CHAMPAIGN, IL - NOVEMBER 12: Jon Davis #3 of the Illinois Fighting Illini is hit by Thomas Gordon #30 and Courtney Avery #5 of the Michigan Wolverines at Memorial Stadium on November 12, 2011 in Champaign, Illinois. Michigan defeated Illinois 31-14. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Continuing Maize n Brew's player-by-player breakdown of Michigan's 2012 football roster, we shift our focus to redshirt junior safety Thomas Gordon, a kid expected by many to have a huge year in the secondary during his second season with defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.
A graduate of Detroit's Cass Tech, Gordon came to Michigan before the 2009 season as a 2-star recruit with 4.45 speed and no true position. Viewed as a solid, but unspectacular in-state depth signing and little else, he was not much different than fellow '09 defensive back prospect Adrian Witty at the time, a kid who UM's resident snake oil salesman Rich Rodriguez targeted solely to land Witty's best friend and high school teammate, a raw athlete named Denard Robinson.
As far as career expectations went, there weren't any. The 5-foot-11 Gordon wasn't even the best incoming player at Michigan from his own high school. That distinction went to his doughy, 5-star friend William Campbell, who would soon become well-acclimated with on-campus cafeterias upon arriving in Ann Arbor. In yet another meaningless gut punch, Gordon wasn't even the highest-rated kid named Gordon in the '09 class, as Insker's Cam Gordon garnered a 3-star status. Let's just go ahead and concede that the deck was pretty well stacked.
But here's the thing: Knowing he would be miles away from the field in 2009 (chuckle), Gordon and Rodriguez's staff made a wise decision to use a redshirt for his first fall in Ann Arbor. And with Gordon on the sidelines, that's when 5-7 happened. As an impressionable 18-year-old kid with a deep desire for football, he was forced to sit through that. That.
Instead of transferring, swearing off football, or God forbid, willfully swallowing a handful of pills after witnessing the abomination that was Michigan's defense that year, Gordon hung around campus to see through his scholarship. At a time when nobody would blame him for getting the hell out of Ann Arbor, it was to be a Michigan uniform or bust for him after all. And apparently it was time for him to get on the field.
The real first year for Gordon brought with it a measured dose of scatterbrained coaching decisions as we all know, and he was utilized in a hybrid linebacker safety position for much of the season. Aside from four starts and a quicker jump-start of the foot-wetting process due to his specialized role, Gordon played much more sporadically as the team pressed on through its the Big Ten campaign.
The breakout came a year later, as a Brady Hoke-led regime that included acclaimed defensive coordinator Greg Mattison afforded Gordon a chance to work with one of the most respected defensive minds in American football. After recording 10 starts at free safety, four forced fumbles, and a third place finish on the team in tackles with 67, it was clear that Gordon had arrived as more than just a bit player at defensive back.
Mattison wants Gordon to be both more reckless and less susceptible to big plays in his third year in the secondary. Ignoring for a second how superfluous that request is, it's pretty obvious that Gordon just needs to be a refined, more intelligent football player as the last line of defense on a BCS-caliber squad. We already know his penchant for knocking the ball out of the hands of unsuspecting opponents, and he very well could lead the team in forced fumbles for a second straight year. Right now though, he simply needs to take his playmaking status to the next level.
With smarter, more seasoned players around him this time around, there's really no reason to believe Gordon can't at the very least maintain his high level of play from a year ago. Senior Jordan Kovacs will assume the strong side at the back end to keep things consistent, while the path to playing time is still Gordon's to lose at the starting free safety spot. If his 67-tackle campaign in 2011 didn't signify a breakout, then it's a safe bet you'll see one this year. Bold declaration or not, Gordon could very well be one of the better defensive backs in the conference this season.
He Were A Beer, He'd Be A...
Bell's Hell Hath No Fury... Ale
A 7.7% fall seasonal available for six months out of the year, exactly like Gordon of course, Bell's Hell Hath No Fury...Ale is a hybrid that initially began as a low-risk question mark, and eventually morphed into something better in the end. Check out Bell's official description:
Originally conceived along the lines of a Belgian Dubbel, Hell Hath No Fury... Ale morphed during development into something entirely different. Blending a pair of Belgian abbey-style yeasts into a recipe more akin to a roasty stout, Hell Hath No Fury... Ale offers up warm, roasted notes of coffee & dark chocolate together with the fruity & clove-like aromas.
Bingo. The parallels are unmistakeable. Thomas Gordon IS this beer. With that being the case, it's probably a good idea to remember to pick up a few 6-packs of these to drink when Gordon makes a big play this upcoming season.