They’re two close friends, dating back to three years overlapping at the University of Wisconsin where they spent countless hours together as one of college football’s top running back corps from 2010-12.
They were also inseparable off the field, maintaining a friendship that lasts to this day, despite living on opposite coasts.
However, come Sunday, Melvin Gordon and James White will go from friends to foes.
While they won’t ever be on the field at the same time, their friendship will be put on the backburner as the Chargers and Patriots vie for a spot in the AFC Championship Game.
“He’s like a little brother to me,” said White, who is one year older than Gordon. “Since he stepped foot on the Wisconsin campus, we were always tight. All the running backs there were. He’s a good football player, good person. I wish him nothing but the best of luck, but I hope he doesn’t do too much on Sunday.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Gordon offered the exact same response.
“That’s like my big brother, man,” he said. “Mentor. He’s been there for me through some hard times, especially through college and he’s looked out for me.”
In fact, the pair is so inseparable that they spent the entire offseason together down in Florida.
“I actually stayed with him the whole offseason this year,” Gordon explained. “Flew into Fort Lauderdale, we went out to eat, we did a whole bunch of stuff together. I’m actually really, really good friends with his wife as well. We all met in college. We have a great relationship. He’s been like a mentor to me since I’ve been in college and definitely my big brother.”
However, that all goes out the window come kickoff.
How each running back performs will likely go a long way toward determining the outcome as they are each key cogs in their respective offenses.
White, the Patriots’ Super Bowl hero from their win over the Atlanta Falcons, is a do-it-all back who is in the midst of a career year. He led the team with 87 receptions for 751 yards and seven touchdowns, setting a new franchise mark for catches by a running back. In addition, he toted the rock 94 times for 425 yards (4.5 ypc) and another five scores.
Gordon is obviously rooting against him this Sunday, stressing how shutting down his good friend is of the utmost importance.
“Just how effective he is in the passing game (really stands out),” he said. “I think he’s a great running back, but he doesn’t get that many opportunities to run the ball, which is unfortunate. I’m not on the coaching staff there so I can’t do anything about it, but he can run the ball as well. He kills people out of the backfield. Being lined up against linebackers, he prides himself on winning those matchups. So we’ve just got to be ready for him.… We’ve got to slow him down, definitely.”
Meanwhile, White is equally proud of what Gordon has been able to do as he earned his second Pro Bowl nod in four seasons.
The Bolts’ bell-cow toted the rock 175 times this year for 885 yards (5.1 ypc) while scoring 10 rushing touchdowns. On top of that, Gordon ranked second on the team with 50 receptions, good for 490 yards and another four scores.
“He’s always been able to do everything,” White said. “I think he’s gotten better as a pass-catcher. He’s one of the top yard-after-catch guys in the league so he’s been getting better and better with that each year. But he’s a guy who can do everything in the backfield – catch, run, block, whatever they need him to do. It’s going to take full effort to stop him.”
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Take a look through Thursday's practice photos as the Bolts get ready to take on the Patriots in Foxborough.