Editor’s note: The Durango Herald selected Prep Players of the Year based on a vote between sports editor John Livingston and photo editor Jerry McBride. Increased consideration was given to athletes who showed exemplary leadership on the field and in their communities.
A destiny fulfilled and a legacy established.
Jordan Woolverton lived up to and surpassed the expectations many had when he first lined up behind center as quarterback of the Durango High School football team as a freshman in 2017. With only one loss during his days in elementary school and two middle school championships entering high school, Woolverton and his fellow seniors would settle for nothing less than a high school state championship before the 2020 season was done.
They accomplished the mission and made history along the way.
Woolverton would graduate only two weeks after delivering the long awaited state title to the Demons in December. And the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 3A Player of the Year could walk away proud as he finished high school a semester early to join the University of Colorado football team in Boulder.
After leading DHS to its first football state championship since 1954 on top of a long list of on- and off-field achievements, Woolverton was named The Durango Herald Boys Prep Athlete of the Year for the 2020-2021 season.
Woolverton, son of Kathleen and Ryan Woolverton, was the runner-up for the award in 2020. He is the first athlete not from Bayfield High School to win the award since its inception in 2016.
“This has been a big award in our area all these years, and it means a lot to me and my family,” Woolverton said. “To bring it back to Durango finally, I am glad I was able to do that. With all the work I’ve put in, it feels good to finish my high school career this way.”
Woolverton was selected in a close vote ahead of fellow DHS seniors Ben Finneseth and Gage Mestas. Finneseth would add wrestling and baseball successes onto his strong senior football season, while Mestas, the MVP of the football state championship game, was a standout batter, pitcher and shortstop for the DHS baseball team, which entered the postseason ranked No. 1 in the state.
But in the end, Woolverton’s first-place selection was unanimous.
“Without those two guys, we wouldn’t have won a state championship,” Woolverton said of Finneseth and Mestas. “Those guys have done just as much as me for Durango athletics. They had great seasons in all their sports and are going on to college success. They deserved to be mentioned in this, too.”
Woolverton started his career at DHS as a three-sport athlete who played football, basketball and baseball. He continued to play basketball through his junior season, even after he suffered a compound fracture of his left forearm his freshman season. His freshman year would be his last on a baseball field. Though it was his second love, he said it wouldn’t have been fair to the baseball team for him to miss time traveling to football camps during the spring baseball season. So, he prioritized his first love of football.
Woolverton would have returned to the basketball court in 2021 after his first-team all-league selection in 2020, but the opportunity to graduate a semester early to join the Buffaloes for spring football was something he couldn’t pass up as a walk-on trying to establish himself in a deep quarterback room on the Boulder campus.
“I’ve watched Jordan grow up since he was like 6 or 7 years old. I just want to thank him for his commitment,” DHS head basketball coach Alan Batiste said when Woolverton signed his intent papers with Colorado. “He started out as a freshman on junior varsity, and we moved him up two weeks later to the varsity level. He had a great career, and it was a great experience for me.“
Woolverton tuned into Demons basketball while in his new college dorm, watching any game he could via web stream. When it was time for baseball season, he returned home for a few weeks with college classes wrapped up for the spring to cheer on his former teammates from outside the backstop fence.
“I wanted to be out there with those guys,” Woolverton said. “But it was important for me to get up to CU for the spring. I was proud to see those guys get to the playoffs and still have a great season.”
As a junior in 2019, Woolverton had an all-state season for the Demons on the football field. In 12 games, he passed for 1,941 yards, 23 touchdowns and only three interceptions while he completed 73.6% of his passes. He also rushed for 1,005 yards and 15 more touchdowns. Defensively, he had 35 tackles and a team-high three interceptions on defense to go with one forced fumble. He did it while playing through a severe high-ankle sprain and an arm fracture.
“I had brothers on the team I loved who I had to be out there for. It was never up in the air whether I would play or not. I always knew I would play no matter what,” Woolverton said. “I could get through the injuries so I could be there with my guys and not let them down. I didn’t want to let Durango and all the people who supported us down.”
He would play in seven of the Demons’ eight games as a senior, though he missed the second half of a Week 2 win at Pueblo County after he sprained the AC joint in his throwing shoulder. An injury that kept Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock out four weeks during the 2020 season, Woolverton was back only seven days later to lead DHS past a top-10 ranked Evergreen team. He battled the injury the rest of the season on the way to the state title.
“The guy is tough as nails,” Durango School District 9-R Athletic Director Ryan Knorr said. “One of my first concerns watching the very first football game I saw him play was that this huge commodity would go out of his way to plow someone over. He’s special.”
Woolverton and Finneseth also would be forced to miss the regular-season finale because of COVID-19 related quarantine, though they never tested positive for the virus. Cheering on the Demons from a remote location, Woolverton was elated to see DHS come away with a 27-13 victory to win a league championship for its first undefeated run through league since 1995 and first undefeated regular season since 1973.
“To see our guys pull through like that, it meant everything to me,” Woolverton said. “Guys were writing our names on their wristbands and told us they were playing for us. That was so special. It reassured me that they were going to get it done. Our linemen were so huge this year. As long as those guys were playing, I knew we were going to take it and then go win state.”
Back for the playoffs, Woolverton and the Demons romped through Lutheran 47-6 in the quarerfinals before a 34-14 upset win at Holy Family in the semifinals.
In the 21-14 win in the Class 3A state championship against Roosevelt, Woolverton passed for two touchdowns and had one of three DHS interceptions on defense to help the team to its first outright state title in school history. The Demons’ only other championship came in a share with Lamar in a 7-7 tie in the 1954 Class A title game.
“That was a tough game, nerve-wracking the whole way with it 14-14 at half,” Woolverton said when reflecting on the Dec. 5 championship played in Pueblo. “Roosevelt was really good, and both teams, you could feel nobody wanted to make a mistake. It was so hard, but it was the most fun game I’ve ever played in to be able to bring it home.”
Woolverton finished his senior season with 1,010 passing yards to go with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions. He completed 61.5% of his passes. He also rushed for 409 yards and eight more touchdowns.
Defensively, he led Class 3A with six interceptions. He also served as the team’s punter with an average of 44.3 yards and a long of 61 yards in 14 attempts.
“Everybody knows what a threat he was on offense, but for him to lead the state in interceptions this year, that was something else,” former DHS head football coach David Vogt said of Woolverton after he was named the Class 3A Player of the Year. “In the all-state meetings this year, all the other coaches said there were only two safeties in the state they didn’t want to throw at, and Jordan was one of them. He had a ton of respect from other coaches around the league, and I am glad he got that award because he deserved it for all the extra time put in on film study and working behind the scenes.”
On top of his player of the year and all-state selection, Woolverton was one of six finalists this year for the Golden Helmet Award given to the top high school player in the state, as selected by The Denver Post.
Woolverton also got it done in the classroom. He was one of 12 players in the state to be named to the Class of Scholar Athletes by the Colorado Chapter of the National Football Foundation. He was a two-time academic all-state selection.
While he dedicated countless hours to his craft on the field, Woolverton regularly volunteered coaching and mentoring middle school and elementary school players. He was part of the DHS Captains Club and made appearances at elementary schools, and he helped conduct introductory football workouts for incoming freshmen.
During his sophomore season, he granted the wish of a special needs 9-year-old who wanted to play football with him for his birthday. The scheduled 30-minute appearance lasted for hours, as Woolverton gave him a tour of the locker room and let him try on his jersey and pads while also playing catch in the high school stadium.
“He’s a great representative of Durango High School,” Vogt said at Woolverton’s signing ceremony. “He does all the things right in the classroom, he’s such a great leader – and not only to his kids but the freshmen kids and everybody in the program. It’s such a blessing to be led by a kid like him with such high character and high work ethic. He set the standard for the Durango football program going on. He’s gonna be sadly missed, his leadership on both sides the ball and just the type of person that he is. I want to thank him for being such a great player and such a great leader of character.”
It was all part of a storied career for an athlete who always wanted to represent his hometown with class and cared most about bringing respect to Durango football.
Now, Woolverton is already coming up with ideas on how to get some of his fellow Buffaloes teammates down to Durango to host football camps for the community.
“Durango High School, this football field, I will always have so many great memories,” Woolverton said. “Sad moments when we lost a playoff game here or all the great memories we made this year. This field and this community, it means family to me.”