Talks with Hawks: Episode 29 – Levondre Gordon

Levondre Gordon was a running back who played at my high school at STFXSS in MIssissauga. Although I have coached there many years, I took a few years off when I started doing recruiting for Laurier so I never actually coached him, but I did watch him play and have a ton of success including helping his team win a championship in his final year. It was certainly a priority of mine to encourage him to come to WLU. Starting at Laurier in 2015, he spent his rookie year mainly watching from the bench as Dillon Campbell was starting the final year of his amazing career. In his sophomore year, Gordon was part of a RB core (lead by Eric Guiltinan) that lead the nation in terms of most team rushing yards (other key RBs were Osayi Iginuan, Darian Waite, Tre Nicholson, & Eli Fera).  Gordon himself lead the nation in rushing average with 8.7 yards per carry.  In his third and fourth years, he rushed for over 800 yards both times (earning 2nd team OUA All Star status in 2016), and in his final year(2017) he lead the nation in rushing with over a 1000 yards. He was a 1st team OUA, 1st team All Canadian, Team MVP, and an academic all Canadian.  Gordon finished 2nd all time in regular season career rushing yards (3348) at WLU and he added another 399 in the playoffs. In December of 2019, I made sure he was the first football player in STFXSS school history to have his jersey number retired.  One day, I am sure he will be inducted into the WLU Hall of Fame.

Dave Morrissey:  Tell the readers the story of how you ended up at Laurier.

Levondre Gordon: Well, I certainly liked the community and the small campus, but the main reason I chose Laurier was because of how interested they were in me. I went on a couple visits to WLU and met the coaches and they initially offered me a partial scholarship. I did have some offers from other schools in Ontario and in the A.U.S., but I wouldn’t say I was highly and aggressively recruited. Laurier was my 1st choice. I liked the coaches and I liked the idea that I would get to learn from Dillon Campbell in his last year. I delayed my acceptance decision a few days, and a couple of days later, Laurier told him that they had already signed another running back and that my spot was gone. So, I went on a recruit visit to McMaster and I liked it there too and I verbally committed. I told them I’d be down later in the week to officially sign. That’s when the story gets strange. Maybe a day or two later, in the middle of the school day, you come haul me out of class and tell me that the RB who signed with WLU changed his mind and went to another OUA school instead. You asked me if I had signed already with McMaster or if it had only been a verbal acceptance. Once I told you it was only verbal, you asked me if I still wanted to go to Laurier. I did! So, later on that day you drove my mom and I back to Laurier for another visit. (Editor’s Note: That other RB ended up with only 274 career rushing yards, more than 3000  yards less than Levondre.  As well, Dre’s mom was a high level sprinter who was very nearly on the Canadian Olympic team in her younger days). This time, WLU offered me a full scholarship, so I informed the coaches at McMaster of my decision and signed with Laurier that evening.

DM: What was the toughest thing about rookie camp?

LG: It is the ‘2 a days’ practice schedule. I don’t think most people understand how long a typical day in training camp is. It took an incredible toll on one’s mind and body. From sunrise to past sunset, you are either in practices or meetings, with the only breaks being meals. I remember calling my mom one day and seriously questioning whether or not this was for me. As well, you quickly realize you are at the bottom of the totem pole and you see during drills that some of the defenders don’t want to take you on in 1 on 1s because they know you aren’t even good enough to offer them a challenge and they don’t want to waste one of their reps on you. It was good to have Osayi Iginuan with me. As a fellow rookie RB, we worked with each other and studied the playbook with each other

DM: How much did you dress in your rookie year?  Do you remember all your jersey numbers from that year?

LG: I think I dressed 3 or 4 games plus the playoff game. I started dressing about halfway through the season. I had less than 20 carries the whole season. Most of my playing time was on special teams. (Laughing)  Fish gave me some crazy jersey numbers that year.  I got 87 in the Ottawa game and then 42 vs Waterloo.  I had another number or two (Editor’s Note: I believe he wore 25 at Queen’s).

DM: Why did you choose jersey #1?

LG:  Willam Pitt-Doe was a great DB on the team who wore the jersey in 2015. When he left the team, a lot of guys wanted that number. That number is often associated with high performers and flash and arrogance. I had worn it during my high school career. I am not a flashy or cocky guy; I just really liked it. Coach Faulds had asked me what jersey I wanted and I told him I wanted #1 and I was ready to take on the extra challenge that would come with wearing that particular number as well as trying to eventually replace Dillon Campbell when I got my shot, but I knew there was also still a great RB in front of me (Eric Guiltinan).

DM: You took a huge step forward in your 2nd year, rushing for over 637 yards on only 73 carries.

LG: Yes, I actually liked being the #2 behind Eric. I would watch Eric just punish defences and also take some really big hits (Editor’s Note: Guiltinan had over 700 yards, almost a 7 yard rushing average, and 9 TDs that year) and then I would come off the bench fresh and be able to take advantage of a ‘softened up’ defence. I was able to break off a number of long runs. I attribute a lot of that to Eric’s dominance when he was in the game. Eric got injured twice that year. I got my first career start at U of T and then he suffered a season-ending injury during the semi-final victory over McMaster. The whole team felt so bad for him. He had paid his dues playing behind Dillon Campbell for so long and then he ended up missing the Yates Cup in his hometown in his 5th and final year. Football truly is a ‘next man up’ type of game. I knew it would be on me and Osayi and the other RBs to pick up the slack vs Western in the Yates Cup the next week. Actually, I wasn’t nervous, I don’t really get nervous or show much emotion.

DM:  In the Yates Cup victory over Western in 2016, you rushed for 164 yards on 18 carries, and you had a 41 yard reception.  What do you think was the bigger play that you made: the 43 yard touchdown run in the 2nd quarter or the 31 yard run in the final seconds of the game that put Nathan Mesher in position to kick the winning field goal?

LG: Well, the long TD run in the 2nd quarter tied up the game and marked a momentum shift for us. We got off to a poor start but we played a really good 2nd quarter. But I cherish the run on the final drive more. It was the ‘icing on the cake’ on what was an incredible 4th quarter comeback. The Yates Cup victory was super satisfying and so was the after party at The Turret (Editor’s Note: I remember that day and night very well. I think I hugged more people on that day than the rest of my life combined).

DM: What happened to you in the Laval game the next week?

LG: Early in the 2nd quarter, I took an unexpected hit to the side of the head and it was ‘lights out’. Next thing you know, I am waking up beside our trainer Jen Martins and I don’t even know who she is or where I am. Obviously, I was out for the rest of the game with a concussion. It was tough watching, sitting there in the freezing cold.

DM:  In your 3rd year, the team went 7 and 1 and returned to the Yates Cup for a rematch with Western.

LG: Yeah, the team had a great season, and we were confident going into that game. I didn’t play very much in that game because the game plan that day was to attack them with a 6 receiver package most of the time. Football is a team game and you have to understand your role. I had many games and many chances where I got to play a big role. Based on the defence that Western was using, the 6 WR set was our best chance for victory on that day. We had an outstanding receiving core: Kurleigh Gittens Jr, Brentyn Hall, Carson Ouellette, Brendan McCracken, Daniel Bennett, and Ente Eguavoen. We also got down big early and that necessitated throwing the ball even more. Of course, losing was tough but we also felt we were still going to return a very strong squad in 2018 so we didn’t dwell on that loss in the offseason.

DM:  In your final 2 seasons, the team unexpectedly goes 4 and 4 in both years, losing some games in bizarre fashion and losing out on playoff-qualifying tiebreakers both years.  Personally, you achieved incredible success but I don’t think everyone was aware of how many injuries you had and were consistently able to play through.

LG: Well, it is true that I had good numbers, but when your team goes 4 and 4, it really doesn’t matter that much. In terms of injuries, in my last year alone I could barely even keep track of all of them, but both my shoulders and both my knees were in bad shape. I had both shoulders taped and braces on my knees. I also had a really bad wrist injury that I had to triple-tape just to be able to stiff-arm a defender. I was very proud to be able to play through pain. 

DM: I spoke to our Head Athletic Therapist Jen Martins about Dre’s battles with injuries and his toughness.  Here is what she had to say:

Jen Martins: Dre was a unique athlete and a special individual who battled with a lot of injuries and yet he was very consistent with his demeanour. Most people would be totally unable to tell if he was playing hurt or exactly what the nature of his injury was because he was so even-keeled. He never really showed pain or got sad or mad or upset. I could sense the weight of the team that he felt was on his shoulders (Editor’s Note: I’d agree with that, especially for the 2019 game at Ottawa. We had a ton of injuries at the receiver position and on that day, even though he was also battling injuries, the offence totally had to rely on ‘pounding the rock’.  Dre had 38 carries for 188 yards and 2 touchdowns). He never wanted to let his team down. He felt the weight of carrying the team. He was a fantastic athlete. Even when his body was giving out and he needed a break or two and I tried to convey to the coaches that he needed a day or two of rest, coaches would go to Dre and say “Are you good?” and Dre would always say “Yes”. He always put on a brave face.   

DM: What players in practice were the toughest to go up against during 1 on 1s and who was the hardest harder in the OUA on another team?

LG: Nakas Onyeka and Brandon Calver were so intimidating, especially when I first game in. Coming from high school where I didn’t have to do much pass protection, trying to take on those two studs (who are both in the CFL now) was impossible. They had so many different moves and they were so strong, I didn’t have a chance. But I loved taking them on, because I knew they would make me better and I truly believe that I was a good pass blocker during games because of the high quality opposition I went up against daily in practice.  The hardest hitters on other teams were Jack Cassar at Carleton and Jacob Janke at York.

DM: Despite having incredible numbers on the field and amazing test results at the CFL Regional Combine in 2019, you were still passed over and not even drafted.  To what extent did that bother you?

LG: Actually, it wasn’t a huge downer for me. All through university I knew what my career plan was. I knew that if I would be able to play pro football, I would certainly welcome that chance, but I also knew that if I didn’t get that chance, I would be okay too. It still doesn’t bother me now. I knew my size was going to be a detriment. Being passed over did put a bit of a chip on my shoulder and made me continue to train hard for my 5th and final season at Laurier. I am very happy for so many teammates and friends of mine that DID get drafted and that are playing in the CFL today.

DM: What are you doing now?

LG: Well, my career plan was always to become a police officer. Currently, I am in Police College, and when I graduate, I will be working in Peel. (Editor’s Note: Personally, I can hardly wait for the day when I get stopped for speeding by Constable Gordon. He better give me a pass!).

DM: As a young black male and given the tensions that do still sometimes exist between law enforcement and the black community, do you feel you have a key role to play in that regard?

LG: That is in fact one of the main reasons why I wanted to get into law enforcement. I want to be able to bridge that gap and be an agent of change in my community. The way police see the community and the way the community sees the police needs to improve. I want people to see me as a leader who will advocate for changes that will address some of the systemic racism that exists in our society. I want to be an educator and set an example for youth. I specifically want to work in Peel region. It is the most diverse part of the province.

DM: I know your thoughtful, calm, cool demeanour is perfect for the very important career you have chosen. Good luck Dre!

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