An individual hears the word “no” an estimated 148,000 times by the age 18. This tends to have a negative psychological effect on the majority of people.
But it didn’t affect BYU football wide receiver Jordan Leslie.
As a child, Leslie hoped to play football for the University of Texas. As the Tomball, Texas, native approached his final year of high school, he was anxious to see his hard work pay off. He’d had a remarkable season, including being named a first-team Texas all-state receiver. Leslie waited for offers from the big football programs in the nation, but his heart was set on attending Texas.
As the signing day for college football recruits approached, no one seemed to show any interest in Leslie. Essentially, Texas said “no.”
Leslie eventually opted to attend the University of Texas at El Paso. He excelled there and become one of the most prolific receivers in school history, despite UTEP’s run-first offense.
Leslie also walked a tougher path than some college athletes by choosing to study electrical engineering. His coaches objected and warned him that he would be kicked off the team if he didn’t make grades.
Again, Leslie was told he could not do something. He did it anyway.
He graduated in three years with a 3.7 GPA.
Once again, he approached graduation with one remaining year of eligibility and one more chance to make a name for himself. Last February, Leslie announced he would be playing out his final year of eligibility at BYU and enrolled in the executive MPA program.
Upon arrival, Leslie faced questions as to how he was going to fit in the program. Many players wondered if he would commit to the “Band of Brothers” or play greedily. Fellow receiver Mitch Mathews was one of them.
“Is he going to be selfish and not play for the team?” was the question Mathews posed to a Salt Lake Tribune reporter. Leslie both expected and understood this behavior.
“A lot of people would be upset that a new receiver was coming in,” he said.
However, Leslie’s competitive nature never let him shy away from a challenge, and so he went to work. He introduced himself to several players by phone before officially coming to BYU and got to know many more within his first week on campus. Mathews and the team were surprised at how fast Leslie immersed himself in the program and university.
“I have seen Jordan Leslie come in and be more of a part of this team than I have ever expected any guy coming in for one year to do,” Mathews said. “He’s representing BYU well on and off the field.”
On the field, Leslie initiated his final year strongly. He had seven receptions for 85 yards in BYU’s 41-7 upset over Texas on the road. That victory was especially meaningful to Leslie, who obtained retribution that night.
Leslie said he feels he has improved while at BYU both in skill and mental strength and is currently averaging more than 14 yards per catch. He attributes his success to the coaching staff and his competitive nature.
“Anything there is, I want to win it,” Leslie said.
His resilient, competitive edge is somewhat of a mystery since he has never had a winning season in his career, including in high school.
BYU receiver coach Guy Holliday originally recruited Leslie to UTEP and coached him for several years before Holliday took a position at BYU. Holliday also attested to Leslie’s competitive quality.
“Jordan has the same attributes I liked from day one when I recruited him. He’s a complete player,” Holliday said. “The thing that makes him different from a lot of other players is that he is probably the most competitive person I know, besides myself.”
Leslie also has a lighter side. BYU running back and teammate Jamaal Williams knows Leslie for his positive attitude and sense of humor.
“He always has someone smiling,” Williams said.
Williams said Leslie is a great player to be around, although he joked that he has to finish the job for Leslie on the field at times.
Despite not being of the LDS faith, Leslie seems to fit the BYU mold perfectly, but perhaps the most surprising element in Leslie’s story lies in his past. Leslie’s father passed away when Leslie was a child. As the eldest of four children, he took on weighty responsibilities at an early age.
“Growing up without a father made me independent,” Leslie said. “I felt like I had to prove I could do anything and not use it as an excuse.”
Although Leslie admits he was not alone in his efforts to define and establish himself as a man, he said the majority of the burden fell on him. However, Leslie has always found his greatest support in his mother, Michelle Lambert.
“It has always been me and my mom,” Leslie said. “My biggest thing is that I make her proud and make her life a little easier.”
Leslie credits his mother for much of his success on and off the field. Lambert was instrumental in Leslie’s academic success.
She went as far as to nearly have Leslie miss a few games because he had not finished a homework assignment.
“She might have not taught me how to play football, but she instilled in me the will to be competitive and strive to reach my potential,” Leslie said. “Like Coach Mendenhall, she pushed me to strive for excellence on and off the field.”
Excellence defines Leslie well. Throughout his life he has strived to be the best at everything, including at being a friend.
As a freshman in high school, Leslie reached out to a senior on the basketball team named Jimmy Butler. Butler was going through some challenging times and became quick friends with him. Butler visited Leslie’s home so often that he became part of the family, something Butler needed. Butler is now a well-known shooting guard currently playing for the Chicago Bulls.
Referring to Butler and Leslie, Lambert said her two sons are very similar.
“He (Leslie) works harder than any other kid,” Lambert said. “He is very similar to his brother Jimmy … they both grew up with a chip on their shoulder.”
Leslie’s life choices and experiences seem to have led him to BYU, where, he said, he feels he belongs.
“I am a person with faith,” Leslie said. “I believe that God has a plan for everyone, and obviously this is where he wanted me at this time. I am just happy to be here.”
Leslie hopes to be invited to the NFL Scouting Combine after the season. Making it to the NFL would fulfill a life dream for him. Leslie’s mother said she would be more surprised if he didn’t make a team than if he did.
“Jordan is the kind of guy that does whatever it takes to do what he sets his mind to,” Lambert said. “He doesn’t give up.”
However, Leslie has not placed all his eggs in one basket. He said if he does not make it to the NFL, he plans to come back to BYU to complete the executive MPA program.
Failure is not an option for Leslie. He plans on succeeding and doesn’t care how he gets there. But he knows he will get there.