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SAN DIEGO — His nonchalance is striking.
Melvin Gordon III hardly blinks when asked about the day his father was whisked away.
"I didn't have time to be depressed," Gordon says. "I had to be the man of the house and take care of my mom. I wanted to be in a position where I could take care of both of them so he doesn't have to be back in there."
Back in there, as in: back in prison.
Dad was a cocaine dealer.
We're not talking baggie handoffs on a corner, either. Dad moved a lot of product. He didn't work for you. You worked for him. Dad was the brains behind the operation. The maestro. He was, as his wife puts it, "ghetto rich." Then he got caught. Then the man known to everyone as "Big Bo" was sentenced to 10 years.
Then 19-year-old "Little Bo" should've self-destructed. Booze. Weed. He should've found a vice of some sort to relieve the pain of losing his dad. He should've slipped into depression.
"I never got down to the point where I felt like I couldn't do what I needed to do," Gordon says.
So while Big Bo is one of 497 inmates at a Duluth, Minnesota, prison—2,100 miles away—Little Bo is here, the last player to leave the Chargers practice field, crisping in the 90-degree heat.
You kidding? He's not done yet.
He slaps his hands together and sets up at the JUGS machine. Arms pumping, dreads swaying over his eyes, footballs zipping his way at warp speed, Gordon drops one, is visibly pissed and demands a Round 2. This time, he tucks his hair in a bun and his eyes burn. Catch. Catch. Catch. Gordon snares 10 in a row. To the tune of a loud "Woooooo!" from tight end Hunter Henry, he turns toward a mountain behind him and pretends to fire pistols with both hands.
This is how he handles it. How he decided to handle it.
That decision, in 2012, was easy.
He'd torture himself. He'd fulfill his father's prophecy. He'd mold himself into a legend. For years, Big Bo repeated one message to his son: You can be the best running back ever. He introduced him to a chaotic world of lifting and running and pushing his body to its scientific limits. Dumbbells were his nutrition, aches and pains his oxygen, Big Bo's booming voice his bible.
Sure, Gordon was torn up when Big Bo's world crumbled. He "couldn't think" initially, "couldn't focus." That lasted three days. Then he turned himself into a Heisman Trophy-worthy running back. Gordon shredded defenses for 10 yards per carry that 2012 season, 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns rushing in 2013, and 2,587 yards and 29 scores in 2014.
By the time Big Bo headed to prison, he had already created a damn monster.
Gordon didn't bring hookups home from the bar at 2 a.m. He changed and went for three-mile runs. He didn't work out four times per week at Wisconsin. He worked out four times per day. He didn't sit out with ankle sprains that'd sideline others for a month. He played. He doesn't binge on Netflix. He binges on game film, burying his face in a tablet for hours when he's chilling with friends.
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In the locker room, vet Antonio Gates walks by this chiseled figure, grunts "Put a shirt on, bro!" and the conversation shifts to the best running backs in the game today. David Johnson. Ezekiel Elliott. LeSean McCoy. Does Gordon believe he'll reach this level by season's end?
He's incredulous. His right eyebrow tilts in "You serious?" swag.
"I've got faith in myself that I'll be on that level," Gordon says. "I'm in no position to be complacent. I always want to be better. I want to be the best back. And I'm not the best right now."
The Motivation of Melvin is very real and very dangerous. He loathes the growing theory that running backs can be dusted off at Goodwill, thrown into a system, then returned for someone else's cheap use. That theory doesn't account for monsters like him. That theory doesn't account for a monster who only operates at one speed: 100 mph.
"I always want to be better. I want to be the best back. And I'm not the best right now."
— Melvin Gordon
Big Bo's words echo from afar. He can only catch a full game if the Chargers are in the area. Otherwise, he relies on highlights, newspaper stories, and recaps from his son and wife. The two must settle for a 15-minute phone chat, hang up, wait an hour, then chat again. This three-time-zone difference hasn't helped, either.
On Dec. 17, the family expects Melvin Gordon Jr. to be a free man. His sentence was reduced to seven years, then reduced again.
The entire time, Gordon never slowed down. He still takes a ladder to the beaches of San Diego in the middle of the night and obsesses over X's and O's during the day.
There's only one problem.
Gordon's blessing is also his curse.