"When they think of my name, I hope they think I'm one of the top backs in the league."
Melvin Gordon has always taken pride in playing for the name on the back of his jersey.
And while he hopes people think he's one of the league's top running backs, the work he's put in proves it. In December, the fourth-year player was named to his second Pro Bowl, his first since 2016.
But accolades aside, it hasn't always been easy. Gordon has faced his fair share of adversity as a Charger, yet each hurdle he's had to overcome has shaped him into the back he is today.
Ask him yourself, and you'll get the same answer. But to know what he's been through, you have to rewind to 2015, Gordon's rookie season where he was selected 15th-overall by the Chargers.
It was a season that found the former Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year scoreless.
A season that ended with him on the Reserve-Injured list.
A season that haunted him.
"After my rookie year, people just doubted me," Gordon said when reflecting on 2015. "That was probably my hardest year of football ever as a player. Just dealing with that adversity. I don't think it could get worse than that. I was rock bottom, and then getting hurt was icing on the cake. To not be able to finish the year, it sucked. I couldn't sleep. I was having nightmares about it. It was that bad. I really couldn't sleep. It was that bad of an offseason."
Sick of not sleeping and sick of hearing doubt from pundits, Gordon made a promise to himself to get better.
"When I stepped on the field, especially that second year, I felt that there was no one on either side of the ball that worked harder than me and that gave me the confidence. What I realized is, this game is all about confidence."
That confidence hit an all-time high in Week 9 of the 2016 season when the Bolts beat the Titans, 43-35. It's a game the running back proclaims is the signature showing of his pro career. He amassed 261 total yards of offense, scored a touchdown and broke off a 47-yard run on 3rd-and-7, while carrying defenders, to seal the win for the Chargers.
That game was a culmination of the hard work he had put in during the offseason. It showed his maturation from a rookie to a pro.
"As a player in this league, you've got to learn how to deal with adversity, good or bad, and you've got to let it define you. Whether it makes you a good player or a worse player and gets the best of you and has you out of the league in two to three years, it's on you and your decision with what you do with your hard work. It's made me better just hearing people doubt me as far as catching, running the ball and this and that. Every year I prove to myself, I want to prove to myself, that I can be better than the year before."
Each year he's been in the league, Gordon has been better than the one prior.
During the 2018 season, the Wisconsin native amassed 1,375 yards from scrimmage and a career-best 14 total touchdowns. He boasted a career-high 5.1 yards-per-carry average and totaled 885 yards on the ground.
But, Gordon has showed up as a threat through the air as well.
"Look at what he's doing in the passing game with his hands as a receiver," Chargers Head Coach Anthony Lynn said earlier this season. "He's become a versatile threat."
Gordon caught 50 passes for 490 yards receiving in 2018. He also became a key cog to the offense's pass protection. He credits his growth in that area of the game to the man under center, Philip Rivers.
"You have to either get better in that area or you're going to be forced to get better in that area if you want to play. You don't want to get off the field and you want to be good. You've got to know how to do it all if you want to stay on the field with Phil. That's the guy that you want to protect because he's obviously the leader and a captain of the team. I'm a better player, at the end of the day, and I try to improve on my game every year in every fashion – in my strengths and my weaknesses."
But despite the numbers he put up in 2018, the season also hasn't come without adversity for Gordon. He suffered an MCL sprain in Week 12 and was forced to miss three games. Dealing with an injury wasn't new for him. But dealing with it in a season full of promise, a season where his team is playoff-bound for the first time in his career, was.
"I wasn't really scared because I knew it wasn't that serious (since) I walked off the field on my own," he said. "I've (injured) it before so I didn't think it was crazy, but it's just tough because I want to be out there, you know? I'm actually enjoying the process of everything leading up to the games. The gameday, I'm enjoying everything. I'm sitting in the moment, I'm sitting in a place where I'm just embracing and taking everything in and then it gets taken away from you. Even if it's for a couple weeks or not, it feels like forever."
Enjoying the game as he is, Gordon admits he still has a chip on his shoulder. He's still fueled by it and fueled by those who doubted him.
But this year, he gets a chance to prove those doubters wrong once more as the Bolts clinched a spot in the postseason and most recently, beat the Baltimore Ravens in the Wild Card Round. Gordon once again faced adversity, leaving the game with an injury in the first quarter. However, he returned and scored the team's sole touchdown in the win.
Though he feels the injury he suffered late in the season stopped him from being considered an elite back in the league, he hopes the meaningful football he gets to play in January catapults him back into the conversation.
"I've got the postseason to show people that I'm still one of the top guys. It'll give me something to work for to next season, and this postseason, to go out there and just show people that I'm one of the best and our team is one of the best teams around."
Get ready, Gordon's recharged for the rest of the playoffs.
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