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Jordan Fuller learned how to perform on biggest stage, in brightest lights, from mom

Gary Klein
·9 min read
VANCOUVER, CANADA - NOVEMBER 26: Bruce Springsteen (R) performs with Cindy Mizelle at Rogers Arena.
Bruce Springsteen performs with Cindy Mizelle at Rogers Arena as part of his Wrecking Ball World Tour on Nov. 26, 2012, in Vancouver, Canada. (Jeff Vinnick / Getty Images)

The moment arrived nightly during Bruce Springsteen’s worldwide “Wrecking Ball” concert tour.

Midway through the song “Shackled and Drawn,” Springsteen summoned background singer Cindy Mizelle to center stage.

“C’mon, preach it Cindy,” Springsteen shouted.

Mizelle, holding a fistful of maracas, joined Springsteen on stage.

“I want everybody to stand up!” Mizelle said. “I want everybody to stand up and be counted!”

And then Mizelle stood side by side with Springsteen, belting soaring harmonies. They ended the song dancing in a rousing chorus line with the E Street Band.

During a career that began in the 1980s, Mizelle has performed with the Rolling Stones, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and other superstar bands and singers. Rams rookie safety Jordan Fuller, Mizelle’s youngest son, saw his mother on stage with many, including Luther Vandross, Steely Dan and others.

But her big duet with Springsteen is the one that resonates.

“It’s her doing what she loves to do,” Fuller said, “and just the amount of work that goes into that moment, and the amount of joy I see on her face.”

Mizelle, who appeared in the Oscar-winning documentary “20 Feet From Stardom,” sees that same emotion in Fuller when she watches him line up with the NFL’s top-ranked defense. It was there Monday night when her son intercepted two Tom Brady passes in the Rams’ victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“When I saw his face,” she said, “I was like, oh my gosh! You’re living a dream.”

::

The Rams, who play the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at SoFi Stadium, selected Fuller in the sixth round of the draft last April after he played four seasons at Ohio State. He was the 199th player picked.

From the outset, it was clear to his new coaches and teammates that he was left on the board too long.

“It was amazing that he was available when he was,” coach Sean McVay said after the Rams improved to 7-3 with their victory over the Buccaneers. “But he came in and continued to demonstrate why we probably waited too long to get him when we did, actually.”

From the moment they met him, Fuller impressed coaches and teammates with his professional approach.

“He’s optimistic, he’s lively, he’s bright,” safety John Johnson said. “There’s not a bad day for him. He’s always smiling.”

Fuller, 6 feet 2 and 203 pounds, initially was in line to play in a rotation with Johnson and second-year pro Taylor Rapp. But when a knee injury sidelined Rapp during training camp, Fuller moved into the starting lineup.

Rams safety Jordan Fuller warms up before a game against the Seattle Seahawks on Nov. 15.
Rams safety Jordan Fuller warms up before a game against the Seattle Seahawks on Nov. 15. (Harry How / Getty Images)

In the Rams’ opener against the Dallas Cowboys, Fuller made a huge fourth-down stop.

“He’s just better than what, a sixth-round pick?” star cornerback Jalen Ramsey said. “He’s way better than that.

“I’m not sure how he slipped all the way there. That’s kind of the question I continue to ask myself.”

Fuller’s ascent with the Rams is perhaps more impressive because the 22-year-old did it without the benefit of a rookie camp, on-field practices during organized team activities or preseason games.

The NFL mandated that teams conduct offseason programs virtually. But that only seemed to enhance Fuller’s learning curve.

Fuller “asked questions that five-, six-, seven-year vets don’t even ask and don’t even see,” safeties coach Ejiro Evero said.

“It’s damn near impossible to come in and do what he’s done,” Evero said. “It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve seen as a coach.”

Fuller suffered a shoulder injury in the third game against the Buffalo Bills and sat out against the New York Giants. He reinjured the shoulder the next week against Washington and was on injured reserve for three games. He returned to help the Rams defeat the Seattle Seahawks and then played a clutch role in the victory over the Buccaneers.

“He shows up in a big way,” McVay said, “in crunch time.”

Defensive coordinator Brandon Staley put it another way.

“The moment's never too big for him,” he said.

::

Growing up in New Jersey, Fuller followed in the athletic footsteps of older brother Devin. He also looked after and set an example for younger sister Jasmine.

Their father, Bart Fuller, was a safety at Texas Christian and coached the brothers in football. Jordan had “extra motivation” to match or surpass Devin’s feats in football, basketball and track and field, Bart said.

“That was part of his driving force: I want to be just not as good but better,” Bart said. “So Devin set the stage for Jordan to do what he did.”

Or more.

“If he had 24 touchdowns in fourth grade,” Jordan said, chuckling, “I wanted to have 25.”

In high school, Devin starred at quarterback and in 2012 signed a letter of intent to play for UCLA. He switched to receiver and also returned kicks, and was chosen by the Atlanta Falcons in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL draft. But Devin’s career was cut short after he suffered season-ending knee injuries during the preseason two years in a row.

“Seeing him go through that, and never really change and completely grow — it’s been really inspiring for me,” Jordan said. “He’s definitely somebody I lean on and try to emulate.”

In high school, Jordan played defensive back but also stood out at running back, quarterback and as a kick returner while leading his team to an undefeated season as a senior.

He signed with Ohio State and, like Devin, earned his NFL opportunity.

Devin, 26, now coaches at IMG Academy in Florida. He is proud of his brother on and off the field.

“He can break down any conversation and tell you the best way for you to go about a situation,” Devin said. “He’s a great communicator. … Jordan the football player is good, but he’s an even better person.”

Jasmine, 20, follows Jordan’s exploits and draws inspiration from his success.

“Just to see him live out his dreams,” she said, “makes me want to live out mine.”

::

At Ohio State, Fuller was a two-time captain on teams that featured numerous future NFL players, among them three 2020 first-round picks: defensive lineman Chase Young and cornerbacks Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette.

The Buckeyes won 49 games during Fuller’s career, which ended with him earning all-Big Ten Conference honors as a senior. But Fuller made his biggest impact off the field.

Most football players at Power Five conference schools seldom make time to fully immerse themselves in student life. But Fuller, a three-time academic all-American, pursued those opportunities with the same determination he used to intercept passes.

“Jordan was very adamant about making sure that he was known for both,” said Kiara McClendon, a learning specialist at Ohio State.

Fuller was a founding member of Redefining Athletic Standards, a group that sought to bridge the gap between the Black male student-athlete experience at Ohio State and the general population.

“We kind of felt like we should actually create a group or something and be the change we wanted to see,” he said. “Just get stuff off our chests if we want to, and develop personally, financially, all that kind of stuff. Just respect the whole person.”

Fuller also was a leading voice in a sexual violence prevention group, working to educate students on how to have healthy dating relationships, prevent sexual assault and have conversations that eliminate the stigma.

“Whenever he and I would talk,” McClendon said, “it would always be conversations beyond just sports, like who is he as a person? What does he want his legacy to be? How did he want people to remember him?

“And he’d always say, ‘I want to get to the next level and play professional sports, but I also want to be known as a good person.' "

Prince Moody, Ohio State’s assistant director of student athlete engagement, said Fuller was a humble, cerebral student with a huge heart for giving back and bringing people together.

“He’s so much more than a football player,” Moody said. “I could see him being like a city councilman, or a senator, one day once he finishes up with his career.”

::

In the third quarter against the Buccaneers, Fuller dropped deep as Brady, a six-time Super Bowl champion, lofted a pass downfield. The ball arced toward Fuller.

“I was just telling myself, ‘Don’t drop it. Don’t drop it. Don’t drop it,’ ” Fuller said.

On the sideline after his big interception, he looked into the camera of a Rams video crew.

“I was drafted 199 too,” he said, apparently referencing the spot in which Brady also was famously picked 20 years before Fuller. “Don’t forget that.”

In the fourth quarter, with the Rams trying to close out the game against one of the greatest two-minute quarterbacks in NFL history, Fuller again picked off a Brady pass, securing the 27-24 victory.

“Kind of the same thing,” Fuller said. “I was just reading the quarterback’s eyes, and he threw one out there and I was able to go get it.”

Mizelle, watching at home in New Jersey with Jasmine, said she screamed after both plays by her son.

“We were out of our minds!” she said. “Out … of … our … minds.”

Mizelle said she marveled at the poise her son displayed, especially when he took a knee after the second interception to avoid a possible miscue and give the ball back to the Rams offense.

“Everything is spinning around him and he’s calm,” she said. “I look at him and think, ‘Gosh, I want to learn how to be like that.' ”

Like mother, like son.

“A bunch of hard work and being prepared when the bright lights are on,” Fuller said. “I learned that from her for sure.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.