By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
In 2009, when his left knee was in good shape and promise was on the horizon, Jordan Loeffler and his four brothers in the green-and-black uniforms of the University of Hawaii football team picked up an early nickname that touted their talent, but acclaim would come much later.
Part of that year’s UH recruiting class, under former coach Greg McMackin, was five offensive linemen: four homegrown products in Loeffler (Hilo High), Dave Lefotu (Pearl City High), Frank Loyd Jr. (Moanalua High), and Sean Shigematsu (Kapaa High from Kauai), and Kody Afusia (Ocean View High), from California.
They were tabbed the “Fab Five.” That was then. Fast forward to the present, and one member of the line is missing: Loeffler, who dislocated his left knee cap during UH’s spring drills in April. He’s out for the season, underwent surgery July 2, and his rehabilitation time table is four to six months.
The latter four are scheduled to start or at least log significant minutes against No. 24 USC at 5 p.m. today in the season opener for both teams at Aloha Stadium. The game will be broadcast live on the CBS Sports Network (channel 247 or 1247 HD).
Loeffler, a 6-foot-5, 310-pound fourth-year junior, already used a redshirt year in 2010. If the sociology major, with a 3.0 grade-point average, comes back, he would have one season of eligibility in 2014.
Also painful was the monkey wrench thrown into Loeffler’s progression. He was taking reps with the first team. After serving on the scout team in 2011 and appearing in one game as a sophomore in 2012, Loeffler was in the running for a starting job at either tackle or guard.
After he graduated from Hilo High in 2009, he grayshirted, which meant he didn’t attend UH in the fall semester, but had a scholarship waiting for the 2010 school year, when he redshirted, practicing with the team, but not playing. His last practice would end his season.
“It was a simple drill at the end of practice, one-on-one,” he said. “There are ligaments that hold the knee in place and mine are all messed up. One is torn, one is completely gone, and my knee cap is unstable. It’s a dislocated patella.
“I heard one doctor tell me it’s one of the most excruciating pains when you first get hurt, worse than an ACL injury. I’ve had more than 10 (patella injuries). I had it since high school, but I was always playing sports. I got a small surgery in high school and in two to six weeks it healed right before my freshman year at UH. It lasted two years, but didn’t hold up. Eventually, it gave out.”
On a scale of 1 to 10 in pain tolerance, Loeffler rated his latest one a 7. He remembers his worst one, which he ranked a 15. He doesn’t recall the exact date, but locked into his memory is that feeling of his left knee falling apart and the tremendous pain that followed.
In his junior year at Hilo High in 2008, Loeffler went up for a layup in a simple basketball drill during team tryouts. He went airborne and landed properly, but his left knee didn’t cooperate. Vikings from the other side of the gym heard his knee make an uncomfortable sound.
“It was a typical layup. I didn’t land funny, but I felt it pop,” said Loeffler, who played hoops his junior year, but not his senior season. “There were people on the other side and someone told me he heard it pop. I hit the wall, was on the ground for 10 to 15 minutes, and it took me a while to walk around. It was pretty bad. That was a 15. It was the worst one.
“It feels like a crunch. Your knee cap is grinding and the whole knee slides all the way out. Sometimes, it goes back in, sometimes it stays out. Mine goes outs and stays back in. It was just a sprain. I waited three weeks and it was good. I went to college, got hit in my redshirt freshman year, and got it rolled on.
“Now, my knee feels good. I have full flexibility and jog a little bit. It’s like a normal knee but it’s kind of weak. The right side is better than the left. It’s not a problem, though.”
Loeffler’s grandfather William Sherwood “Bud” Loeffler Jr., 82, of Hilo died Aug. 14. He was a retired police officer and former liquor inspector and a veteran of the U.S. Army during the Korean War, earning the Korean Service Medal with four Bronze Service Stars, UN Service Medal and Meritorious Unit Commendation.
One legacy is the sporting achievements of Bud’s grandchildren in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation: Jordan Loeffler and his sister Amanda (Hilo High senior/volleyball and golf), and their cousins Ronnie and Matt Loeffler and Chynna Loeffler.
Chynna is a 2012 St. Joseph graduate playing volleyball at Skagit Valley College in Mt. Vernon, Wash., an hour outside of Seattle. Her parents are Lee and stepmom Shirley Loeffler. Chynna’s mom Debbie Loeffler is an emotional and financial anchor, working three jobs to support her daughter.
Ronnie is a 2004 Waiakea graduate and pitcher for the Hawaii Stars. Matt is a 2010 Waiakea graduate and recently signed a baseball scholarship with the University of New Mexico. Their parents are William “Buddy and Carolyn Loeffler.
Jordan and Amanda’s parents are Daniel and Jennifer Loeffler. Daniel owns Loeffler Farm Inc., which grows corn, and Jennifer is a pharmacy office manager.
From his family tree, Jordan said he turned to his dad, a big guy who gave his son his size, when a perspective on sports was needed. The multi-sport Viking, who played football, basketball, track and even golf as a freshman, looked up to grandpa Bill for character traits both on and off the field.
“I learned balance from my grandpa. I learned a lot from him, how to be strong, that you can be strict and focused, and kind,” Loeffler said. “He said you have to earn respect and one thing he said is legs are the foundation, especially for football with the 3-point stance and all that bending.”
He’s majoring in sociology, maybe with thoughts of a law enforcement career, but he might also be a pretty good diplomat. Asked his take on who is the best athlete among the Loeffler cousins, he blocked that question into a pancake.
“I love being a Loeffler. It’s my bloodline and I love all my cousins,” he said. “The Loefflers have always been involved in sports. We’re all competitive in spirit and have that in our blood. That’s what we have in common.”
Loeffler compared the responsibility of being a collegiate student-athlete to having a full-time job that often extends into overtime.
“It was fun, but stressful and hard. The young athletes in high school don’t understand when you play college ball the toll and effort it takes, how much hours you put in,” he said. “You don’t have time to relax. Some kids are surprised and don’t adapt well. You barely have time to do anything. When you do find time, you appreciate it. You’re constantly grinding, getting in shape, working out, studying. You wake up at 5 a.m. and don’t get back to the dorms until 6 or 7 p.m. School and football can take a toll. You realize it’s not an old walk in the park.
“The key is to get all the work done, plain and simple. You have to take care of your priorities first, whether it’s school and your sport. At Manoa, they really help the athletes get their work done, with study groups, tutors, mentors. It’s really beneficial to come here.”
Now, he’s almost like a normal student. He goes to rehab and school, and then there’s a lot of free time. Loeffler is a big whale out of water.
“It’s kind of weird that you realize you have a lot of time on your hands,” he said. “I miss football. I’ve done it my whole life. Now, that I’m out it feels good to relax. You can take care of your body. But I do miss being with my boys, being a part of something bigger than yourself. It’s an honor being part of that.”
Like most longtime football players, there are aches and pains associated with the game, especially as a big guy in the trenches. Besides the knee, he’s had back and shoulder injuries during his old Viking days. The list goes on and on.
“Your ankles and knees take a beating in the 3-point stance and all the bending and pushing against another 300-pounder,” he said. “I’m pretty sure every football player experiences the same thing. It’s the life of a football player. Everyone gets busted up.”
But the game keeps calling him back. Being with his UH brothers is a bond he can’t break or forget. Then there’s the promise to grandpa Bill.
“The deciding factor is how my body is feeling,” Loeffler said. “I’m pretty busted up after all the years of football. I’ll see how I feel. But I promised my grandpa that I wouldn’t quit, no matter what.
“What I miss most is being with the brotherhood. All my brothers are out there. Even though it’s a grind and sometimes as a player you hate it, being with your brothers makes it not too bad. I miss playing the game, and being a part of all that.”