Westerkamp leading Nebraska's receivers with style
Oct. 14, 2014
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — It's a good thing for Nebraska that Jordan Westerkamp ultimately chose football over ice cream.
The little boy who grew up to become the Cornhuskers' mustachioed master of the circus catch wasn't sure the sport was for him when he showed up at a suburban Chicago park for the first practice with his third-grade team.
The kids were in the middle of a drill when Jordan went to the sideline feigning illness. In reality, he couldn't resist the siren song of the ice cream truck rolling by on a 98-degree afternoon.
"He went off on his own and decided to eat ice cream with the ice cream man," said his dad, Bob Westerkamp, who happened to be the coach. "I talked him into coming back out another day, told him it's not as hot now. Once we got him out there, his first catch went 85 yards for a touchdown."
A dozen years later, Jordan is not only the 19th-ranked Cornhuskers' leading receiver but also the proprietor of perhaps the best hands in college football.
This Saturday's game at Northwestern is a red-letter game for him. About 150 family members and friends will be in the stands in Evanston, Illinois, about half-hour drive from the Westerkamp home in Glen Ellyn.
With 25 catches for 474 yards and three touchdowns, Jordan is off to the best six-game start of any receiver in Bo Pelini's seven seasons as coach. The sophomore caught nine balls for 158 yards, both career highs, in the Oct. 4 loss at Michigan State.
"Last year, being able to get my feet wet my first year playing, was a great learning experience," he said. "Going out this season, it seems things have slowed down."
Jordan burst onto the scene last year when he came down with Ron Kellogg III's tipped 49-yard Hail Mary just inside the goal line with no time left to beat Northwestern. Naturally, Jordan continues to be asked about the play often. He understands why, but he's ready to move on, as his dad advised him to do.
"You don't want to be known as that one-catch wonder," Bob said.
Sure enough, Jordan trumped that catch in the first game this season, instinctively moving his outstretched hands from in front of him to behind his back to snag Tommy Armstrong Jr.'s deflected pass against Florida Atlantic.
And there have been other grabs he's made that have left teammates, coaches, commentators and fans slapping their foreheads.
"His hands are ridiculous," freshman receiver Demornay Pierson-El said.
Asked if the behind-the-back catch amazed even him, Jordan said he tries to stay humble. But after a pause, he admitted, "Sometimes I've got to look at it and say that was pretty cool."
Jordan has formed a strong connection with Armstrong. He and the quarterback are roommates, training partners and best friends. But his ability to make seemingly impossible catches is the product of countless hours he's spent with his father working on his craft.
Both Jordan and Bob set state receiving records at Montini Catholic High in Lombard, Illinois. Bob went to the University of Illinois and was beset by injuries. He finished his career as a two-time All-American at Benedictine (Ill.) College. Bob, who owns and operates assisted living centers and nursing homes, was receivers coach at Montini High while Jordan was there. Their work carried over to the backyard.
Bob would aim a football-passing machine 15-20 yards away from Jordan's chest and set the speed at 85 mph. Jordan snagged ball after ball.
Another drill had a kneeling Jordan snare balls thrown to his left and right, low and high. He repeated the drill, except catching the ball one-handed. He ran deep patterns where he was required to reach back for underthrown balls. Whatever type of catch Bob imagined, Jordan practiced it.
"The kid has been dedicated to becoming a great receiver for a long time," Pelini said. "He does the extra. He always has, and he is a kid who gets every ounce out of his ability."
Bob joked that he and Jordan would good-naturedly argue about who was the better receiver. The case was closed, Bob said, when Jordan made the behind-the-back jaw-dropper against Florida Atlantic.
"That's the catch of all catches," Bob told Jordan. "I bow to you. You're the champion."