SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Still reeling from the murder of Aaron Lowe, in addition to Ty Jordan’s accidental death in December, Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham has voiced his feelings on how to memorialize their impact on his program.
While he’s in charge of the Utes, no player will ever wear No. 22, the number worn by both Jordan and Lowe on the field, ever again.
“Number 22, you won’t see anyone wear number 22 in this program, again, at least as long as I’m the head coach, and we’d like to see that retired permanently,” Whittingham stated in his first media availability since Lowe’s death. “That’s our wish and I think you’ll see that happen.”
Lowe was killed on Sept. 26 at a house party in the Foothill area of Salt Lake City, where he was shot multiple times along with another victim, a 20-year-old female, who was hospitalized in critical condition. His accused shooter, Buk M. Buk, was arrested in Draper on Sunday.
Nearly nine months to the day prior, Jordan was killed by an accidental, self-inflicted gunshot wound on Christmas 2020.
The tragedy of both deaths was compounded by their close friendship. Both Jordan and Lowe played together in high school at West Mesquite High School in Texas. Following Jordan’s death in the winter, Lowe was awarded as the first recipient of a memorial scholarship established in his longtime friend’s honor. He also switched his jersey number from No. 2 to 22, as an act of remembrance.
When the Utes faced BYU in Provo, Lowe was presented with a ‘Long Live Ty Jordan’ flag by former Utah and current BYU wide receiver Samson Nacua prior to the game.
The image of Lowe waving the flag has become even more poignant since his own death by gunshot a little more than two weeks later.
According to Whittingham, the commonalities between the two friends from the Dallas outskirts weren’t hard to see.
“Aaron had a lot of the same things I remember about Ty, just a guy that had a smile on his face all the time, walked into a room and just lit up the room,” Whittingham recalled. “I mean, the same comments and description of Ty fit Aaron and I think that’s maybe why they were so close.”
Whittingham acknowledged that the team has been grieving together with the help of university resources and counselors. The Utes didn’t play last week, thanks to a bye week in scheduling, but will take the field, undoubtedly with heavy hearts, at USC in Los Angeles on Saturday.
Being together as a team, in the middle of a season, has actually been useful in helping teammates process another sudden and shocking loss, Whittingham added.
“We had a team meeting on Monday, and there was a chance for players and coaches alike to express their thoughts and feelings and I think that was helpful and that was the start of the healing process.”
Still, it has been an extremely challenging stretch for Whittingham and the Utes. Whittingham called the experience of learning of Lowe’s death “surreal” in its likeness to receiving news about Jordan in December. The call to the longtime Utes coach about Jordan arrived at around 5:30 a.m. on Dec. 26, a call regarding Lowe rang Whittingham’s phone at 6 a.m. on Sept. 26,
“The first thing on your mind is ‘Oh no, what’s happened’ and then you get the worst possible news and it’s it’s challenging and it takes everything you got to overcome,” Whittingham says of the phone calls.
Lowe’s funeral arrangements are set for next Monday in Texas. Before the team lays another player who wore No. 22 to rest, the Utes will practice and play in what will likely be an emotional game against USC. But getting back to the game that connected the team is how the Utes will choose to heal themselves and honor their fallen teammates, Whittingham said on Monday morning.
“The best way to heal and the best way to get through this together is to get back to doing what they love and what they were here for…That’s getting some getting back to some sense of normalcy, but at the same time, you never put it out of your mind. But it’s just a therapy in and of itself, I guess you could say, getting back on the field.”