Waterloo Region Record
WATERLOO — The spotlight often shines elsewhere, which is perfectly fine with Levondre Gordon.
The Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks running back simply wants to go about his business, stay healthy and do what he can to help his team be successful during the Ontario University Athletics football season and beyond.
If individual recognition and honours should happen to come his way, that’s fine.
If they don’t, that’s also fine.
“I don’t really worry about recognition. The media attention usually surrounds Kurleigh (receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr., the OUA’s reigning MVP) but as long as we’re winning, that’s what matters most,” said the soft-spoken Gordon, a fourth-year player from Mississauga.
“I know what I can do personally and I know what I can do to get the team to the next level and that’s what matters to me.”
Gordon and the No. 4 nationally ranked Hawks (2-0) return to action Saturday against the Waterloo Warriors (2-1), a team they haven’t lost to since the opening week of the 2002 season. The Hawks crushed the Warriors 71-24 in last year’s Battle of Waterloo but players and coaches from both schools are expecting a much closer game when the rivalry is renewed at University Stadium.
The five-foot-10, 180-pound Gordon has been outstanding in his first two outings this season, with 14 rushes for 109 yards and two touchdowns in a 39-21 win against Ottawa followed by 17 rushes for 120 yards in a 44-18 win against Queen’s. His average of 114.5 yards per game is tops in the OUA and his average carry of 7.4 yards is second best.
He was also a standout in last year’s Battle of Waterloo with 18 rushes for 106 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Second-choice back Osayi Iginuan also had a big game last season as Laurier rushed for 273 yards against Waterloo and finished the game with 585 yards of total offence.
“They have a stable of running backs but (Gordon) is definitely at the top of the food chain and he’s an outstanding football player, arguably the best running back in our conference,” Waterloo head coach Chris Bertoia said.
“Their offence is balanced and they like to throw the ball to set up the pass … so Levondre, he’s a huge catalyst for them.”
Gordon’s freshman year at Laurier coincided with the fifth and final season of the Golden Hawks’ all-time leading rusher, Dillon Campbell, which meant limited opportunities for the newcomer.
Gordon split carries with fifth-year player Eric Guiltinan in his second season before finally earning the top job at the start of the 2017 campaign. He fought through a nagging hamstring injury throughout but still managed to rack up 825 yards and eight touchdowns on 144 regular-season carries.
He was recognized once as U Sports player of the week but his breakthrough season wasn’t enough to earn him a spot on an OUA all-star team. Gordon said he uses that as a source of motivation to perform even better this season.
Gordon has been splitting carries with Iginuan and Kavantye Bailey in Laurier’s first two outings and remains hopeful that, despite sharing the load, he can crack the 1,000-yard barrier at season’s end.
“Obviously, as a running back you want to get the ball whenever you can, especially when you consider how Dillon Campbell would get the ball 20 to 30 times per game in my first year,” said Gordon.
“Things change though and I’m not at all bothered by it. If you look at the stats, we rush and pass the ball an equal number of times and my stats are still good. As long as we’re scoring, as long as we keep doing what we need to do on offence, I don’t mind at all.”
Indeed, times have changed since Campbell’s time at Laurier.
Golden Hawks head coach Michael Faulds said the current squad has close to a dozen players that are being watched by Canadian Football League scouts, a far cry from the “two or three” big names the team had during Campbell’s heyday.
The increased talent, particularly on offence, means fewer opportunities for Gordon.
“Levondre is one heck of a running back and if we didn’t spread the ball around so much, he’d have an even bigger name for himself,” Faulds said.
“When you look at his average carry per touch, it’s pretty incredible and as a staff we’re excited to see him healthy right now and running at the speed of which he is.”
Gordon has yet to decide whether he’ll return for a fifth year at Laurier, saying his schooling and the CFL draft will play a role in that decision.
As for Saturday’s showdown, Gordon, Faulds and Bertoia are in agreement the Battle of Waterloo has grown in significance with the Warriors’ recent rise to respectability.
Waterloo is coming off a hard-fought 21-18 loss to No. 8 Carleton but Bertoia said his players have performed well in practice this week and are looking forward to taking on their crosstown rivals.
Bertoia also offered a few words of advice to anyone who thinks his team has no chance of prevailing.
“Over the last few years, (Laurier) has been one of the elite teams in the conference and we know that. It’s a rivalry game for us and we haven’t won in a very long time,” he said.
“I think Laurier respects us, I hope they do, because if they don’t, they might be shocked. We’re expecting a very good football game and a very good atmosphere.”
Bertoia can’t be assured the respect is mutual.
Faulds expects this year’s game to be a good one and has nothing but good things to say about the opposition.
“They’ve got a really exciting quarterback (Tre Ford), an offence that puts up a lot of points and a defence that is improving each and every week,” he said.
“The game is important and has become that much more important of late with both teams being very good football teams.”
Faulds points to winning the turnover battle and time of possession as keys to a Laurier victory; Bertoia said his defence will have to play at its best and the offence will have to be able to run the ball against Laurier’s formidable defensive line.