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Utah football: Ex-Ute receiver Josh Gordon a cautionary tale on drug use

Published July 14, 2014 7:20 pm

Football • He was briefly with Utah until failing drug test; team had 6 positive tests in 2013-14.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Head coach Kyle Whittingham says no Ute could cover the guy. He was just too big, too fast, too strong.

On their best day, the most his defensive backs could aspire to be was a nuisance to Josh Gordon.

Then-safety Eric Rowe was a freshman in 2011 when Gordon, after transferring from Baylor, began terrorizing the U. defense on the scout team.

"We'd never seen somebody like that," Rowe says. "We were happy he was on our team."

Utah safeties coach Morgan Scalley recalls that watching Gordon's first scout scrimmage was a "Holy Cow!" moment.

"It was apparent this was an elite talent," Scalley said.

But the U. parted ways with Gordon before he declared for the 2012 NFL Supplemental Draft — in which Cleveland gave up a second-rounder to select the eventual All-Pro — and Gordon had the same problems at the U. that he's had since leaving.

He wasn't staying clean.

The NCAA doesn't require schools to conduct their own random drug tests, merely that 26 student-athletes from each school — 18 from football — submit to the NCAA's tests at least once per year. But the U. is among many programs that also test on their own.

Gordon admitted to the Cleveland Plain Dealer that, having already been arrested for possession and failing a drug test at Baylor, he again failed a drug test during his time in Salt Lake City.

Last school year, the U. conducted six random tests, each time testing 10 percent of each team.

In response to a records request, the U. revealed that there were six positive tests on the football team — five for THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) and one for performance-enhancing drugs. Other positive tests came in swimming (4), men's tennis (1) and baseball (1). The names of the student-athletes who tested positive were protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

According to a preliminary report on a 2013 NCAA survey of 21,000 athletes, 16 percent of Division I athletes had consumed marijuana within the past 12 months. An earlier study in 2009 found that, specifically, 26.7 percent of college football players used marijuana in the past year, a spike from 21.7 percent in 2005.

So it's not like Gordon is alone.

But drugs, not defensive backs, have been the only thing to stop Gordon so far. He caught 87 passes for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns in just 14 games with the Browns last season.

Rowe says Gordon was laid-back and quiet outside of his close circle of friends.

"He was nice, he was funny, he was cool, but I guess [there was] stuff he was doing outside of football," Rowe said. "He didn't bring it around us."

Following the supplemental draft, Gordon told the Plain Dealer that he was "a changed person."

"Seeing as I'm already a guy with a spotty background, it would make no sense to go back to doing the stuff that I was doing," Gordon said.

Alas, the 23-year-old had to sit out two games last year after testing positive for codeine, and he's now waiting to see if he will be suspended for the entire 2014 season after failing another drug test, this time for marijuana. Last weekend he was charged for driving impaired in North Carolina.

Whittingham and Scalley both said they wished he could have seen the field for the Utes, but that ultimately, there are more important things in life than football.

"You feel bad for him," Scalley said. "I hope the best for the kid. I hope he's able to get the help that he needs."

mpiper@sltrib.com

Twitter: @matthew_piper —

Josh Gordon

Hometown • Houston

Height • 6-foot-3

Weight • 225

At Baylor • Played some as a true freshman and broke out as a sophomore, totaling 714 yards and seven touchdowns on 42 receptions and being named to Phil Steele's All-Big 12 third team.

At Cleveland • Gordon caught 50 passes for 805 yards and five scores as a rookie, and then became a genuine sophomore sensation with 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns in just 14 games last year. He also rushed five times for 88 yards.