Jordan Love and Johnny Balderas are life-long friends that are in very different phases currently as college football players.
The two have very similar backgrounds that lends to one learning from the other, and vice versa.
It’s a friendship forged through personal-life tragedy that has been lifted up because both are hard-working and talented football players.
Love is entering his junior year at Utah State as one of the nation’s top-rated quarterbacks while Balderas, who is heading into his redshirt sophomore season at San Jose State, is still trying to crack the starting lineup.
Despite playing only one season together at Liberty, leading the Patriots to the Central Section Division I championship in 2015, these two have been friends since their youth football days.
Days that took a tragic turn without notice for both during their teenage years.
Love’s father, Orbin, took his own life in 2013.
Balderas’ grandmother, Ana Rosas, who raised him, passed away in 2015 just months before he had to leave Shafter and move to Bakersfield with his aunt and uncle and enroll at Liberty to team up with Love, whom he became friends years before on the youth football fields.
Both were lost at times in high school after losing their biggest supporters.
Love’s father, a 27-year veteran of the Bakersfield Police Department, was the catalyst to his son finding is way in sports.
“It was tough. Especially because my dad was my biggest supporter for sports,” Love said. “He was the one doing that. It was really rough for my entire family. We were all really confused. But we leaned on each other and picked each other up.
When he died, Love seeked the guidance of strong male role models like Liberty football coach Bryan Nixon.
“He was like a father figure,” Love said. “He was always real with you. That’s what I needed at that age. He’s a great role model. I always looked up to him.”
Balderas wondered what was next for him when his grandmother passed. As the youngest of two dozens of her own children and grandchildren she raised, Balderas was the youngest and he leaned on her in every way possible.
“She adopted us. She raised us, me and all my cousins,” Balderas said. “I was the youngest of 25 kids that she raised. Yeah. Her kids and her grandkids. I was the baby. Now, I want her to know that I appreciate everything she did for me. We had so little, but she gave us so much. Failure was not an option for me.”
After taking in the guidance of others, these two former Kern County standouts are using each other to create new memories for each other.
While sitting down for an interview for this story, Balderas was asked whether he sought out the advice of Love.
Despite working out with Love for a portion of the summer and continuously playing video games online together, that conversation never came up.
But when presented, the two bounced ideas off each other.
“How was it?,” Balderas asked Love, who looked at his good friend and gave him his thoughts.
“I know your position well, I was a backup. I know it clearly,” Love told Balderas. “The one thing I would say to you is to take your time. It takes time. You are in the learning phase to try and learn and grow as a player and a person. Once you get your chance on the field, you already know. You’re going to go out there and ball out. That’s when you have to put it all together, bro. This phase you are in right now. We’ve all been there. You have to let time play out.”
Taking in the advice, Balderas knew what that meant to him.
“I’m just going to keep working,” Balderas said. “I had a good spring ball and ready for fall camp and put all that work in that I’ve been doing into that. I am going to keep fighting to start and stay on the field.”
Love does know that feeling well.
He didn’t make a start for the Aggies until late in his freshman campaign, but once he was given the reigns of the offense, he has not let go.
Love broke five single-single passing records for Utah State in 2018 as a redshirt sophomore, including passing yards (3,567), passing touchdowns (32) and 300-yard passing games (seven).
The offseason has been one of a lot of chatter and accolades.
In recent weeks, Love has been named to the watch list for two very prestigious national accolades in the Davey O’Brien Award (presented to the nation’s top quarterback) and the Maxwell Award (presented to the top college football player).
“That doesn’t phase me. Everyone is going to have their expectations,” Love said. “My expectations for my team is to win a Mountain West (Conference) championship. That’s the first goal of mine. I am not worried about anything else. Everyone is going to say what they want. I am just going to do what I can do.”
The talk has begun nationally that if Love has another season this fall like last season, he has a good chance to be a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft next spring, if he chooses to leave college a year early.
“That conversation gets brought up all the time,” Love said. “But the way I looking at it, I am focused on this year. I’ll wait for those talks at the end of the year. I’ll see what happens at the end of the season.”
It’s a very mature way of looking towards his future that could be very lucrative quite quickly, but is a great unknown.
But, through tragedy at a young age, both of these two have found themselves growing up quicker than others by force.
“(My grandmother’s death) helped me become a man at a younger age,” Balderas said. “It made em grow up faster and realizing that my main person wasn’t going to be there. It made me focus on being more independent. You need to rely on people, but you need to be independent and grow up and get through things on my own.”
Love agrees, reflecting back six years to that tragic time for his mother and four sisters.
“You know you have to keep going forward, you can’t sit and home and cry all the time,” Love said. “You have to pick your head up and keep moving. That’s what we did.”