Drake London is outdone. He’s not strong enough. He’s not fast enough. After begging his dad to switch to football before sixth grade, the hits land harder than the 10-year-old expected.
He blinds his favorite player like a backflushing flag football introducing itself as Reggie Bush. However, in one particular game, he is tossed around by bigger, stronger defenders. He feels like he can’t keep up and he hates that feeling. So London brings its problem to the only person who might know what to do.
London’s father Dwan is delighted. Since Drake started third grade, he has been convinced that his son could have a future in football. So he has been training Drake ever since, presenting drills as a game, pushing him with playful doubts, knowing full well that his son’s competitive side would prevail. “I don’t think you can do it,” Dwan told him, “but you can try, I think.” Now Drake is telling his father that he will do whatever he can to be stronger, faster, and greater, and Dwan is happy to grant that wish.
Drake will look back on that moment years later and see it as a personal turning point, one of those defining moments that would put him on a course to become a football star at USC, where his likely final season begins on Saturday against San Jose State. But long before it emerged as one of the nation’s best receivers, a wacky 6-foot-5 supernova with a physics-defying capture radius that could single-handedly influence the Pac-12 title race, the journey began with a pull-up bar.
He was too young to lift weights, Dwan decided, so they just started. Just pushups and the pull-up bar. Some days they drove to the nearby Moorpark College to walk around the hills or around cones. Finally they brought a parachute or sled that Drake could pull while he ran.
“I came home from work and he was waiting in the front yard with two bottles of water, cones, whatever we were working on that day,” says Dwan. “As a father you don’t say no to that. So I ran into the house, changed and we were gone. “
London’s rise from there is not so much meteoric as it is methodical, patiently checking every box along the way. Bit by bit it gets stronger, faster. Dwan and his wife, Cindi, taught their children never to skip steps or cut curves. So if Drake wants new football gear, he’ll have to earn it with touchdowns. When the touchdowns later prove too easy, his parents reward his grades.
The work ethic never drops; though a nine-inch growth spurt speeds the process up. In his sophomore year of high school, London doesn’t just glimpse in football. Basketball is his first love and it quickly becomes clear that he could have a future in both. As a senior, he scored 12 touchdowns as the star receiver of Moorpark and 29.2 points per game as the basketball team’s top scorer. So he continues to work on both, fills most days with trainings, tournaments or camps and hardly takes time to breathe.
He excels, rarely complains. While others tell him to choose and warn that he cannot commit to both, the doubts only fuel his decision. Only two schools offer him the opportunity to play basketball and football, Virginia and USC.
“The deal was that we would pick his senior year what he would play in college,” says Dwan. “We are in his senior year and he still couldn’t make up his mind. Who am I to force him to choose? I don’t want him to make the wrong decision. So if you have the opportunity to try both on the next level, try both. “
Dwan admits that Drake was better at basketball back then. But his blanket on the soccer field was too tempting to ignore, a fact that would become apparent almost immediately at USC where he stands out as a freshman at fall camp.
It takes London until the middle of the 2019 season to make its mark, but on a victorious drive in Colorado it picks up a critical 19-yard catch that keeps the drive moving, and from there its trajectory soars. He scored five touchdowns in his last five games this season. His family is starting to wonder if the NFL might be the newbie in the future.
If it wasn’t clear where he was going, fate intervenes soon after the football season. When it comes to basketball, he lags behind before an illness can take him any longer. He rarely plays as a freshman wing and tells himself that if his second soccer campaign goes well, he’ll leave basketball behind.
His father believes he might have a future in basketball, but in a season changed by the pandemic, London becomes one of the Pac-12’s top wideouts and earns a spot on the entire conference team as well as on the radar of NFL scouts . In December, he sits down with his parents to make a decision.
“I didn’t have a swing in basketball like I did in soccer,” says London. “I had a golden egg in my hand. If I drop it, I may never get it back. “
What he didn’t understand was how much time he would have now to focus on one sport.
“Life has slowed down,” he said.
Suddenly there was time for friends and family, time to watch TV, to play board, to relax “and finally to be a normal child,” he explains.
There was a lot more time for football. He took part in spring training for the first time. He devoted himself to sessions with USC quarterback Kedon Slovis to help build an already strong bond. Where previously he could only experiment, London now plunged headlong into training, tightening his footwork, speeding up his breaks, refining his routes. The connection with Slovis feels almost telekinetic, their trust is so strong that the quarterback says he can count on London to catch anything thrown in his way.
“He made one of the biggest jumps I’ve ever seen,” says cornerback Chris Steele, who saw his performance in the electric fall camp up close.
London have no regrets about leaving basketball behind. He is happy with his procedure. He didn’t have to cut corners to get to this final point as the weight of the USC offensive rests on his shoulders this season and a bright future awaits as a likely NFL first-round draft pick next spring.
“When he’s following something and focusing exclusively on it, something special usually happens,” says Dwan.