CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Survivors of horrific trauma often have no memory of the actual incident that left them maimed. Its the brains way of coping with events too extreme to process.
Dion Jordan has no such luck. He remembers everything about that awful day in late 2007.
He remembers his knucklehead friends trying to siphon gas from a car with a vacuum cleaner. He remembers unplugging the machine to prevent something terrible from happening.
And he remembers, with great clarity, the explosion that torched his teenage body, an accident that imperiled not only his NFL dreams, but also threatened his promising young life.
I was kind of in shock, because I didnt understand what was going on, Jordan said last week while hanging out in his familys apartment in suburban Phoenix. Everything happened so fast.
Jordan sustained second- and third-degree burns up and down his 6-6 body, scarring him for life. Paramedics feared Jordan also inhaled a toxic amount of chemicals when the gasoline ignited. Luckily, he didnt.
Still, some thought he might never walk properly again. His football prospects? Dim.
Now 23, the young man who once struggled to get out of bed is a fit and fierce pass-rusher, and the next great hope for the Miami Dolphins, who drafted him third overall in late April.
Hes a miracle kid, said Emily Rubin, Jordans high school English teacher and academic advisor.
Leader in high school
Greater Phoenix isnt so much a city as it is the worlds biggest strip mall, and Chandler a diverse, prosperous town of 240,000 just south of Tempe is no different.
The road into Chandler is an endless stretch of modest neighborhoods, used car lots, liquor stores and check-cashing centers. Air conditioning is a must; the temperatures often top 100 degrees before May.
In the center of town stands Chandler High School, a massive, 60-acre campus thats the scholastic home to more than 3,400 kids.
The school, which is two years shy of its centennial celebration, has produced pro athletes, businessmen, small-screen stars and, as outgoing athletic director Dave Shapiro admitted sheepishly, a handful of death-rows finest.
Despite a rich football history notable alums include former St. Louis Ram Adam Archuleta and Gordon Rule, a defensive back drafted by Vince Lomardi in the 1960s Chandler has just one state football title to its credit.
Chandlers sister school, Hamilton, is a rival in name only. Hamilton has won all 16 meetings between the two teams, including one particularly embarrassing collapse by Chandler, when the Wolves somehow blew a 10-point lead with 40 seconds to play.
The sibling rivalry between the schools can often get petty, if not downright mean. But the day Jordan got burned, that all disappeared. The hospitals waiting room was packed with players from both teams, all in support of the tall, rangy defensive lineman.
He was a great kid; I dont think he was ever in trouble, said Shaun Aguano, Chandlers head football coach. Aguano served as offensive coordinator during the time Jordan spent on campus.
At practice, he was a leader, Aguano added. He controlled the locker room. Everybody liked Dion.
Theres no animosity about him.
Technically, Jordan is an outsider. Born in San Francisco, he was sent to live with his aunt Yative Tiger in Arizona at age 12. The reason: to get him out of Hunters Point, the rough neighborhood where the Jordan family lived.