By Sam Spiegelman
Jordan Lomax wasn't even supposed to be on the field. An underclassman starting in DeMatha's star-studded secondary? Unheard of.
But on this particular Saturday night, with starter Kyrrel Latimer injured, Lomax stepped up. He took full advantage of the opportunity, racking up six tackles, knocking away two passes and recording an interception in an easy Week 3 win over Friendship Collegiate.
"I wasn't expecting to play or start, but they always told me to be ready," said the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Lomax. "It was one of the best games of my life."
DeMatha head coach Bill McGregor said that moment was the starting point of Lomax's superb season.
"From there, he started the rest of the season," McGregor said. "He worked hard and did everything we asked him to do. I don't think he can play any better than he did. Jordan just had a great junior year for us."
Lomax may have started the rest of the way, but he wasn't going to "Wally Pipp" anyone. Playing in a rotation, he finished the year with the one interception, three passes defended and around 30 tackles. This year, however, he'll be a mainstay in the Stags' secondary. Needless to say, expectations are high.
"I'm just going to play my heart out this season," Lomax said. "When I step onto the playing field, I turn it up to the highest level. Between the lines, it's just 60 minutes of football and I bring it all every time."
His coach is in agreement. McGregor believes Lomax's hard work and no-nonsense mentality will translate into success for both himself and the entire team. Now, it's all a matter of staying consistent and capitalizing on his talent.
"He's doing everything he can to turn himself into a fine football player," McGregor said. "His future is going to be in front of him. I think he's going to be outstanding this year for us."
Unlike many defensive back prospects, Lomax's game is refined. He has outstanding coverage skills, good hips and sure tackling to go along with a keen understanding of the game. That latter quality is what separates Lomax from the competition. He invests a great amount of time studying his opponents, first identifying the way receivers position their legs and hips. In doing so, he can predict which route they'll likely run as soon as they make their cut.
"Film tells you truths," McGregor said. "Just like if you would study for a biology class or a chemistry class, the more you study film the more familiar you're going to be with who you're going to line up against that Friday or Saturday night."
While Lomax's habits and film study give him that extra edge, it's his physical attributes that stand out, namely his speed. Lomax posted a mindboggling 4.42 40-yard-dash time at a recent combine, which is above and beyond what most elite high school athletes can achieve.
But apparently that's not good enough for Lomax. Heck, he's not even aiming for 4.3 - he wants to get down in the 4.2 range. In addition, Lomax wants to run the shuttle in a 4.0 flat.
Those are numbers not even Devin Hester could touch. But Lomax has lofty goals. Currently, he's on the DeMatha track team, which should help him attain his goal.
"Running track gives me an advantage in terms of agility and speed," Lomax said.
McGregor agreed, noting that football and track go hand-in-hand.
"Track gives you that extra step, that extra speed, that extra toque, and that makes you into a better football player," he said.
McGregor went on to compare Lomax to Josh Wilson and Anthony Wiseman, DeMatha track-stars-turned-defensive-back from seasons past. Both of those former Stags took their careers to Maryland and were key contributors in the Terps' secondary. Lomax, who has an offer from the Terps (as well as multiple other schools), could have the same impact at the next level, according to McGregor.
But Lomax is aiming even higher than college glory. In fact, he's setting his sites above even Wilson, who has had a solid career with the Seahawks. How high can Lomax go? How about New York Jets All-Pro cornerback Darelle Revis, his favorite player?
"That's how I want to play," Lomax says whenever he is watching Revis' games. "I'm impressed by the way he's all over opposing receivers and can easily anticipate which routes they are running."
Whether or not he develops into the next Revis remains to be seen. First, he has to prove something at the high school level. He has one more year to shine and McGregor isn't settling for less than the best.
"I expect him to be a shutdown corner," McGregor said. "He should be able to cover whoever lines up against him and do a great job defending him."
Lomax can give the coach even more than that. Unlike many cornerbacks, Lomax delivers the pain in the run game. Better yet, he knows how to make a tackle.
"I immediately go for the ball; I usually tackle low because I'm a sure tackler," Lomax said. "I don't always look for big hits; I just make sure they're on the ground so I don't make any mistakes."
Lomax can play all over the secondary, too. While he left his mark at cornerback, he also spent time at safety last season. Lomax even admitted he liked safety a little better, although cornerback would be just fine.
"At safety I'm able to make my reads better and diagnose the play faster and make quicker tackles and quicker plays on the ball," Lomax said. "But I like the challenges of man coverage and fighting through blocks to make tackles at cornerback."
While Lomax's skills are evident, he admits there are parts of his game that need work. He specifically pointed to his one-on-one ball skills, such as hand placement, how to swivel his hips and not biting on double-moves.
Lomax also wants to get to the point where he can transition smoothly from safety to cornerback within the course of a game.
But McGregor, who already believes Lomax has exceptional coverage skills, said that's just Lomax being humble. He said it's an indication of the type of person Lomax is and what a hard worker he strives to be.
"Someone who works hard on their weaknesses is a sign of a great competitor and someone who wants to be successful," McGregor said. "I think Jordan has the speed to be a great cover corner … what he needs to do is continue working on technique … he can't be satisfied."
Lomax is far from satisfied. In fact, he's even working on his receiving game, where he'll to be an integral part of the game plan. It's a role Lomax is looking forward to.
"I love to prove to the coaches I can do whatever I'm asked," Lomax said.
That's good, because McGregor wants to take full advantage of Lomax's talents. The old saying goes that defensive backs can't catch, otherwise they'd be receivers. Lomax defies the rule.
"I think he's equally good as a wide receiver," McGregor said. "He can give you that vertical push down the field … or throw him the short ball and let him catch it and go run. He's an athlete -- and an athlete with great speed. That's hard to find."
Besides his obvious on-field superiority, Lomax contributes in other ways as well. He prides himself on being a leader and prime motivator for his teammates. At DeMatha, leadership isn't just asked of an individual - it's required. Some players, however, command more respect than others. Lomax is one of those.
"If I say something, [my teammates] listen and are ready to play," Lomax said. "Every time we step in that huddle, I look into their eyes and they look into mine - that's my motivation; that's my family. "
His immediate family motivates him, too. Lomax has a tremendous support system at home, which has helped mold him into an upstanding young man, according to McGregor.
"They're so supportive," McGregor said. "They're always in his corner and they're just great people. I think having the family support that he does makes him that much better."
Playing for his teammates and family is certainly an incentive for Lomax. But in reality, all he needs is an open field and a pigskin to get fired up. The great ones succeed because they love the game, embrace the game. Some practically become the game. Lomax, it would seem, is headed down that path.
"Football has made me into the person I am today," Lomax said. "Football keeps me in line, keeps my behavior in check off the field; it gives me motivation to do better in life. It teaches me how to compete for my spot - in the work field or when I have to compete for jobs. If I wasn't playing football, I don't know where I'd be at right now."