LOS ANGELES – Todd Gurley is relaxed, although it doesn’t seem like Todd Gurley is stressing about much these days. In the midst of a Pro Bowl season that will eventually see his Rams in the Super Bowl in Atlanta, on this cool day in early December, he’s found some time to read.
Gurley surprised Worthington Elementary students by holding a BOOK-IT! pizza party (with Pizza Hut boxes stacked to the ceiling) and a reading of The Magician’s Hat by former University of Georgia teammate Malcolm Mitchell. The kids, predictably, were thrilled, and Gurley continued to make an impact in a community that previously had no NFL presence, and is still coming to grips with two franchises in the city — both good enough to be playoff teams.
Culture isn’t something you can conjure up, and with so much competition for people’s focus and energy in L.A., it takes time to establish new fans. For the Rams, it could be as simple as, well, making the Super Bowl. But a lot more goes into it for Gurley and his running back complement with the Chargers, Melvin Gordon. The pair (as well as their teammates) have to invest in the area around them, and consider pooling resources to foster a young generation of football fans who now have teams — and players — to look up to, while bettering the city around them in the process.
“I feel there’s a lot of guys on the team that do a lot of stuff in this community and they don’t even tell half the people about it,” Gurley says. “They just do it and go along with their business. That’s just to tell you what type of people we are, whether it’s us, the Chargers, everybody around the league, we all come from similar backgrounds. For us to just be able to give back, always, it definitely helps the city you live in and your town back home. Getting guys like Dominique Hatfield, who’s from here, from South Central L.A., for him to be able to give back to his community and be able to play in a city like L.A. is, it’s incredible.”
Across town at the Stubhub Center, where the Chargers have been playing their home games, Gordon is trying to quiet down a boisterous group of kids from Gardena’s Falcons Youth and Family Services who were presented with new bikes and a day of football drills. The children received personal instruction from Rally Health’s bike team, along with a helmet and lock, some nutritional tips, and fun runs. They also got some tips from Gordon, who cited his time in Kenosha, Wisconsin’s Boys and Girls Club as being fundamental in shaping who he someday became, as he went from high school prospect to Big Ten legend to NFL running back.
Gordon, who battled back from injury to start in the Chargers’ playoff run, enjoyed a sparkling season and is becoming a legit star in Los Angeles. He’s still finding his place in the city, but he’s got family around him and he’s taking it slow, investing in those around him, and focusing on his work.
UPROXX Sports got the chance to speak with Gordon about that transition, how important after-school programs were for him, and the brotherhood that connects both the Chargers and Rams in L.A.
So I know the Boys and Girls Club is really important to you. What was the foundation of that for you, and why is it something that’s still standing out, these types of programs, and things like the Boys and Girls Club?
Melvin Gordon: Just because back when I was younger, it was just a way to get out and just be a kid. It was a place where it wasn’t all serious like school, because if you didn’t get good grades, you got in trouble for it, you got yelled at. Or when teachers yelled because you weren’t doing something right, the Boys and Girls Club was a place where you could just go be a kid. You could just go have fun. You come home smiling and meeting new friends. It’s not like you’re working, it’s just you’re having fun, just out being a kid. That was the best thing to be when you were a kid, is to let me be a kid. Let me have fun.
Yep, not have to worry.
Yeah, I don’t have to worry. I just want to go out and just be who I am, and find people who shared a common interest as I do, and just go have fun.
They say those times from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. are the most important ones for those kids, especially from about age 11 to 15 or so, and you see it. When these kids have something to do, they’ve got somewhere to be, they got somewhere to put that energy, ’cause they got so much of it –
You’ve got an opportunity there to really help them. You know?
Yeah. It’s a blessing to be able to come and speak in front of organizations like this, or the Boys and Girls Club. I just day dream when I watch these kids. I just think about where I was at. I was in the same position man. We’d go to CYC and go to this … They went to a pool and they taught us how to swim, just little stuff like that, man. It brings me back to all that. I’m just recapping on all that, man. Honestly, it’s just a blessing to be out here, to be able to talk to these kids, and lead them in the right direction.
I know you were really comfortable in San Diego. You really liked it out there. Getting the chance to get involved in the community here, has that helped you feel more at home in L.A., or well, the LA region, I guess?
Yeah, region, yeah. It has, man. Just going out, and just connecting with other people, just getting on a different type of level than just football, reaching out to them in a different level, a different way, it obviously makes you feel closer. It makes you feel right at home.
With these community events, is that something you always wanted to do, to help out, to give back, and to see your teammates do the same thing? The Rams are doing that too, and there’s a chance to connect both these teams and help. It’s a big city, but there’s a lot of kids and a lot that can be done.
It definitely was a big thing. I always told myself that if I get in the position to be a role model or people look to me as a role model and I can get out and help some kid in some way I am, because in life you have a lot of people that tell you, you can’t be something. It’s for someone that you look up to in some type of way to tell you, well you can be whatever you want. Or this is important, this is important. It’s different hearing it from your mom or your dad. But hearing it from somebody outside of that, that you look up to, it’s a whole … you take it differently. I don’t know who I might touch. I might come out here and maybe out of the hundred kids, five kids may listen. But at least I know someone heard it.
But there’s always going to be something that they remember, that they look to. Did you have a moment like with someone you looked up to, either a hero, an athlete, an opportunity to meet somebody that carried you through, you still remember it?
Just mom and dad for you?
Just mom and dad. The biggest thing I remember as a kid was a mime came to school, and he’s doing some mime things. I was like, “Wow.” That’s the coolest thing I’d ever seen as a little kid. But as far as someone coming to talk to us or an athlete, or anything, it didn’t happen.
But you’re still so close with your folks. Having them close to you also geographically now, how does that help you get a foundation out here?
They just keep me grounded. You can never get too big headed. When you see them and they come around, it’s like you know where home is. You just know. If you get too big headed –
They bring you back down.
They bring you back. They bring you back to earth, baby, with no problem.
With the area that you’re in now, it’s a weird transitional period for Chargers, both having a home but not a home, because you’re moving to a new stadium. You’re trying to find where you want to live and be longterm. What do you do to take yourself, and give yourself that relaxation in a city where it’s hard sometimes?
You just go with the flow man, roll with the punches. You know? Through the journey you’re going to meet a lot of people. You might meet a lot of people you’ll never see again, but it’s on you to give them something to remember when you leave. You make an impression. Whether it’s a good or bad one, that’s on you. That’s your choice.
You only get one.
You only get one, so why not make it the best?
What have you found has been a nice release for you out here? What are some of the types of things that you like to do?
I’m really laid back, nonchalant man. I like to hang out with a couple of friends, go bowling. Just get away from football a little bit sometimes and just have fun. Go out to a nice place to eat every once in a while, just let your hair down a little bit.
Is there a friendly rivalry between you and the Rams? Have you gotten close to any of those guys that are out here? I’ve never been in a situation where there’s been two teams in the same city. It’s interesting.
I don’t think we have any bad blood against the Rams. It’s no bad blood. I mean, the Rams going to be the Rams, we going to be the Chargers. We both trying to win. We both trying to do what we need to do. At the end of the day, we’re all a brotherhood still regardless. You know what I’m saying? I got some guys that’s on the Rams that I’m cool with. Aaron Donald, I was talking to him.
I wish the best for those guys. I want them guys to have success and put food on their family’s table, put food in their family’s mouths, man. That’s the biggest thing, because at the end of the day, we all got this window. We’re all in this window where we can do enough, and then the next man rolls in. The next legend rolls in. When football is over, we still look at them as brothers. You know what I’m saying?
You just never know, because a guy can get traded and be with the Chargers – and then it’s just like, “Okay, now I got to start liking you?” It’s like, “Nah, it don’t work like that.” On game day, I’m trying to beat you. But at the end of the day, we all brothers.