Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 12, 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 18 of 55 OCT. 12, 2019 19 BY TODD D. BURLAGE I f there is one single childhood mo- ment for Irish junior linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath that fu- eled an already burning love of American football, it was delivered by his stepfather, Krister Genmark, when Jordan was about 10 years old. Growing up in Stockholm, Swe- den, Genmark Heath didn't have the benefit of powerful Pee Wee football leagues, summer camps or coaching gurus from whom to learn the game. Instead, Genmark Heath had a football-crazed stepfather who would find any opportunity to share bonding time with his stepson for their favorite game. So, on kind of an impulse from about 13 years ago, Krister Genmark planned an im- promptu surprise for his stepson. "Jordan just thought we were going to school that particular morning," re- called Krister, who had scored a cou- ple of game tick- ets and booked a flight from S t o c k h o l m t o San Diego to at- tend a Chargers NFL game. "But we were actually going to the air- port to fly to the U.S." More than 5,500 miles and 15 hours in the air, this was no typical surprise. "And I think somewhere right around that time," Krister recalled, "Jordan's dream of someday playing football in the United States might have truly come alive." Dreaming was easy. Making it come true was the tricky part. Sweden may be known for great soccer and hockey, but it's not exactly a hotbed for top football talent. Undeterred by his distant location and fueled in part by his trip to San Di- ego, Genmark Heath took it upon him- self to learn the finer points of Ameri- can football the old-fashioned way … through movies and the Internet. "I learned so much from YouTube. I love YouTube!" said Genmark Heath, who studied and learned online, then mirrored and practiced everything from gripping a ball properly as a quarterback, to how to run a post route as a wide receiver, to backped- aling in coverage as a defensive back. "It's all I ever watched, just always wanting to get better." And when Genmark Heath wasn't sitting on his computer, he was of- ten sitting alongside his stepfather, keeping very odd hours each NFL Sunday. Facing a nine-hour time difference, Jordan and Krister would go to bed at about 5 p.m. Saturday evenings and wake up at about 2 a.m. on Sunday to watch their beloved Chargers play. "Actually, it was to watch the Chargers lose back then," Genmark Heath joked. With YouTube to study, the Char- gers to watch, and a second-rate youth league to play in, Genmark Heath stayed engaged in football. But with no worthwhile competition or coaching in the area, frustration was building. "Even at 10 years old, I felt like I knew more than the coaches did," he said. "I thought about quitting." Talented and torn, Genmark Heath stuck with it, and about five years later, everything changed when Kris- ter Genmark secured a green card in an immigration lottery that allowed relocation for his family to the United States, with San Diego being the ulti- mate destination, of course. "We basically gave up everything we had," Krister said, "sold the house, sold the car, we were starting from scratch." The move was long, scary and not necessarily fully supported initially by Doreen Genmark, the matriarch of the family. "I would say it was my husband's and my son's dream coming here, so that's what we did," said Doreen, who was leaving behind a good job and countless family members. "It was such a tough adjustment. Every- thing is so different here compared to Sweden. But I love it now, it's home." Even with little formal coaching back home, Genmark Heath was a quick study, and an early bloomer. He was already 6-0 and 185 pounds in 2013 as a freshman at San Diego Francis Parker High School. Genmark Heath eventually trans- ferred to San Diego Cathedral Catho- lic for a more competitive high school experience. And while there, scholar- ship offers of all kinds started rolling in for this versatile athlete. Power Five schools recruited Genmark Heath as a quarterback, running back, wide re- ceiver and defensive back. "I went from playing high school football in the United States as being my only dream, to being able to play college football almost anywhere I wanted to go," said Genmark Heath, who held about 20 scholarship offers to choose from. Feeling most comfortable staying out West, Genmark Heath was fully committed to Cal until a couple of weeks before National Signing Day in 2017, when head coach Sonny Dykes was fired. The timing couldn't have been worse for Cal, or Gen- mark Heath, at least at the time. "Cal kept tell- ing me to be pa- tient and stay with my commit- ment," Genmark Heath recalled. "But as time was clicking and they still didn't have a coach, I was getting ner- vous and had to look elsewhere. That's when Notre Dame came swooping in." Oregon, Michigan and USC also joined the late recruiting push. But Genmark Heath said an immediate connection with then-Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko made Notre Dame, "the obvious choice." "From the academics, to the athlet- ics, to the national exposure, what- ever you need, it's here," Genmark Heath added. And now this reliable two-time Irish monogram winner and pride of Stockholm has parlayed a unique football journey from half a world away — along with his YouTube ad- diction — into a reliable role on the Irish defense and special teams. "Jordan is a phenomenal football player but he's even better as a per- son," Doreen Genmark said, holding back tears. "And I think that journey within his football [career], I'm more proud of that than any of his accom- plishments as an athlete. "I don't feel like I have to worry. He's going to be fine." ✦ PRIME IMPORT Junior linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath is living an unlikely dream Genmark Heath, who came to the U.S. from Sweden as a 15-year-old football fanatic, grew up watching NFL games in the wee hours of the morning and studying videos on YouTube to teach himself the finer points of the game. PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER

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