New Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell isn’t the only former Aztecs football player to find an NFL coaching destination this off season. Aaron Wilson of the Pro Football Network confirmed Sunday morning that SDSU defensive line coach, and former player, Jordan Thomas was expected to be named Cleveland Browns assistant defensive line coach.
The big jump to the professional ranks shows a swift incline for Jordan who began his coaching career in 2016 as an assistant at local Mission Hills High. He then went on to earn his graduate assistant status in Texas as a member of Texas A&M-Kingsville and a cup of coffee at Lamar University. Thomas spent two years as a graduate assistant at San Diego State as well, before transitioning into a full position coach the past two seasons.
Jordan spent his time in close proximity working & learning with one of the best defensive line coaches in college football, head coach Brady Hoke. Brady held defensive line coach duties in 2019 just before he assumed head coaching responsibilities in 2020. Brady must’ve thought very highly of Thomas to retain his coaching services even after being named the head man in charge.
Having been a standout member of the defensive line unit during Rocky Long’s SDSU head coach tenure, Jordan was recruited while coach Brady was at the helm. He uniquely has been able to teach & relate to his defensive lineman all the nuances of the 3-3-5 scheme required.
The growth and dominance shown by defensive linemen Cam Thomas, Keshawn Banks and Jonah Tavai, undoubtedly gained national recognition. But the eyes of the NFL weren’t just fixated on the players, clearly they were also set on the position coach who they received their guidance from with Jordan Thomas.
But now where will an Aztecs defensive front line get their guidance and spark plug source from? Without their most dominant player in 2021 and now defensive line coach both gone, there will be plenty to motivate this years version of the defense.
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One boost to rejuvenate the defensive line was the addition of Hawai’i transfer defensive lineman Justus Tavai, brother of fellow lineman Jonah Tavai. But more on that at another time. With just a week away from Spring Camp, the urgency to hire Thomas’ replacement is crucial.
Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports and the Athletic, indicated late Sunday evening through Twitter that SDSU was acting quickly and signing Justin Ena, current Dixie State defensive coordinator to be the defensive line coach that will replace Jordan Thomas. So lets take a look at who Justin Ena is.
First and foremost, Justin Ena is a Utah guy. Provo born, but raised in the state of Washington, Ena wasted no time in returning to his birth city after high school. Justin played his collegiate years and earned his education at BYU. There he led the team in tackles in both his junior and senior years as a linebacker. Graduating in 2001, Ena was an undrafted free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles and later spent some time with the Tennessee Titans.
After his NFL years came to an end, Ena has spent his entire coaching career in the state of Utah. His beginning years from 2008-2013 at Southern Utah. Next Weber State in 2014, and then got to the call up to join Kyle Wittingham’s defensive staff at Utah.
It wasn’t until 2019 that Ena took the opportunity to be a defensive coordinator for an FBS program when he joined coach Gary Anderson at Utah State. However that situation seemed to be a very dysfunctional time for Anderson. Ena was reassigned to linebackers coach after only one year and the following season Anderson was gone, choosing to resign from Utah State. Ena along with much of the staff was not retained. From there Justin took the position of defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Dixie State (soon to be named Utah Tech—barf).
This is an interesting hire by the Brady Hoke staff and Kurt Mattix led defense. More info to come as we learn from the staff what motivated to go in this direction. The amount of work and catching up for coach Ena is a large task. To get familiar with the defense so soon before Spring camp is a challenge, but nothing coach Hoke & Mattix cannot guide him along in.
All in all, although our interaction with coach Jordan Thomas was very very brief, we want to offer our congratulations to this Aztec4Life and his future NFL endeavors. More Aztecs in the league is a great trend that will only increase with this years upcoming NFL Draft class. Perhaps the rumbling of Cam Thomas to the Cleveland Browns hype will begin.