Before he was a four-star high school recruit, a Heisman Trophy finalist and a National Football League Pro Bowler, Melvin Gordon was just another kid who enjoyed hanging out at the local Boys & Girls Club.
On Thursday, the 24-year-old superstar was back to being a kid again.
The Bradford High School graduate made a brief trip to Kenosha to spend time with his family, friends and a gym full of awestruck students at the Boys & Girls Club of Kenosha’s 25th anniversary celebration. Gordon spoke to members of the club and guests from the Jockey Being Family program about the importance of academics, following dreams and enjoying life.
“You don’t have to play sports to be special,” said Gordon during his speech. “Playing football was my calling. It’s something I wanted to do. You can be whatever you want to be ... a doctor, a teacher, a mentor. Find something you love and cherish and find people who love and cherish the same things you do.”
The Los Angeles Chargers running back spent his morning training with the Bradford football team, which he addressed at the school’s new stadium.
“I felt like I needed to say something to them,” Gordon said. “I just told them not to take the field for granted. We didn’t have that. I told them to build bonds with others and find someone that wants to be great, just as bad as you do, and become great together. It’s good when you can reach those goals yourself. It’s even better when you can bring two or three people along with you.”
Gordon often credits his relationship with former Wisconsin running backs James White and Montee Ball for mentoring him and teaching him how to have fun while playing football. During his high school playing days, Gordon said he often focused on proving people wrong instead of enjoying the moment.
He went on to become one of the greatest running backs in college football history.
“What I learned at Wisconsin is how to let myself be free,” Gordon said. “I took high school too serious. I was too into the stars. People doubted me because I was from Wisconsin and I didn’t think it was fair and I took it really personal. When I met James White and Montee Ball my freshman year, that is when I started having fun with the game. Every day those guys laughed and had fun with it. Those were the best years.”
Dennis Bedford, the Youth Empowerment Program director of Outreach and Schools for the Boys & Girls Club, served as one of Gordon’s mentors since middle school.
Bedford recounted a story when Gordon invited an entire bus of Boys & Girls Club members to attend the Wisconsin-Northwestern game on Oct. 4, 2014 in Evanston, Ill. The Badgers suffered one of their three losses that season with a disappointing 20-14 setback against the Wildcats.
“It was a miserable, nasty day and they had one of their only losses of the entire season,” Bedford said. “The game ended and we were scrambling in the rain and it was really cold and we were already getting back on the bus. Melvin came and found us. He wanted to be able to share a moment with the kids. These are the same kids that now star at Bradford. They remember that. These are honor roll students working hard to achieve their goals. Melvin is so genuine and so humble. He’s helping us doing what we’re trying to do.”
Bedford said these are the same character traits and leadership skills which were apparent the moment he met Gordon.
“I always said he had a gift,” Bedford said. “You could see that as a kid.”