Melvin Gordon will have a decision to make after the season. Go pro or return to Madison for his junior season?
To stay or go
By ZACH HEILPRIN
MADISON - Melvin Gordon is going to play in the National Football League. Whether the University of Wisconsin running back is doing it next fall or waiting until the fall of 2015 remains to be seen.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” Gordon said Tuesday as the Badgers began preparations for the Capital One Bowl against South Carolina. “I don’t want to say I (will go), I don’t want to say I (won't go). I talked to my coach about it. I talked to my mom about it. I’ve just got to sit down and go over it with them some more.”
That discussion will be held after the bowl game and after Gordon hears back from the NFL College Advisory Committee. That’ll determine a lot for the redshirt sophomore as they’ll tell him where he likely could go in next May’s NFL Draft.
It will be a difficult decision for the running back. He has a lot he still wants to accomplish in Madison – among them a chance at national awards and the ability to finish his degree on time. But there is also the allure of playing at the sports highest level and get handsomely rewarded for it.
If the question was asked in the middle of October, the answer likely would have been Gordon leaving. He was a fringe candidate for the Heisman Trophy after he became the fastest running back in school history to run for 1,000 yards. He was at 1,012 after seven games and had 11 touchdowns. But over the last five games he went over 100 yards just once and has only one score.
“I was close this year at the beginning of the season. Couldn’t finish strong,” Gordon said of the Heisman. “I did (think I was a contender). And if I stay I’ll be a contender next year.
What is guaranteed is that Gordon will hear a lot of different opinions on the topic and he’ll have to decide which ones to listen to and which ones to block out. His father wants him to come back to school. Gordon says his mom, who was originally in favor of his return to campus, has begun to waver.
Meanwhile, he’s also getting some advice from former Badgers running back Montee Ball, who went through the, “should I stay or should I go process” during and following his record-breaking season of 2011. He eventually decided to stay at UW after the advisory committee came back with a third-round draft grade.
“He asked me what I was going to do. I told him I didn’t know,” Gordon said of his conversation with Ball, who ended up being a second round pick of the Denver Broncos last April. “I tried to get his advice because he’s been through the situation. He just said, “Do what’s best for you. If you feel like you want to stay, stay. Don’t let people trick you into doing something you don’t want to do.’”
Gordon is approaching the decision with great maturity. It wouldn’t be unprecedented for a player to sneak around the edges and not involve the rest of the university in the process. But that’s not the case. When he first decided he wanted to submit his papers to the advisory committee he went directly to UW coach Gary Andersen and Director of Player Development Henry Mason.
“Why leave it all clouded out there,” Andersen said. “It’s what he wants to do and I’m going to respect that and I’m going to support it. When the decision comes back from the league then we’ll sit down and discuss it again.”
The Kenosha-native isn’t expecting a great report from the committee. Not because he thinks he’s any less talented than the backs that could be drafted high. Guys like Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk or Ka’Deem Carey of Arizona – players that are also underclassmen. It’s more because he didn’t get to show his full arsenal due to sharing time with James White – someone the coaches felt was more a complete back than Gordon in terms of catching the ball out of the backfield and in pass protection.
“I want to get some type of feedback to at least let me know what I need to work on. What they need to see,” Gordon said, admitting that a third-round grade like Ball’s would not be good enough to leave. “I feel like I’m good in all of those areas. I just haven’t had a chance to show it. I know they’re going to bring it up.”
The situation is also difficult for a coach. If Andersen says Gordon should stay for another year it’ll look to the outside world like he’s only saying that because bringing back such a talented guy would help the team win.
“I simply told him, ‘Melvin, I’m going to tell you what I think but I’m going to support you.’ Just like my own kid. I would sit him down and tell him what I truly believe,” Andersen said. “I don’t say the things I said to Melvin because I think that’s what’s best for myself or what’s best for Wisconsin. At the end of the day I do it because I think it’s what’s best for Melvin. And that’s the coach I am. That’s who I pride myself on being. I don’t always tell them what they want to hear but I am going to tell them what I feel and what I think.”
And in this case Andersen believes it would be in Gordon’s best interest to return to Madison for the 2014 season.
“Do I think Melvin should stay another year? I’ve told him I believe he should. And we’ll talk more about that as we move forward,” Andersen said. “But I want to be involved in the decision. I don’t want Melvin walking around skittishly worried about what his coach wants. I told him why I thought he should stay, and that’s where we’ll go from there.”
Running backs coach Thomas Hammock has said throughout the year that Gordon is still a young back that has more to learn – and not just the physical part of the game. And he’s relayed that to him.
“He just thought there were probably some things I needed to work on,” Gordon said. “Just showing that to the scouts. He knows I can block. He knows I can catch. But I haven’t had a chance to showcase that yet.
“Also, the mental aspect of it. He felt I needed to get myself prepared a little more as far as an NFL playbook. He told me people don’t have time. There’s no time to be wasted on a player and they may not have patience with you. When you go there you’ve got to be on top of everything. You’ve got to be confident in everything you do. They don’t have time to be wasting. They’re trying to win games. It’s a business.”
When it comes to running backs a lot wear and tear is not a good thing. But in Gordon’s case he has a total of 263 carries. Another year, in which he would actually be the lead back, would give him an opportunity to show everything he’s capable of doing. And that’s how Andersen’s approaching it.
“I think it’s best for Melvin to come back. Is that best for me as a coach? You bet it is. Is that best for Wisconsin? You bet it is. And I believe that’s what’s best for Melvin. Honesty up front.
“You’re going to make those decisions as an individual person. You’re going to make them for your football team. And I hope both of those things come into play as we continue to talk it out. He’ll make the right decision in the end.”
Listen to Zach Heilprin every weekday on “The Jump Around” at ESPNWisconsin.com, and follow him on Twitter: @zachheilprin