He’s a Plant City kid, through and through. He knows the time-honored tradition of the Strawberry Festival, the chunk of ribs at Johnson Barbecue, and maybe even that T-Rex looking down Interstate 4 from the grounds of kitsch-yet-classic Dinosaur World.
It’s USF sophomore linebacker DJ Gordon.
And, after a few star-studded seasons with the Big Ten Conference’s Minnesota Golden Gophers, he’s back home.
“When I first came to Minnesota, it was like a culture shock,” Gordon said.
“When it started to get cold and we started to look below zero, that was a real culture shock I loved the city of Minneapolis and the state of Minnesota. There is nothing wrong with it at all.
“I had lived in Florida my whole life and I wanted to see something different. I just didn’t fit into the Minnesota football program. And I just wasn’t home.”
Gordon (6-foot-1, 220 pounds) hit the transfer gate.
The next day, the USF coach Jeff Scott flew to Minneapolis. They shared wings at a place called Ray Jay’s. Maybe that was an omen.
After interest from Florida State and Miami, among others, Gordon committed to the Bulls and returned to his home community, where he had an all-state senior season for the Raiders, recording 126 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, eight sacks. and five interceptions (three returned for touchdowns).
Through two games at USF, Gordon has 12 tackles, ranking second on the team as the Bulls (1-1) prepare for Saturday night’s game against the No. 18-ranked Florida Gators. . Many of those tackles echoed around Raymond James Stadium, including his stopping a Howard University ball carrier when he slid out the back door, ran over him and then knocked him down.
Gordon and Anthony Grier, a two-time leading tackler for USF, hosted a friendly competition during fall training camp. Grier has played sparingly due to injury, but Gordon acknowledged that they need each other and build on each other. There are times when Gordon and Grier will be on the field together.
“DJ is a puncher,” said USF’s co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach. Ernie Sims, who was a puncher at FSU. “Now he’s a playmaker. He’s got the burst, the quickness and the power that you’re looking for. We’ve got to keep identifying ways to get him in position to make those impact plays.
“He’s brought us a linebacker mentality with his demeanor, his voice, the way he carries himself. He’s a linebacker, no question.”
More specifically, a medium linebacker with the size/speed/take no prisoners mentality of Ray Lewis, one of his idols. Gordon once won the best linebacker award at the Ray Lewis Football Camp. Lewis, a graduate of Lakeland Kathleen High School, found a kindred spirit in the boy who grew up in Plant City.
“I appreciate it,” Gordon said. “My personality is the same aggressive type. That’s how I am. I like to be the enforcer, the intimidator, the leader.”
Gordon comes across as a guy who takes yes sir, no sir, all kinds of business, but off the pitch, there is a fun-loving, adventurous side.
His family owns a piece of land outside of Plant City, in a borough called Bealsville, where Gordon rides his horses, a couple of Quarter Horses and a Mustang Appaloosa. He loves hunting and deep-sea fishing, a hobby he continued in Minnesota, where his teammates took him out into the snowy wilderness and he picked up a 12-point dollar.
“This is definitely a way that I can relate to DJ because he loves the outdoors, nature, doing things in open spaces, like I do,” Sims said.
Gordon caught the attention of some teammates during camp when he talked about how much he loved eating raccoons, squirrels, and possums.=
“I have to say DJ is a lot different than me,” the Bulls defensive tackle said. Nick Bags, who grew up in the New York City area. “He says he wants to take us hunting and open our eyes to new types of food. Yeah, I don’t know about that. But I love him as a player.”
Officially, he is James Edward Gordon IV and he usually introduces himself as “James”. His father, for reasons unknown to the son, was nicknamed “Dank”. So the son became Dank Junior (or DJ).
“I think everyone in Plant City knows the Gordon family,” Gordon said. “We’ve been around for a while. We’re country people. That’s definitely me. That’s my inner heart, my inner self, growing things, being around cows, horses, all kinds of nature.”
One of Gordon’s favorite activities seems appropriate.
He likes to hunt alligators.
“I like to eat alligator, too,” Gordon said. “They’re delicious”.