How late-night burgers and dry-erase markers propelled Jordan Genmark Heath from Sweden to Notre Dame

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

{child_flags:featured}Genmark Heath chases dreams from Sweden

{child_byline}By Mike Vorel

South Bend Tribune

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Jordan Genmark Heath looks into a mirror and sees his dreams.

Literally, Notre Dame’s sophomore weakside linebacker scribbles life goals on his bathroom mirror. In black dry-erase marker, they stare back at him as he brushes his teeth.

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“It’s something my parents got me doing ever since I was at a young age,” Genmark Heath, donning a blue Notre Dame hat pulled low over his eyes, said after the Blue-Gold Game on April 21. “It’s important to see your goals every single day.

“If you speak it into existence, it’s going to happen at some point. So it’s a way for me to remind myself every day, and hopefully it’ll happen.”

For much of his life, Genmark Heath — who grew up in Stockholm, Sweden — didn’t dream of Notre Dame. The 6-foot-1, 211-pound converted safety discovered football by accident, when his cousin dragged him to a practice at age seven. He played on the under-13 team because there was such limited interest in the area.

But, despite the pesky detail that he “wasn’t good at all,” Genmark Heath was immediately interested.

In fact, that might be an understatement.

“He had tried soccer, basketball and other sports before that. But he never really engaged in it,” said his stepfather, Krister Genmark. “But we kind of realized right away when he tried out to play football that, yeah, that was his thing. He fell in love with the sport from the first day.”

Genmark Heath watched how-to videos and highlights on YouTube to improve his technique. And, when he got a little older, more extreme measures were taken to accelerate that improvement.

“We woke up in the middle of the night, ate some burgers and went back to sleep, just to get that weight,” Jordan Genmark Heath said with a laugh. “Obviously sometimes it was a little weird. (Krister Genmark) would wake up, and I would hear his alarm. He would go down and fry some burgers.

“But he’s always been supportive of me. It’s awesome. It’s honestly one of the reasons why I’m here today.”

On some mornings, his stepfather’s support included waking (again) at 5 a.m., driving to their gym in another town, working out together, then driving back and dropping Jordan off at school. It meant watching their favorite NFL team, the San Diego Chargers, on Sundays.

Which, in Sweden — considering that the clocks run six hours ahead of Eastern Time — often bled into Monday mornings.

“I would go to sleep at 6, wake up at about 12 (midnight) to watch the Chargers play, and then go to school after the game,” said Genmark Heath. “(Watching and playing football), I felt like I was home.”

But, to keep playing and improving, Genmark Heath’s home would have to change. In 2013, the family immigrated to San Diego, Calif., thanks in part to Krister improbably winning a green card lottery in 2004.

Jordan’s dream — the reason for all the YouTube tutorials and late-night burgers — was to play high school football. He achieved it first at Francis Parker School, then again when he transferred to Cathedral Catholic High School. At Cathedral, Genmark Heath even shared a defensive backfield with former Notre Dame quarterback Rick Mirer’s son, current ND freshman lacrosse player Morrison Mirer.

But college football, to that point, hadn’t been much of a consideration.

“A friend of mine who played football in Sweden was very interested in college football. He was a Longhorn fan,” Krister Genmark recalled. “Back then, the way to get the college games, you could order them on DVD and you’d get them like a week after the game. So he did that a lot, so that’s how we watched some of the college games.

“But we didn’t understand the magnitude of it and how big it was.”

In Sweden, especially, college football is a foreign concept.

And, yes, that also goes for Notre Dame.

“I would say the film ‘Rudy’ was something we saw in Sweden. Based on that, we knew something,” Krister Genmark said. “But Notre Dame is known as a concept without realizing what it really was. You heard about it, but personally I wouldn’t say I really understood it until the first time I came up there.”

That visit came in the summer prior to Genmark Heath’s sophomore season, when he and his father attended a football skills camp in South Bend. Jordan left with a souvenir … and a new goal for the mirror.

“It made a great impression on Jordan for sure,” Krister Genmark said. “Since then he always talked about Notre Dame and he bought that ‘Play like a champion today’ sign and had it in his room since that day.

“It kind of changed his mindset, that he wanted to play even on a higher level. He was always hoping for that offer, but it took a while.”

In fact, Notre Dame didn’t offer Genmark Heath until Jan. 11, 2017, less than a month before National Signing Day. A four-star recruit via 247Sports, the standout safety was verbally committed to California.

Then he returned to South Bend for an official visit. Less than two weeks later, he signed with Notre Dame.

In his freshman season, working primarily on special teams, the strong safety registered 16 tackles, the final five coming in Notre Dame’s Citrus Bowl victory over LSU. This year, he was asked to shift to the second level and adopt a new role at weakside linebacker.

Still, that’s hardly the biggest adjustment Genmark Heath has overcome.

“My whole family speaks Swedish. My little sister speaks Swedish, too,” Genmark Heath said. “We try to keep to that as often as possible. It’s important, and obviously Swedish is my first language. I picked up English in around second grade.

“But reading and writing was definitely something that was hard for me when I first got here, and it still is. I still have to work on a lot of things. When people talk to you fast, I have to kind of translate it in my head a little bit. But I’m definitely getting there. I’m getting more and more comfortable.”

Genmark Heath, who recently earned a green card after living in the United States for years with a student visa, is getting there, little by little. He has no time for a rear-view mirror.

He’d rather scribble new dreams instead.

“It’s unreal,” Krister Genmark said. “This journey that we’ve made over the last five years has been hard at times. There’s much more to it, going to Notre Dame, but when you see him on the field there, it’s his environment.

“That’s where we really see his happiness shining through.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com 574-235-6428

Twitter: @mikevorel

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mvorel@ndinsider.com

574-235-6428

Twitter: @mikevorel

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Notre Dame linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath moved to the United States from Stockholm, Sweden, to chase his dream of playing high school football.