Try as he might to ignore it, Sunday ought to be one of those full-circle kind of days for Dartmouth's own Jordan Todman.
A decade ago, he was staring down a life of trouble as a middle-schooler in his native New Bedford. But after moving in with one of his close friends in neighboring Dartmouth, he righted the ship and endured one of the most decorated football careers the South Coast has seen in sometime, leading the Indians to the 2007 Division 1 Super Bowl and graduating as the state's second all-time leading rusher (behind another New Bedford native, Jo Jo Goodine).
In spite of this, Todman was overlooked by many Division 1 colleges for his undersized frame, until late in his high school career. He ended up proving all the doubters wrong in a terrific career at UConn, rushing for 1,000 yards twice and being named Big East Offensive Player of the Year last season. After the Fiesta Bowl loss last January, he declared for the NFL Draft.
Is the motivation in place again? Todman fell to the sixth round to the San Diego Chargers in last April's draft, and will be battling it out with Mike Tolbert, Ryan Mathews and Jacob Hester for playing time in the backfield. The Chargers visit the Patriots this Sunday, and either way there's sure to be a few cheers when Todman takes the field.
Following practice yesterday, Todman talked with ESPNBoston.com from across the country to talk about his journey to the NFL.
Q: Going back to your days growing up in New Bedford, what attracted you to football? What players did you look up to?
A: "I started playing football like any other kid, naturally in the backyard, that type of thing. I play a lot down at the Boys and Girls Club, and from the age of eight on I started playing for the New Bedford Bears [in Pop Warner]. I instantly fell in love with it. When you do something a lot and it's all you think about, it's easy to love it. Since I was seven years old, playing football was my life, and the NFL was my dream.
"Growing up, playing for the Bears, you started to look up to the Bears, and I wanted to be like a Walter Payton type of player. But obviously, I didn't get to see that much of him growing up, so when I first started out I was a big fan of Terrell Davis. As I got older, Reggie Bush was definitely my idol, watching what he did at USC."
Q: You were part of a pretty talented group at Dartmouth, along with Artie Lynch (Georgia), Sean Sylvia (Boston College), Justin Mello (UNH) and Justin Cruz. Looking back on those days, what do you remember most about playing with those guys?
A: "Playing with them, we knew we were good athletes, but at the high school level of competition, we didn't know if we'd all go on to be as successful at the college level. I think we're all lucky to have that success. With them, it was more of building relationships that I didn't have...I mean, I had them, but this was more so just building community, camaraderie, friendships. Justin's my brother [the Cruz family maintained legal guardianship of Todman during his time at Dartmouth], so I still talk to him a lot. Sean and Artie, I talk to them a fairly good amount, but they're both always at practice, and the time difference out in California with the three-hour time difference makes it difficult."
Q: Last time you were at Gillette, you were in one of the more epic high school games to be played at the stadium. It was you versus Everett running back Isaac Johnson in the Division 1 Super Bowl, and you guys fell in overtime. What feelings come up when you think back to that? Do you still regret losing?
A: "I've been in the film room this week watching film against the Pats from past games at Gillette Stadium, watching it alone it brings back memories. I'm in the meeting room thinking, 'Wow, back at Gillette I scored three touchdowns, so I've got a little bit of bragging rights (laughs). But we're at the NFL level now, so if I go there and do pretty well, I'll be happy.
"Any time you lose a game, you're not excited about it. I went all out in my last high school game, and to lose like that was tough. But you win some, you lose some. It's part of the game, you've got to move on."
Q: You were in a unique situation in high school. You encountered some trouble in middle school in New Bedford, and stayed with the Cruz family in Dartmouth throughout high school, renewing legal custody every 90 days. What kind of influence did they have on you?
A: It was an amazing influence. They gave me a lot of structure, staying with them, making sure I was focused in school, keeping my head on straight. They gave me a chance to have a fresh start."
Q: What kind of life lessons from coach Rick White do you still carry with you?
A: "Me and Coach White have a great relationship. We still talk to this day, I'll text him any time of the day with any questions. He's been huge, so that’s a tough question...it's more so he was a great coach that pushed me, and expected me to push myself at all times. The things I'd done last year that I'm doing here now, there'll be be a play that I'd run, I'll go out there and remember him telling me 'Do it like this', to this day, you know, 'Do it like this'. It's more so the memories. We just had a great relationship, we could talk about anything."
Q: Cooler moment for you last year -- playing in The Big House or in a New Year's bowl game?
A: I'd say the New Year's bowl. Playing in the Fiesta bowl great accomplishment for us and for the University of Connecticut. Play in a football game against a great team like Oklahoma on a high stage, it was huge, something you don't get to do every day. They put us on that pedestal to compete and show what we can do against that competition."
Q: Take us through draft day. How nervous were you watching the ticker? What was your reaction when your name was called?
A: "Not so much nervous, but I was anxious. I had a lot of things going through my mind. You try not to let it get to you, but it definitely gets to you. It's one of those feelings where you can't really explain how you feel about it until you're in the situation. Waiting for your name to be called, you never know what it feels like until you're there. It's tough.
"Then once you get called, you're excited, you forget about everything, how long it took, all of the stress waiting for it. It's a huge weight off your back, you take a deep breath and you're like, 'I made it'. Not too many people achieve their dream of going pro and being successful, so it was outstanding."
Q: Not having contact with coaches in the offseason during the lockout, how did you prepare yourself?
A: I came out to San Diego probably a month or so early, to get in a few workouts with Philip Rivers and the rest of the guys, going over the playbook and protection, trying to give ourselves an advantage. As far as regular training, not knowing when the lockout's going to end kind of put us in a weird situation, because it's something where you have a lot of time on your hands, but you've got to focus and you want to maximize the time, but without knowing when you'd be needed. It was tough, but I stayed focused. But even more than that, I couldn’t wait for the lockout to end.
"You really can't prepare self [for contact], you know what it's like that first day of contact after you haven’t been tackled in months. You put in that mouthpiece and go full speed. You get a headache after that first hit definitely, but after that you right back at it play after play. The next day, you practice, you go out and do the same thing."
Q: What's the most difficult part transitioning to the NFL?
A: Attention to detail. Every inch matters, and it can change a game in the NFL. The stuff at the college level that you get away with and still be successful, in the NFL it doesn't work. When you're playing the best of the best, there's no room for mistakes."
Q: You're with two other Massachusetts guys, Stephen Cooper (Wareham) and Jacques Cesaire (Gardner), have you found anything in common?
A: "Coming in, I heard a lot about Coop. Being from Wareham, that's close to hometown, and we know a lot of the same people and some of the same friends, and coming to San Diego I knew nobody. Coop greeted me with open arms. He's shown me the ropes and given me a lot of lessons. He's helped me out with my moving situation, I hang out with him, he's shown me around san diego, and now I feel like I'm home. It was a head start getting to know one of my teammates for a while. He's been a successful player in the league for a long time. If I'm able to do what he did for as long as has, then that’s a huge success for me. With him, it's about picking his brain.
"Jacques is another guy that's been here a long time. He's got a lot of wisdom. He knows a lot about the system and the people around here. He references things back home he had back there that they don’t have here. Our Boston accent gets picked on a little. We talk about how many people we have out for the Patriots game. We have a lot in common, being from Massachusetts."
Q: What are you going to do when you get back out here?
A: "If I have time on my hands, I'd love to go home. It would be cool stop in and see my grandmother and both families. I'm not staying too far from home, so there's a good chance I'll be able to go to Dartmouth and spend some time with family."
Q: What do you expect that first walk back into Gillette to be like?
A: "Another game. Yeah, I'm playing in front of my hometown, but it's another football game, no matter who's playing and and who we're playing against, it's another football game. There's really no other feeling. It's cool to have family and close friends there to support, I'm happy and grateful to have them. But it doesn't change much, it's just another football game."