When Jordan Fuller’s mom saw the video clip of Ryan Day gushing about her son, she screamed with what she called unspeakable joy.
When his dad saw it, she said, he choked up and had tears in his eyes.
Last week, the Ohio State coach was asked about Fuller, the Buckeyes safety who’s as big a star off the field as on it.
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“He does everything the way you'd want your son to do it,” Day said. “If you had a daughter, you'd want her to marry him. That's the kind of kid he is. He does everything right.
“He's Academic All-American. He's a tremendous football player. He's playing at a high level right now. He's got really good leadership. He does things off the field. He's very, very respectful. He's a team captain. It's like, how many things can you do right, and that's Jordan, and we're really blessed to have him.”
On Wednesday, Fuller was named a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, given to the top scholar-athlete in college football.
Fuller has both aspects of the criteria covered. His GPA is a shade over 3.6, and he is on track to graduate in December with a degree in business marketing.
On the field, he is a two-time captain and three-year starter and linchpin of the secondary.
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Fuller grew up in New Jersey understanding the importance of living up to high expectations. His father, Bart Fuller, is director of asset protection for Walgreens on the East Coast, which Jordan said involves protecting about 1,600 drugstores against theft. The elder Fuller played football at TCU.
Jordan's mom, Cindy Mizelle, has an even higher-profile career. She is a well-known backup singer who has toured with Luther Vandross, the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, among others. Vandross was “Uncle Luther” to Jordan, his older brother, Devin, and his younger sister, Jasmine.
The Fuller kids often accompanied their mother on tour. They saw the dedication and attention to detail shown by the elite in that field. Mizelle believes that rubbed off on her kids, not that Jordan needed much prodding.
He was always a happy kid, she said, always smiling and always competing with Devin, who is four years older. Devin played for UCLA and is trying to get a foothold in the NFL.
Jordan showed such potential that Rutgers offered him a scholarship before he entered high school. He believes his brother’s prowess had a lot to do with that. Rutgers never really had a shot at Fuller, who became a four-star prospect. Academically, Fuller was such a good student that Harvard and Princeton recruited him.
“My parents always instilled in me that school comes first,” he said. “School was always important to me just to make my family proud, and I’ve kind of kept it going.”
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Excelling at both school and football requires self-discipline and excellent time management.
“(I have) so much respect for him,” said Fuller’s roommate, senior defensive end Jonathon Cooper, at Big Ten media days in July. “He really sets the standard for student-athletes. He holds it to the highest level and deserves all the praise and recognition that he’s getting.”
It’s not easy, and Fuller acknowledged that yes, occasionally he will procrastinate. But those moments are fleeting. He embraces the sacrifice required to excel both in the classroom and on the football field. He knows it will pay off long term.
“Football ends at some point,” he said. “You’ve got to prepare for that as much as you can. Football is the top priority right now, but I’m still a person. I’m not just a football player. And when football ends, I don’t want to be in a spot where I’m just completely lost. Whenever football ends, I want to be able to hit the ground running basically.”
Fuller has also found time to be involved in campus organizations. He serves on the board of Redefining Athletic Standards, the group that teammate Austin Mack helped to form that serves as a bridge for black student-athletes to the greater African American student body.
Inspired by a mentor in the tutoring program, Kiara McClendon, Fuller also helped create a student-athlete-led seminar called The Buckeye Way to educate athletes on issues related to sexual violence. They recruited actor and former NFL player Terry Crews, who has said he was a sexual assault victim in Hollywood.
“Definitely a lot of hours were put into that trying to develop a program for that,” Fuller said. “We wanted to come up with a program that was educational but not uncomfortable, either.”
McClendon raved about Jordan’s work with The Buckeye Way and just about him as a person.
“I just think he’s a special young man,” she said. “I think he’s just a great person. He prides himself on showing up every day giving his best effort, being a leader and someone who’s great to be around. It more than shines through when you interact with him.”
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Fuller could have entered the NFL draft after last season but returned. Ohio State’s defense struggled badly, and Fuller, despite being one of its bright spots, thought there was unfinished business.
“And I just love being around my teammates,” he said. “Leaving that, I couldn’t see it for myself. I didn’t feel fully ready to make that jump yet.”
The defense is much improved from last year. Fuller leads the team in tackles, although he hasn’t had to make many major-impact plays. But the Buckeyes understand his importance to the team, as Day expressed last week in the comments that made his parents so proud.
“I was smiling so wide,” his mom said. “I was frozen at first with my hand over my mouth. Then I had to hear it again and again and again.”
Fuller appreciated his coach’s words.
“I was kind of like, wow, that’s the highest compliment you can get,” he said. “You know how protective fathers are over their daughters. For somebody to say I’m the type of person you want your daughter with just really hit home.
“I’m really grateful for coach Day. I just want to do everything I can to make this year a special one for him.”