BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Four years since doctors warned he might never walk again, Jordan Fayson is now walking back on his path of destiny.

Fayson, a 21-year-old Middle Early College graduate who served the past two seasons as an assistant coach for the state champion Bennett Tigers football team, has been invited to walk on at Syracuse University in the fall. Returning to the field six years after he last played a down for Bennett will further Fayson’s remarkable recovery from gun violence that almost ended his life.

“He’s a miracle,” Bennett coach Steve McDuffie said.

Fayson was shot by an unknown assailant in the early morning hours on Feb. 24, 2019 while protecting his sister Jocelyn in a scuffle outside of a party bus near the corner of Genesee Street and Jefferson Avenue. 

The bullet grazed Fayson’s spine and severed a vein in his left leg. Fragments remain in his lungs. His mother Melissa said he lost consciousness and was declared dead 14 times. He underwent more than 50 blood transfusions before surgeons found and closed up the damage vein. His intestines needed to be spread outside his body for cleaning. 

Fayson spent a month in the hospital, and several more receiving home care. He lost about 70 pounds from the 6-foot-1 frame that had made him a mid-major college prospect. He walked with a cane for the better part of a year. Neuropathy in his foot required Fayson to wear an orthosis brace for two years, and still causes numbness on his sole.

The strength in his soul, however, didn’t waver. 

“I always had a very strong belief that I would walk again, and that I would work my way back to being myself on the football field,” said Fayson, who hopes the walk-on opportunity at Syracuse leads to a scholarship, and is still open to recruitment from other Division I schools before fall enrollment.

“There were times when I was depressed and wondered to myself why did I get to this point in my life and how I can get back to being myself,” Fayson said. “I was insecure about how I looked. I didn’t want to go to my prom. My clothes didn’t fit. I didn’t know what to wear. But the support staff I have encouraged me to get myself together. I went to prom. I walked at graduation. And I just took that and ran with it.”

Fayson was nearly recovered from a torn ACL when he got shot. Timed at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash before injuring his knee at summer camp before his senior year, Fayson had been recruited by Boston College, Rutgers, Central Michigan, Albany and Buffalo.

In the later stages of his rehabilitation from the shooting, Fayson began to recognize his athletic self in the mirror again. He was lifting more weight in the gym than before the injuries. Watching friends train with local wide receiver guru Alejandro Overton, Fayson wondered if he could keep up.

“It motivated me to try and get back to myself and see what my limitations were,” Fayson said. “I wanted to see how fast I was, if I could cut and move. From that point on, I knew I wanted to play again.”

Fayson had an opportunity to walk on at Albany after receiving his associate’s degree from Erie Community College in 2021, but that fell through when he did not receive his coronavirus vaccination in time to move into the dorms.

Discouraged but not defeated, Fayson took up an offer from McDuffie to join Bennett’s offensive coaching staff. 

Accompanying the Tigers to a recruiting camp at Syracuse last summer, Fayson caught the attention of Orange coach Dino Babers.

“Coach Babers has an eye for talent,” McDuffie said. “He saw Jordan out there coaching in his muscle shirt and said “I like the rest of the guys on your team, but who is that?’ I gave him the rundown, and he said ‘we’ll give him an opportunity.’”

Bigger and stronger than he was as a high school prospect, Fayson has the potential to follow the path of another Buffalo receiver who had a standout career at Syracuse before playing five NFL seasons, McDuffie said.

“I’ve seen a lot of football players, and if I had to compare someone to Jordan Fayson, it would be Mike Williams,” McDuffie said. “Jordan has that ability. He is a rare talent. I’ve always known he was a Division I player. But don’t be surprised if three years from now, we see him playing on Sundays.”

Studying film of the 6-foot-1 Williams, who graduated from Riverside in 2006, Fayson said he could “definitely see some comparisons. He had explosiveness and a crazy catch radius. Being compared to someone like him is an honor.”

McDuffie is still amazed at how Fayson has rebuilt his recruiting stock after devastating injuries.

“They literally took his body apart and put it back together,” McDuffie said. “Being honest, I didn’t think he would get back to this point. Seeing the way his body looks now, the way he can run and move, it’s incredible. Praise Jehovah God for that.”

Along with his physical and spiritual growth, Fayson believes his time on the Bennett sideline will make him a better college player than he would’ve been coming out of high school.

“I feel like it was a blessing in disguise for me,” Fayson said. “Coaching has definitely opened my eyes up to how the game is played, mentally as well as physically. It slowed down the game for me. 

“I’ve always had this thought that if I played again, I would be more cerebral. Not only playing off my athleticism, I’d have more knowledge of how the game is played. And better understanding of sportsmanship, the true meaning of being a good teammate.”

Rashard Perry, the New York State Class A Player of the Year and Trench Trophy winner who is headed to Syracuse, said that Fayson was an instrumental part of Bennett’s state championship run.

“He’s an amazing coach,” Perry said. “He has really good eyes for spotting flaws in defenses that some of the older coaches don’t see. All the work he has put in, going through everything that he went through physically and mentally, he 100% deserves his opportunity to play at the next level.”

UB recruit Jayden Lewis said Fayson was able to relate to players as both a peer and mentor.

“That’s my brother,” Lewis said. “He’s been watching me grow up, teaching me a lot. We have text conversations, paragraphs. He can tell you when you’re wrong and when you’re right. But he’s always there for you.”

Fayson appreciated that the delay on his college football journey allowed him to experience Bennett’s first state championship victory at the JMA Wireless Dome that could soon become his home field.

“From when I first walked into the building, coming through the tunnel, I wanted to soak it all in,” Fayson said. “It was an experience that I hope I can feel more often now. My favorite color used to be pink. But now it is orange.”

Bennett graduate Melissa Fayson was exhilarated by the sight of her son wearing orange and blue during her alma mater’s triumphant moment at the dome.

“Jordan is a very determined young man and it was exhilarating to see him be part of that,” Melissa Fayson said. “I’m proud to see him in the community, making a difference. It speaks volumes of his character.”

Seeing Fayson suit up for Syracuse would be a surreal moment for the proud mother.

“He was told he’d never play again, and now he has come back even stronger,” she said. “I never imagined this boy would get back on the field. But he’s always been motivated and focused. Football is his passion and getting back on the field was his desire. Taking on a leadership role as a mentor to young men, it really enhanced who he was. It made him more compassionate. It made him more aware.

“I’m overjoyed. I’m proud. I’m ecstatic,” Melissa Fayson said. “Jordan having the opportunity to pursue his dream again — we feel blessed.”


Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.