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Running toward success

Dartmouth's Jordan Todman.
Dartmouth's Jordan Todman. (Globe Staff Photo / Barry Chin)

DARTMOUTH -- Every now and then, it happens. The high school football star turns heads, makes headlines, soars high, and then lands with a thud after getting into some trouble.

Now 16, Jordan Todman was headed down that path, or so it seemed, as an eighth-grader at Roosevelt Middle School in New Bedford. He was a troublemaker, but not the violent kind. He was a problem for some of his teachers, and overall was -- in his own words -- a punk.

"School was all right, but I was hanging out with the wrong crowd," Todman said. "[My one-on-one aide and I] got into a lot of arguments, and I guess it came to the point where she went to the principal about it. They were talking to my mom about it, and they didn't think New Bedford High would be the right place for me. I couldn't believe it at first."

Todman said administrators told him it would be in his interest if he were to enroll at West Side High, an alternative school in New Bedford where, people surrounding him said, many at-risk youths in the area attend. (Administrators from West Side and Roosevelt were not available for comment. )

His mother, Elena Joseph, meanwhile, was working two jobs to help make ends meet. Jordan is one of her four children, and her husband, Vincent, is a fisherman who often spends months at a time at sea. It wasn't easy keeping tabs on everybody.

"He played a lot of basketball down at Monty's Park," Joseph said. "I just didn't like the crowd there. I always heard bad things about that place. I'd be scared because I'm at work . . . I'd get pins and needles."

Enter Steve and Dana Cruz, whose son, Justin, played Pop Warner football for the New Bedford Bears with Jordan. The families became good friends through the football team, with Jordan often staying with the Cruzs on nights before games. Steve Cruz saw the path Jordan was headed down, and midway through his eighth grade school year extended an offer to take him into temporary custody in Dartmouth, where he'd attend school.

There was speculation that the move was motivated by Todman's athletic prowess -- as a 12-year-old he scored 38 touchdowns -- but everyone in Todman's camp says that wasn't the case.

"When I talked to Jordan about this, I told him that New Bedford is far superior in football and basketball," Cruz said. "Looking at it athletically, it's not a good move. But I said to him, 'One thing I can guarantee is that you will graduate.' "

The result was like the difference between the two environments themselves -- night and day. Steve Cruz says the Todman hasn't caused the slightest stir at home or in school , has seen a rise in his grades -- from borderline failing to B's and C's -- and has become even closer with Justin and his circle of friends.

Currently the Cruz family is renewing temporary custody of Jordan every 90 days, but is in the process of applying for permanent custody until he turns 18. A court date has not been set .

"It's pretty cool," Todman said of having two sets of parents -- he visits Elena every couple of weekends.

His running ability is pretty cool, too. Often vomiting before games because he gets so amped up, Todman's darting, cutback ability earned him a bump up to Dartmouth's varsity for the Thanksgiving game against Fairhaven in 2004, his freshman year. He took his first carry 78 yards for a score and never looked back, totaling 225 yards on 19 carries.

"We knew he was good, but we didn't know how good he was until we brought him up on Thanksgiving," Indians coach Rick White said. "Every year he's improved -- academically he's been tremendous -- and we hope he continues to improve."

What makes Todman, 5 feet 9 inches, 165 pounds, so dangerous is his spontaneity. He said he doesn't think before making a move, and reacts according to the situation. The only move he really knows, he said, is the stiff-arm, which seems to catch even the best defenders off guard.

Take the game Oct. 8 against Taunton, for instance. Down 20-7 in the fourth quarter, Todman rattle off three straight touchdowns of 35 yards or longer. On the go-ahead score that made it 28-20, Todman took a pitch around the right side, made two quick stutter steps before cutting to the right sideline for the score, in the process catching defensive back Darrien Furr -- considered one of Taunton's top athletes -- stumbling over his feet. After Taunton tied it at 28, Todman caught them off guard again, this time throwing a 46-yard halfback pass to Sean Sylvia for the win.

Then there was the New Bedford game last week , emotional for obvious reasons. Todman carried 20 times for 164 yards with touchdown runs of 34 and 61 yards.

After rushing for 1,200 yards in part-time duty last season, spelling then-senior Jarred Santos (1,260 yards), Todman is one of the state's leading rushers in '06, averaging more than 9 yards a carry and surpassing the century mark (1,097 rushing yards) in six games. He's drawn interest from some of the top college programs in Division 1-A, including Boston College, Connecticut, Colorado, and Notre Dame.

"I love hearing it every time; 'Mom, I got another letter,' " Joseph said. "I'll be so happy that I want to cry."

As for the vomiting, Todman said it hasn't happened since the first game of the year, but don't rule it out as the No. 9 Indians (6-0) dive deeper into Old Colony League play today against conference power Bridgewater-Raynham. What you can rule out, for now at least, is his negative attitude. The only problems he's currently causing are to opponents on the field.

"To this day he hasn't caused the slightest peep," Cruz said. "Knock on wood."

© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.

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