|Thomas Gordon is on the cusp of becoming Furman's
all-time leading receiver. Photo courtesy of Furman
With all the different personnel around him and during all the different styles of offense Gordon has played in, his production has remained steady. When Furman takes on Point in the regular season finale Saturday at Paladin Stadium, it should be career start No. 39 for him. He should leave the field Saturday as the leading receiver in school history.
Gordon enters Saturday with 2,461 receiving yards in his career, just 18 away from being No. 1 on the school's all-time list. Among the others on that top 10, Gordon has the fifth highest average per reception at 16 yards per catch. He ranks third in all-time receptions (154) and ninth in touchdown catches (11).
"I've worked hard to get to this point, but a lot of coaches and teammates have made sacrifices to get me to this point," Gordon said. "I couldn't have done it by myself."
Furman coach Clay Hendrix said what makes Gordon successful on Saturdays is the work he puts in the rest of the week.
"He's one of the best practice players we have. It's really important to him and he's a big-time competitor," Hendrix said. "And he's learned the details. If you go hard but you don't do it the right way it's not enough. He's come around to figuring out those details really well."
The one constant during Gordon's Furman career has been his position coach, Brian Bratton. Bratton, a former standout Paladin receiver as well, has been actually been a part of Gordon's life longer than that.
"When I was 14 years old, I went to a Team USA camp in Rock Hill and that's when I first met Coach Bratton," Gordon said. "Later on, I'd gotten invited to a Junior Day. Nobody really knew me, but Coach Bratton remembered me from that camp."
After a senior year at Mallard Creek (N.C.) High in which Gordon won a state football championship and two state titles in track, he was off to Furman.
It didn't take long for Gordon to make an impact for the Paladins. He caught his first pass in week two of his freshman year. The following week, he scored his first touchdown. That actually came on a run as he took a jet sweep handoff to the end zone. The week after that, he caught his first touchdown. Gordon earned All-SoCon freshman team honors as he finished second on the team in receptions (43) and yards (629). His freshman year was highlighted by catching an 83-yard touchdown pass, the seventh-longest reception in school history.
While Gordon enjoyed a fine season, the Paladins did not going 3-8 in 2016. Hendrix took over as head coach following the season. When Hendrix got the job, he retained two Furman assistants - Duane Vaughn and Bratton. That was obviously an important part of Gordon's Furman story.
"That was huge. ... Coach Bratton staying was a big part of me staying," Gordon said. "He's been transparent with me since day one and I didn't want to leave him.
"I didn't know if I was going to play receiver when I got here because I played cornerback at Mallard Creek. But Coach Bratton believed in me and gave me confidence. My first day of (preseason) camp, he was giving me reps with the ones (first team). Then I knew I had an opportunity to play and I just took advantage of it."
Hendrix's arrival meant quite a change in offensive philosophy. While Furman became more of a run-based offense, then-offensive coordinator Drew Cronic assured Gordon that he would be part of a big-play, vertical passing attack when the Paladins took the air that season.
Cronic was right. Despite missing a pair of games to injury in 2017, Gordon led the team with 713 yards receiving and averaged 18.4 yards per catch. That helped Furman lead the Southern Conference in scoring at 34.2 points per game, as the Paladins went 8-5 and advanced to round two of the FCS playoffs.
While Furman's redshirt freshmen quarterbacks Darren Grainger and Hamp Sisson have had their ups and downs this season, Gordon has saved his best for last. At Georgia State, he set a career-high for receiving yards (163). Against VMI, he had a career-high 10 catches and against Samford, he matched the school record with three touchdowns receptions.
Hendrix is proud of the kind of leader Gordon has become, especially this season. That leadership is not done as much vocally as it's is by example.
"With the quarterbacks kind of being inconsistent, it's made it a challenge to get him the ball and our opponents know it. I know it's been frustrating for him (how teams have defended) at times, but he's handled that really well and become a good leader in that young (receiver) group," Hendrix said. "He's impressive to watch every day. He's like the Energizer bunny. He just never stops.
"There's times I've told Brian (Bratton), 'put somebody in there for him,' particularly in the the early part of the year when it was hotter. We needed to save him because he'll just go and go and go."
An obvious dream for Gordon is to continue his football career at the highest level. If an NFL career isn't in the cards, who knows, maybe Gordon follows in the footsteps of his position coach as a star receiver in the CFL. That's another part of the guidance Bratton could help provide, but Gordon says those conversations can wait. He's just fully focused on helping the Paladins win Saturday and making another trip to the playoffs.
Whenever football ends, Gordon knows the value of the Furman education he's also acquired.
"That's why I came to Furman," Gordon said of getting his degree. "The most important thing for me is to graduate. If the NFL or another professional league comes, then that's good too.
"We just want to keep on playing here and long as we can. ... The guys in my class have put in a lot of work to get to this point. ... Just believing in the culture and making our own standard. It's going to carry on here for a long time."