Melvin Gordon is just getting started.
In fact, when he looks at you while he’s answering questions, his gazing intensity makes you wonder if he feels like he’s really gotten started at all.
It’s not like Gordon’s first two NFL seasons have been a bust. It’s just that Gordon expects a lot of himself, and he’s not shy about telling you that.
The former Bradford and University of Wisconsin star was back in his hometown this week, and he spent Thursday night being honored by the Kenosha Kingfish as part of Melvin Gordon Day at Simmons Field. Gordon was there in his role as an ambassador for Jockey Being Family, a private charity that funds five different national and local adoption non-profit organizations.
It’s an interesting offseason for Gordon and his Chargers teammates, who officially ended their tenure in San Diego at the recent June mini-camp and will convene for training camp in late July as they make their move up the coast to Los Angeles.
Gordon was drafted in the first round (15th overall) of the 2015 NFL Draft and expected to be a bell-cow running back for the Chargers.
He had a frustrating rookie season in which he didn’t find the end zone but bounced back last season with 997 rushing yards, 12 total touchdowns and a Pro Bowl selection.
Still, the season was unfulfilling in some ways. He missed the last three games with a knee and hip injury to finish a scant three yards shy of 1,000 rushing. And the Chargers went 5-11, making them 9-23 overall in Gordon’s first two seasons with the team.
Now, the Chargers have a new home and a new head coach in Anthony Lynn, in addition to their highly-motivated third-year running back.
On Thursday at Simmons, Gordon was all smiles. He threw out one of the ceremonial first pitches, coached first base for the bottom of the first inning, signed autographs and posed for photos with just about anyone who asked.
After that, he took some time to talk with Kenosha News sports reporter Mike Johnson about a variety of topics, mainly the upcoming season:
KENOSHA NEWS: How was your first-base coaching experience?
MELVIN GORDON: “I told them, man, just keep it simple for me. This baseball is a little foreign to me.”
KN: All you have to do is congratulate the guys that get to first base.
MG: “Yeah, yeah. So it’s cool. I told them, ‘Good job, man.’ So that’s all it was.”
KN: Did you take any batting practice?
MG: “I was just throwing the ball. When it was time to throw the pitch, I was like — Jake, I think his name was, showed me up — I was like, ‘I want to compete with them, but I don’t want it to hit the ground. So I’m going to just lob it up there and get it there.’”
KN: More importantly, how’s your offseason going? How are you feeling?
MG: “It’s going (well). I’ve been training with the team, just getting right. I’m excited, man, getting back to being me. I think this offseason will be great for me leading up into this season.”
KN: Is this the healthiest you’ve felt in a while? Can you accurately say that?
MG: “I’m a lot healthier than I was last year around this time. Obviously, that’s better for me.”
KN: What’s relocating with a franchise like as a player? It’s not your decision, but is that something that distracts players at all?
MG: “It’s just a hassle moving and getting that stuff together, man. It’s really a hassle. You build friends outside of the football team, and you have to leave those friends.
“There’s actually a buddy I went to ... college together (with). He ended up moving to San Diego (for) work out there. I became really close with him, and now having to move, you’ve got to leave your friends. That’s like the hardest thing. I don’t have a family like the other guys that have to move their families and take their kids out of school and things like that. It’s just me.”
KN: And you’re not moving too far.
MG: “Yeah, it’s like an hour or something like that.”
KN: Again, not that this is your job or your decision, but with the Chargers fans in San Diego, do you have any feelings toward them losing a franchise? Is there anything you’d like to say to them as somebody who spent two seasons there?
MG: “Just that we love those guys. When I got drafted, I got drafted by the San Diego Chargers, and obviously the team accepted me, the coaches accepted me. And obviously the fans accepted me in, as well, when they didn’t have to, and they believed in me.
“Even in the first season, people kind of doubted me, San Diego stood in my corner and believed that I could bounce back. I’ll never forget them for that.”
KN: I’m sure you’re more than happy to tell them to stay aboard and stick with you guys as you move just up the coast as the Los Angeles Chargers, right?
MG: “Yeah. I do want them to understand that at the end of the day, it’s business. It’s nothing really the players can do. We would love to continue to have their support, because right now we need it.”
KN: You demand a lot out of yourself. I know your rookie season kind of gnawed at you all last offseason. Do feel like in your second year you acquitted yourself a lot better with the 10 touchdowns? Evaluate how much you progressed in that second season.
MG: “Obviously, I feel like I got better. But it’s not where I want to be. Getting hurt kind of hindered what I had as far as goals for myself. I’ve got to attack it, man, because I still feel like I’m getting overlooked.
“As far as the running game, I’m getting a little bit more respect. But as far as the passing game, I still feel like I’m not noticed out there, and I still feel like I’m not as recognized. But it’s OK. If we continue to win — if we start to win, I should say— and build success, the shine will come.”
KN: I did read in some articles from mini-camp that you were getting more involved in the passing game. It’s way too early to determine how that will play out, but does it seems like an active effort by (quarterback) Philip Rivers and your coaches and teammates to get you more involved in those scenarios?
MG: “Yeah, you know, I just feel like I’m a mismatch against other linebackers out there if I get split wide. At Wisconsin, in practice they had me splitting wide and doing routes. But when we got to the games we just ran the ball. We went to what works. When you break them for 60 yards, it’s hard to change up.
“But they’re definitely bringing it out of me. I think all I needed was reps. I can definitely catch the ball. I’ve been doing it for a while, catching in the street with cousins. Playing seven-on-seven and stuff. Catching the ball’s not the problem. Running the routes is a craft that you have to build on if you haven’t been doing it for a while.
“They’re trying to bring it out of me. I kind of get down when I drop a ball or something, because the more you catch it, the more they throw it to you, and the more confidence the coaches build in you.”
KN: I assume by now you’ve gotten ample time to meet with your new head coach after OTAs and mini-camps. You’ll certainly get much more in training camp, but do you have any feelings about him so far? Are you excited for the start of his tenure?
MG: “I am, man. I think he’s definitely a coach that we want to fight for. We obviously know this is his first head coaching job. When you’ve got a coach that you really want to play for, it shows out there. It makes a difference. Those players’ coaches are the type of coaches that win ballgames.
“It’s just the style of coaches. I wouldn’t say all the players’ coaches are winners, cause they aren’t. But it’s definitely a coach we want to play for.”
KN: So you’d classify him as a players’ coach in your early assessment?
MG: “Yeah, and he’s on us, too. If he sees BS, he keeps it real, and he explains it. He lets us know. And if we did good, he lets us know. He (doesn’t) really nitpick. If the defense killed you today, they killed you today. Offense, step it up. And that’s just what it is.
“Those coaches that kind of nitpick and try to find stuff, it’s just like, whatever. But I think he’s a good coach, and I’m excited to see what he does during training camp. The real him will come out then.”
KN: I know that killed you inside last year to finish with 997 yards and miss out on 1,000 because you were out the last three games with an injury. Is getting that 1,000 yards a big focus this season?
MG: “Definitely, and being three yards short... But the main focus is winning. And I think it starts with the offensive line. Those guys have been working extremely hard for me, for Phil, for the team, because they know they’re the motor. Our strength coach has been on those guys. I’m hoping those guys come out, because we work through them.
“As great as a back can be, he’s only as good as his offensive line, and that’s the truth. You could put anybody you want back there, besides Barry Sanders.”
KN: He’s the exception?
MG: “Yeah, he’s the exception. He’s the only exception. ... I’m excited, and I’ve got my goals. I’ve got my goals, and obviously 997 wasn’t those goals.”
KN: Pretty much between now and training camp in late July, are you on your own personal workout regimen?
MG: “Yeah, I’m going to be heading back to Houston to train and get right. I’m going to go back there to get right and get this thing rolling.”
KN: Who do you train with?
MG: “Adrian Peterson.”
KN: Not a bad guy to train with.
MG: “Not at all. Not at all.”
KN: I know you got a chance to check out the new Bradford Stadium. What did you think?
MG: “I went there (Thursday for) the first time. It was amazing, man. I could only dream of having that and wishing we could play on that. Having our own field like that, man...
“I talked to the freshmen today. They were out there, and I got a chance to talk to them. And I just told them, ‘Don’t take any of this for granted, cause we didn’t have that. We had to go over there to Bullen and grind on that, and we had that little field over there.’
“Our home games weren’t really home games. We were all away games every time, and now we have a home game. We’re settled, we have our own home crowd. Man, I would pay to go back in time and have that stadium and play there.”
KN: Well, you had a part in it with all the success your teams had at Bradford.
MG: “Yeah, we definitely helped build that. Me and our class definitely helped build that.”