Varsity is the free Official Online Magazine of Wisconsin Athletics, covering Badgers football, basketball, hockey and more each week.
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W LUCAS AT LARGE BY MIKE LUCAS // UWBADGERS.COM Gordon doesn't have to go far for guidance 12 isconsin tailback James White tapped his left wrist and pointed to the heavens after his 70-yard touchdown run against Purdue. The symbolic gestures were in honor of his late grandfather. "I was named after him," said White, who has "James Willis" tattooed on his wrist. "I lived with him for a couple of years when I was in elementary school; he was kind of a second father figure." White was in the eighth grade when his grandfather passed away. "My parents got me involved in sports," he said, "but he was there at every event that he could get to. We had a great relationship. Whenever I get the chance to (acknowledge him), I do, too. "It's just something where I remind myself that he's watching over me." White is now doing the same for Melvin Gordon; he's watching over the leading rusher in college football. Gordon appreciates the mentoring, especially going into the Ohio State game. "I'm definitely going to have to rely on James," said Gordon, whose name is starting to emerge on Heisman Trophy lists. "He has experience against Ohio State ― I don't. "We will definitely need his leadership out there Saturday night." Gordon had one carry for a minus-one in last season's game, an overtime loss to the Buckeyes. White has played in each of the last three meetings and has a combined total of 30 carries for 124 yards. "Just be decisive" is what White // VARSITY September 26, 2013 would tell Gordon about playing in the Horseshoe. "You're still playing a game that you've been playing all season," he would stress. "Go out there and have fun." The one-two punch of White and Gordon has been so dynamic and productive that Ohio State coach Urban Meyer observed, "I can't imagine two better backs on the same team." White has 61 carries (7.2 yards per rush), Gordon has 53 (11.8). Nobody is complaining. "We're both hot," said Gordon, who had a career-high 16 rushes last Saturday. "We both do different things; we're both different backs ― kind of the same ― but different. "They have to game plan against us differently." Besides the long runs that have characterized Flash-and-Dash Gordon ― three runs of 60-plus yards over the last six games ― he's most proud of his yards between the tackles and after contact. "A lot of people were doubting me saying that they didn't think I was able to do that," Gordon said, "which gave me a little bit of motivation to work on that in practice. "It's just a mentality; it's pretty much what it is. Just being mentally tough, that's the thing. My coach has been working with me on that." UW running backs coach Thomas Hammock has seen the changes in Gordon. "We've been together three years now; he knows me and I know him, I know what makes him tick," Hammock said. "Earlier in his career, I don't know if he was the strongest mentally. "I just think he's developed that along the way, and he's starting to take off." Most telling to Hammock were a couple of runs in the Purdue game where Gordon pounded the ball inside rather than trying to outrun the pursuit to the edge like he attempted at Arizona State. "For him to make the adjustment in one week's time," Hammock said, "and get vertical on the (Purdue) safety ― and be able to score ― tells me that he's really growing up." A year ago, White and Montee Ball used to tease Gordon about how he reminded them of Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles. Both wear No. 25. Both wear dreads. Both wear out safeties. With an infectious smile, Gordon admitted that there was a familiar look to Charles, a sixth-year player out of the University of Texas. "We are similar," he said, "but he's a lot faster than me." Gordon, a redshirt sophomore from Kenosha, Wis., is a fan of speed and playmakers. "I like Braxton Miller, it's fun to watch him actually," he said of the Ohio State quarterback who has been cleared to play against the Badgers. "He makes plays, he's an explosive player. "As another explosive playmaker, you kind of like guys who make plays. "Just as long as he doesn't do it against us." Just as long as Gordon does do it against them.