly 3,400 students, had a stronger football program and Lucas thought he’d have a better chance to excel playing for the Huguenots and coach Lou DiRienzo.
Lucas quickly emerged as a star on offense.
But he would always make trips back to White Plains, only about 15 miles away from New Rochelle, to check on his little brother.
“We’re very, very close. Even though he can’t talk, the little things that I do make him happy,” Lucas said. “When I come home and I just show up and surprise him. He doesn’t know how to act, because he gets so excited.”
But once his senior year ended at New Rochelle, Lucas needed to do more work. He needed to improve his grades in order to make it to a major college.
‘Sense of direction’
With its giant, red-brick buildings, Worcester Academy sits almost in the center of Massachusetts, nearly two hours and 45 minutes from where Lucas grew up.
He lived there as a boarding student for a post-graduate year. He also was one of a handful of soon-to-be Division I football players to leave the tiny campus where the class size — only 13 to 15 students per session — was considerably smaller than what Lucas was used to at New Rochelle.
Lucas said he met some of his best friends at Worcester Academy. They made it easier for him to be away from his family and Brandon.
There was Canaan Severin, who would go on to play wide receiver at Virginia. On the other side of the ball, Steven Daniels and John Robinson-Woodgett — now linebackers at Boston College and UMass, respectively — were Lucas’ classmates and buddies.
While honing their skills on the gridiron, one that saw limited fanfare compared to New Rochelle, each postgraduate player sharpened his skills in the classroom.
Lucas learned how to study and focus.
“In order to get recruited by a top school, he knew that he had to get through that prep year to get those positive looks,” Vincent Lucas said of his son. “He did just that. He came back with a better sense of direction. He came back more academically structured. He came back as a better and a more mature young man.”
‘Strong character guy’
It was Nov. 5, 2011. That morning, Lucas awoke as pumped as he’s ever been. He’d travel with Worcester Academy up the road to Andover, Mass., where his Hilltoppers would play their second-to-last game of the season against Phillips Academy.
Penn State coaches, specifically Lucas’s recruiting coach Mike McQueary, would be there to watch. Lucas was sure he’d get an offer if he played well enough.
But Lucas had the TV on and Penn State was all over the news. And not for football. The grand jury presentment in the Jerry Sandusky scandal had been released that morning.
Worcester Academy coach Dave Dykeman phoned Lucas. He didn’t think McQueary would show up.
As he played one of his best games of the season and Worcester throttled Phillips, 28-7, Lucas kept peeking toward the stands. McQueary was nowhere to be found. His heart sank.
“I remember my stats because this game meant a lot to me,” Lucas said. “Eight rushes for 152 yards. I had one receiving touchdown and I had one interception. I knew if he came it would’ve been a good thing.”
But Penn State’s coaching staff was soon in disarray and Lucas committed to Temple shortly thereafter. With a postgraduate year under his belt, Lucas was prepared as he never had been to start college. He decided he’d enroll early at Temple.
But a phone call changed those plans at the last minute.
A week before he was scheduled to be in Philadelphia to schedule his first college classes, Lucas was pulled out of a class by Dykeman who had the phone in his office on hold.
The call was for Lucas. When he took it, then-defensive coordinator Ted Roof asked him right away, did he still have interest in Penn State?
“I was like, ‘Of course I would,’” Lucas said.
He let the Temple coaches know he wouldn’t be coming to enroll. At least not yet.
Two days later, on a Sunday, coaches Roof, John Butler and Ron Vanderlinden all made the 400-mile trip to Worcester to visit Lucas one more time and meet with compliance officials. Everything checked out. The Penn State coaches offered him a scholarship. Lucas took it on the spot.
“What Jordan went through, you’ve got to be a strong character guy,” Dykeman said. “Because there was a point where Jordan didn’t know. He was giving up Temple without an offer yet. He gave it up with the chance. And then obviously Penn State offered him that Sunday. But we went a good 48 hours where if Penn State didn’t offer, he had just lost his offer to go to Temple.
“He believes in himself.”
‘My big brother’
Lucas’ biggest fan has never seen him play football in person.
That is about to change. Brandon will make the trip to Happy Valley next weekend with Yolanda and Vincent Lucas to watch his big brother play against Purdue. He’ll see a player that has quickly ascended.
No longer is Lucas a true freshman trying to earn more playing time by toiling away on special teams.
He’s gone from a gunner on kickoff team and destroyer — the outside havoc-wreaker on the punt team — to one of the team’s most consistent and relied-upon contributors. Now, Lucas is asked to play multiple spots. He’s lined up at boundary corner, field corner and nickelback this season.
His 46 tackles rank third on the team. Most of them have been of the physical variety.
Lucas, who works out with one of New Rochelle’s most famous alums — Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice — in the offseason, has packed on nearly 15 pounds of muscle since arriving at Penn State.
He’s a Jim O’Hora Award winner. His name has been immortalized among other Penn State defenders who have received the award as the team’s most improved defensive player from one year to the next. Lucas earned the distinction after spring ball.
He feels faster and stronger, and has put more time into watching film, critiquing himself. At least once a week his phone rings.
Former Penn State cornerback Stephon Morris, who spent time this year as a free agent with the New England Patriots, barks at him from the other line.
“He just tells me certain things, different things every week to work on. Because he’s a critic of my play,” Lucas says. “And he lets me know what I’m doing right, what I’m doing wrong and he’s not afraid to let me know. That’s one thing I love about him. He’s like my big brother.”
It’s a role Lucas is used to playing at home. Finally, for once, he’ll get to do it in a specialized way — playing football for Brandon as his younger brother looks on.
“I think Jordan is part of the reason Brandon has evolved and become such a wonderful kid,” Vincent Lucas said. “He’s inspired him and he’s inspired Jordan because of the challenges he faces that makes Jordan stronger.”