The Minnesota Vikings have begun practice for the 2008 National Football League season and former Santa Monica High star Charles Gordon is competing to be the team’s nickel back.
Gordon finished last season in that role, becoming a fifth defensive back on passing downs.
And at times, Gordon might play right cornerback, where he’s the Vikings’ top reserve behind Cedric Griffin.
So Gordon has completed the long journey from John Adams Middle School to Samohi, to the University of Kansas to the NFL.
He has worked for everything. He’s not big, not imposing physically but talented and determined. He’s 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, and a few days after his 24th birthday he’s beginning his third NFL season. Not bad for a young man who wasn’t even drafted.
Gordon revealed much about himself in an interview with Kansas journalist Matt Lindberg.
He said he was often recognized on campus at Kansas, but one student said he couldn’t be Charles Gordon because he was too small. “At KU I played corner, receiver, multiple positions,” said Gordon. “I learned to play out of position and be comfortable.”
He left Kansas after his junior year, declaring for the 2006 NFL draft but was bypassed by every team in all seven rounds.
“I never regretted that decision,” he said. “The goal was to get drafted and it hurt that I wasn’t. But it really made me re-commit to getting better and focusing in on the little things that are important in football.”
As a free agent Gordon picked the Vikings, one of many teams who showed interest. On the last day of 2006 Gordon started an NFL game for the first time, playing cornerback.
Gordon’s days at Samohi are memorable. He played on the Vikings’ last CIF championship team in 2001.
Norm Lacy, now the Samohi athletic director, coached that team. Gordon was a star receiver. The quarterback was James Cooper, who went on to play baseball at Loyola Marymount and became a 10th round draft choice of the New York Yankees.
To me, the most memorable aspect of that championship was that Samohi won its final two playoff games on the road. First there was a victory at Paso Robles, which had been the power of the division. Then there was the championship game at North Torrance.
“I ask a lot of them,” Lacy said at the time. “If they want to be the best they have to make the commitment.”
In an interview for an earlier story on Gordon, which appeared in The Mirror, Lacy said Gordon’s skills were exceptional. He also reasoned that if Gordon were bigger when he came out of Kansas NFL teams would likely have coveted him.
But the NFL doesn’t intimidate Gordon.
“It’s just football to me,” he said. “It comes natural. It just boils down to can you execute the game plan better than the other team. I think I do it as well as anyone else and can produce for my team.”
I was at Venice High on a rainy Friday evening during Gordon’s junior year – watching Samohi lose on a night when Gordon suffered a broken ankle.
I go back to that night and think of how much progress he’s made since then.