The pieces were all in place for it to be a sensational senior season for Zymire Gordon.
The Lincoln High School quarterback was returning after helping the Lions reach the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II championship game at MetLife Stadium last December. Gordon was being considered as a solid college prospect with good size, speed and throwing arm. He had all the tools to move on to the next level with ease.
Gordon, who was selected to the Hudson Reporter All-Area team last season as a junior, went to training camp in August in the best shape of his young life.
“Everything was going well,” Gordon said. “I expected us to go a long way, right back to Giants Stadium [actually MetLife Stadium] and this time win a state championship. I was doing well in the weight room, trying to get my weight up and my strength up. I felt like I was doing a good job all around. I knew that I wanted to go to college.”
However, two weeks into the 2015 season, trouble started to brew between Gordon and head coach Robert Hampton. What exactly happened will remain between coach and player.
“Coach Hampton and I had some differences of opinion,” Gordon said.
“I suspended him for disciplinary reasons,” Hampton said.
Just like that, the season that was supposed to be so glorious for Gordon turned into gloom. Gordon was on the sidelines looking in.
Gordon missed two weeks of practices and more importantly for him, he missed two games that he was not ever going to get back, including the Lions’ long awaited showdown with Union City.
Gordon didn’t begin to ponder his future, but he actually was staring at the end of his still-blossoming football career. No college would be willing to take a chance on a kid who was kicked off his team for whatever it was that Gordon did. If Gordon somehow didn’t make amends to get back to the field, he was dropkicking those hopes and dreams of college to the sidelines with him.
“I knew that I was going to get back [to playing],” Gordon said. “But I was disappointed. I didn’t want to leave my team in the middle of the season. The suspension hit me real hard. I went to the Marist game to watch on the sidelines with my teammates. But the Union City game, I stayed home. I was so upset and hurt that I couldn’t play that game. My mother wanted me to go, but I couldn’t do it. I wanted to play. Football is my life.”
Gordon was not going to be able to return until he went back, truly remorseful and truly apologetic.
“I was pretty angry with the way it went down,” Hampton said. “But I wanted it to be clear that I was not going to take him back. He was done. I was prepared to move on. I made that clear to him. I told him that if he didn’t re-establish his status, his future was dim. But his teammates all talked to him and laid it on the line. They said to him, ‘We want you here, but we don’t need you here.’”
The Lions defeated Union City, 18-0, without Gordon in the lineup and three different players sharing the snaps at quarterback.
“Under that backdrop, I think he realized that he had to do something,” Hampton said.
“I accepted what happened,” Gordon said. “It wasn’t that hard. These guys are my brothers. We grew up together. I listened to what they had to say. I had to come back to my team and my brothers. I knew they would forgive me.”
What about the coach?
“That was hard,” Gordon said. “I had to go back and apologize to Coach Hampton.”
Gordon did what he was supposed to do. He apologized to his teammates for letting them down and made amends with the coach for his indiscretions.
“He spoke to the team, especially the other seniors,” Hampton said. “He told them the reasons for what happened and they accepted it. We then took him back.”
And with those contrite words, Gordon was welcomed back into the fold once again. There were no guarantees upon his return, because after all, the Lions won two games without him.
“He understood the circumstances,” Hampton said. “He came back and worked his tail off. He was the first one into the weight room and the last one to leave. He was the first one on the field for practice. He worked hard and threw the hell out of the ball in practice. He made it clear to me that he was doing all the things he normally does. He had a great week of practice, probably the best week of his life.”
The two weeks away made Gordon extremely humble, but hungry.
“I was really amped up,” Gordon said. “I couldn’t wait to play. I accepted what I had to do, then worked my butt off in practice. I knew I had to come back.”
Gordon returned to action last Saturday against St. Anthony and had the game of his life. He completed 10-of-17 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns. He also had 41 yards rushing on two attempts and scored a touchdown on the ground. He added four two-point conversions on runs and three via the pass, leading the Lions to a huge victory over the Friars.
For his efforts, Gordon has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Gordon comes from a lineage of great football players. His brother is former Lion quarterback Lamar McKnight, who spent some time playing college football at Tennessee State and Adams State in Colorado. His uncle is former Lion quarterback/do-everything Ronald Butler, who just recently completed his playing days at Utah State.
“I grew up wanting to be just like my uncle,” Gordon said. “I idolized him.”
Two of Gordon’s closest friends are Darius Wade (currently at Bethany College in West Virginia) and Isaiah Roberts (currently at Southern Connecticut State).
All four of the aforementioned players were Lincoln quarterbacks during their high school days. Ironically, all four were once named as Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week at some point during their days with the Lions – with Wade earning the distinction twice.
So as you can see, it was destiny that Gordon found his way to be with that select group, provided he was able to find his way back to the playing field.
“I had to come back,” Gordon said. “I couldn’t let my uncle down.”
Hampton knows Gordon’s potential.
“I think he can be one of the best quarterbacks in the county and in Central Jersey Group II [the Lions’ new NJSIAA distinction for football],” Hampton said. “He has a gift of a great arm and great talent. He can throw the rock. There’s no question about that. He just had to realize that.
Added Hampton, “He could have risen above all of what happened or fallen apart and ended his career. He chose to rise to the occasion and do what’s right. I’m ecstatic about it, because he’s a good kid and a lot of fun with a good heart. I’m glad he chose to do the right thing.”
So is Gordon.
“It feels good to be back,” Gordon said. “To think it could have ended my career if Coach Hampton didn’t take me back. It was definitely a learning experience.”
Now, Gordon can take his proper place as the field general of the Lions, can lead his team into the state playoffs in a few weeks and can make plans to play someplace in college football in the fall. Sanity has been restored to the Lincoln football program, thanks to the apologetic words and attitude of Zymire Gordon. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.