As University of Wisconsin wide receiver Kenzel Doe and tight end Austin Traylor enjoyed a friendly game of NBA 2K15 in the Badgers’ football players lounge Monday evening, they suddenly realized they were not alone.
They stopped their video game to turn to see Melvin Gordon in front of a different television, watching alone as his name was revealed to be one of three finalists for the most prestigious award in college athletics.
“They just told me congratulations and I just said thank you, so that’s how that went,” Gordon said. “I think they kind of expected it.”
After having one of the best seasons for a running back in college football history, it was no surprise when Gordon was named a Heisman Trophy finalist along with Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper.
The winner will be announced live on ESPN in a ceremony at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Best Buy Theater in New York City.
Gordon has scored 29 touchdowns this season and leads the nation in rushing with 2,336 yards. He enters UW’s Outback Bowl game against Auburn on Jan. 1 292 yards shy of the NCAA single-season rushing record set by Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders in 1988.
The redshirt junior became the Badgers’ fourth Heisman finalist, joining running backs Alan Ameche (1954), Ron Dayne (1999) and Montee Ball (2011).
“Montee was someone I really looked up to my freshman year coming in,” Gordon said. “Seeing him going through this process and being a Heisman finalist and as a freshman thinking how would it feel to be in his shoes — now I’m actually in them. It’s a good feeling.”
Gordon, who returned to UW for this season instead of opting to enter the 2014 NFL draft, shattered his preseason goals of 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns.
In fact, he became the fastest player to ever reach the 2,000-yard mark, accomplishing the feat on just his 241st carry.
He ran for 200-plus yards five times, including a then-FBS record 408 yards against Nebraska on Nov. 15.
“(Being a Heisman finalist) was a goal of mine, and it just shows what type of year I had and how hard I worked,” Gordon said. “I came back to help my team do some things and to become a better player as well, so I think this is showing that.
“I came out here and achieved the things I wanted to do. I wanted to rush for the most yards. I wanted to showcase that I was the best running back, and I think this year I showed that.”
However, Gordon’s most recent performance was one of his worst.
He ran for just 76 yards on 26 carries in Saturday’s 59-0 loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship, leading many to believe Mariota has the award locked up.
“It is what it is,” Gordon said. “We’ve been hearing that all year. Me, Cooper, pretty much everyone that’s been in the running, that (Mariota) was the front-runner and that he’s going to win it. It’s nothing new.”
If he isn’t the one making an acceptance speech on Saturday, Gordon still understands the greatness he’s already accomplished — even if everyone knew it was coming.
“You never know,” he said. “You’ve just kind of got to keep faith. You never know how the votes are going to pan out.
“At the end of the day, it’ll still be fun. Regardless of if I win or not, I want to make the best of this trip because not everyone gets this experience.”