KNOXVILLE — It’s no stretch to call Eric Gordon’s Saturday a bad day.
Honestly, that’s probably an understatement.
Gordon, a stout, 5-foot-10 redshirt freshman cornerback at Tennessee, had just emerged as a potentially dynamic return specialist when he lost two fumbles — one on kickoff return, one on punt return — in the first half of UT’s 41-14 loss at Georgia.
The Nashville native kept his chin up, though, and he was nothing short of completely cooperative for his turn on “Wednesdays with Wes.”
UT (2-4, 0-3 SEC) doesn’t play this week but has been on the practice field preparing for archrival, eighth-ranked Alabama (5-1, 2-1).
Gordon was a perfect “Wednesdays with Wes” candidate for several reasons, as you’ll see below.
Q: I assume you’ve had better days than last Saturday. Am I right?
GORDON: “Yeah, you could say that. You could most definitely say that.”
Q: What happened? I don’t think I’ve seen you bobble the ball in practice, and you’ve seemed solid in games.
GORDON: “Just a lack of focus on catching the ball. When we were still in the game, I dropped a couple of big ones. It’s just focus and discipline as a player. I cost my team early in that game, and I know that. It’s not a good feeling, because we all work so hard. It eats at me, man. It eats at me a lot.”
Q: Not to rehash this too much, but what happened on the kickoff return fumble? It was a great return before the ball popped out near midfield.
GORDON: “Coaches tell me all the time, ‘Eric, keep the ball in your right hand.’ But, I mean, the guy was just coming at me, and I felt like I was about to turn my speed on and switch hands. But you can’t switch hands in the middle of traffic, and somebody hit it at the right time, right as I was switching.”
Q: And the muffed punt? What happened there?
GORDON: “I called a fair catch, and really I should have just caught it. But, you know, I was looking up the field and trying to think about whether I could make the (gunner) miss if I didn’t call the fair catch. I just got my focus back too late. But also ... man, it didn’t even hit the ground. I muffed it, and he caught it. I thought he had to give me room, you know? But ... I mean ... it is what it is. If I just catch it, that doesn’t happen.”
Q: Had you lost confidence after the first fumble? If so, did that partially cause the second one?
GORDON: “Naw, man. Not at all. I always just brush it off. I have thick skin, man. I’ve got to. I’m a cornerback. You just brush it off, good or bad or whatever, and you just go to the next play.”
Q: What went through your mind Saturday? It had to be pretty bad, I’m sure.
GORDON: “Yeah. When something — anything — happens once, you can pretty much brush it off. But man, twice? Twice? I was so mad, especially because I couldn’t get the chance to make up for it. I wanted to catch another one and get something positive out of it. But you’ve just got to go with it. You don’t always get second chances at this level. That’s just how it is.”
Q: Had you been through anything comparable in your athletic career?
GORDON: “Actually, yeah. Definitely, yeah. My junior year in high school, the (state) semifinals against Maplewood, I dropped a punt, and I was able to get back on it. But then I dropped the next one, and I (lost) it. I had three guys on me at receiver that night, so the only team I could make a play on was punt return. And I dropped it, and they got on it, so we lost the game.”
Q: Wow. That stinks.
GORDON: “No doubt. To go to the state championship? Ugh.”
Q: At least you had a good senior season.
GORDON: “(Smiles.) Oh, yeah. Yeah I did. Most def.”
Q: Remember when you almost signed with Alabama?
GORDON: “(Laughter.) Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. But I didn’t.”
Q: I’m sure you’ve noticed this, but ... uh ... Alabama’s pretty good — undefeated, national championship good last year. Was it tough to watch the Tide do that last year, knowing you were so close to going there and know so many guys on that team?
GORDON: “Oh, definitely. Sometimes, you catch yourself sitting around and chilling and just thinking like, ‘Man.’ The teams I could have went to, they might be winning right now, and they might be winning championships, but I feel like I couldn’t have made a better decision coming to Tennessee.”
Q: Why do you know you made the right choice?
GORDON: “The coaches, the atmosphere, the fans. The fans here are great. The school, the relationships I have my with my teammates, my coaches, my head coach. And I’m from Tennessee. I’m a Tennessee guy. All those things, man.”
Q: How big was being a Tennessee guy to you during the recruiting process? Was it really that important, or are you just saying that?
GORDON: “Oh, most definitely. I didn’t want my mom to have to travel too far to come see me, either. I just wanted to stay pretty close to home, so she could come see me when she wanted to. I just feel like I (wanted to) still be in her reach, you know?”
Q: Mama’s boy.
GORDON: “(Laughter). Oh, yeah. Most def.”
Q: Are you excited about playing Alabama again after coming so close to upsetting the Tide last season?
GORDON: “Any time you go against a great team with great, big-time playmakers, it’s also a chance for you to make a play and make a name for yourself, you know? No matter what we did earlier in the season, when you’re playing against a team like this, if you make a couple of plays, your name is out there. I just feel like I’m going to go out there and compete at the highest level and try to bring my ‘A’ game.”
Q: I’ve been on and off this beat since 2000, so I got to know your brother Jamont a little bit when he considered signing with UT to play basketball. Obviously, he went to Mississippi State, but did he give you any advice — either way — when you thought about coming here to play football?
GORDON: “Man, I just knew he was coming here. But I couldn’t tell you personally (why he changed his mind). But honestly, we never really talk about football. We usually talk basketball.”
Q: Don’t you change the topic to football sometimes? He’s 6-foot-4, dude, and you’re probably not the 5-10 you’re listed at on the depth chart.
GORDON: “Most definitely. I also try to get outside and race him every now and then. I always win, of course.”
Q: Let’s keep going with this. Who’s stronger, you or Jamont?
GORDON: “I feel like I’m stronger. He might be stronger in a wrestling contest. But physically, I’m stronger.”
Q: You shouldn’t wrestle him. He’s not in your weight class. Not even close.
GORDON: “Naw, not at all. I can take him, though.”
Q: Quarterback Matt Simms told me you could bench press 450 pounds. Is that true?
GORDON: “(Laughter). Maybe.”
Q: Maybe? Or yes?
GORDON: “I don’t know if it’s that much, but it’s close.”
Q: How close?
GORDON: “Over 400, definitely. I couldn’t tell you exactly, but it’s over 400, for sure.”
Q: You weigh 186 pounds. That’s just wrong, you freak.
GORDON: “(Laughter.) I work hard, man. I get after it.”
Q: Speaking of Jamont, where is he these days? Is he playing overseas?
GORDON: “Yeah, his team is actually playing the Miami Heat tonight (Tuesday). He played in Croatia last year, and his team is called is called “Something Moscow.”
Q: Something Moscow? That sounds like a bad band.
GORDON: “(Laughter.) It’s not “Something Moscow.” It’s some team in Moscow. I don’t know their name. I don’t speak Russian.”
Q: Does he speak Russian?
GORDON: “Naw, not at all. But he likes it over there, so it’s cool.”
Q: Let’s get back to your team. When things don’t go well, sometimes teams fall apart. This team is 2-4. Is it showing any signs of falling apart?
GORDON: “Naw, man. We just don’t have a lot of depth, and we have a lot of young guys. For me, being a young guy, ...I don’t feel like we have that leadership. We don’t have that Eric Berry. We don’t have that guy everybody looks at. When the team is down, all we’ve got is these coaches — and new coaches, at that. I feel like we’re young, and I feel like we’re still finding ourselves, but we’re just going to stick with it, and it’s going to be a great outcome.”
Q: Can it be a great outcome without leadership?
GORDON: “Most definitely. I feel like that these guys, they’re young, but once they get the hang of it, get the hang of things, it’s going to be a big turnaround. We’re going to have some great seasons here.”
Q: Nu’Keese Richardson, your former teammate and classmate, is playing at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas. Obviously he was a wide receiver here at UT, but he’s a cornerback now. He’s played just five games, and he’s leading the nation with seven interceptions — one of which he returned for a touchdown. You don’t have any interceptions yet. Does that mean he’s a better cornerback than you?
GORDON: “(Laughter. Lots and lots of laughter, and walking around in a circle. Then more laughter.)”
Q: Did you have any idea Nuke could be that kind of a cornerback?
GORDON: “He’s a baller, but I don’t know about that seven picks in five games. But he was a baller.”
Q: Are you questioning my facts? Look at Google. It’s a fact. It’s science.
GORDON: “(Laughter). Oh, he’s a baller, man. I’m glad to hear that.”
Q: How happy are you that he got another chance and seems to be doing pretty well with it?
GORDON: “Oh, most definitely. Any guy, when you hear people drag his name through the mud when he goes through a couple of problems, it’s great to hear he’s doing great. You don’t want to hear about a guy who you hung around with, who was a teammate, that’s doing bad. I feel like I couldn’t have heard any greater news just now, man. Thank you.”
Q: Don’t thank me. We’re the media. We’re the enemy. We’re bad people.
GORDON: “(Laughter). Naw, man. Thanks. I’m glad to hear all that.”
Q: It’s time for the best part of Wednesdays with Wes. Tell me something really embarrassing about one of your teammates that no one outside the locker room knows.
GORDON: “(Laughter.) Really?”
Q: Really. This is how it works. Give me something, or someone will get you down the road. You know what? They might get you, anyway, so get in a shot while you can.
GORDON: “(Laughter.) OK, OK. I’m going to get you a good one. Let me think.”
Q: Take all the time you need. I can wait. Just come strong to the hole when you do it.
GORDON: “OK, OK. (Freshman defensive end) Jacques Smith ... No. 55 ... naw, I can’t do it. I can’t get him with that.”
Q: Are you scared? Come on, man. You’re supposedly the strongest guy on this team, pound-for-pound. I get it, though. Jacques is big.
GORDON: “(Laughter). Yeah, he’s huge. HUGE!”
Q: You think Georgia running back Caleb King kept all his teeth after that shot Jacques Smith gave him last week?
GORDON: “That hit was sick. It came out of nowhere, too. He’s huge, man. Huge.”
Q: The clock is ticking, man. Give me something. Is there a really bad singer on the team who thinks he’s a really good singer?
GORDON: “Gerald Jones can sing, man. He’s good.”
Q: Everybody knows Gerald can sing. He’s been here 37 years.
GORDON: “Yeah, he’s good. What can’t he do?”
Q: He can’t seem to stay healthy.
GORDON: “(Laughter.) Yeah, he cannot stay healthy.”
Q: We’re about out of time. I need something.
GORDON: “OK, OK. Jacques’s breath is horrible. Horrible, horrible, horrible. Have you ever gotten close to him?”
Q: I have. I can’t say I’ve noticed his breath, though.
GORDON: “(Laughter). It’s horrible. (Defensive tackle) Arthur Jeffery’s isn’t any better. But don’t tell them I said that.”
Q: Too late.
GORDON: “It’s cool. I can handle it.”
Contact Wes Rucker at firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-851-9739.
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