The moment Melvin Gordon had a chance to get away, the Los Angeles Chargers' promising young running back made a beeline for the New Orleans Saints' side of the field Thursday.
His mentor was waiting with a big smile.
Adrian Peterson greeted Gordon warmly, then spent most of the next 20 minutes laughing, joking and posing for pictures with a back eight years his junior.
Of all the player reunions that happened at the Jack Hammett Sports Complex after the first joint practice between the Saints and Chargers, no conversation lasted longer than Peterson and Gordon's.
"It feels good," Peterson said. "We've been keeping in contact the past couple of weeks, checking in to see how he's doing. You look forward to being up here and seeing faces; you can kind of catch up a little bit."
Gordon, a first-round draft pick out of Wisconsin two years ago, reached out to his childhood hero — he wears No. 28 because of Peterson — after a disappointing rookie season that produced just 641 yards, no touchdowns and 3.5 yards per carry.
He wanted to spend his offseason working out with Peterson and trainer James Cooper at O Athletik, the 35,000-square-foot gym the former Minnesota Vikings superstar planned to open in Houston that summer.
"You know, it'd be awesome to train with one of the best before he's done," Gordon said. "Obviously, he's been at it a long time, so he knows what to do, and I just wanted a mentor, really."
Peterson has spent his entire career training with Cooper, forging a relationship like the one Drew Brees has built with Todd Durkin in San Diego. Until Gordon reached out, though, Peterson had largely worked out on his own.
When Gordon started running with Peterson and doing the work that famously brought Peterson back from a torn ACL in 2012, he found out Peterson was an endless source of knowledge about playing the running back position.
"I went to his gym and started training, and that's just kind of how the relationship started growing," Gordon said.
Physically, Gordon is built similar to Peterson, with 220 pounds packed onto his 6-foot-1 frame. When they stood next to each other on the practice field Thursday, they cut similar profiles, save for the contrast between Gordon's silver-streaked dreadlocks and Peterson's bald head.
But Peterson's biggest contribution to Gordon's career so far has been mental. Frustrated after a disappointing season that also included microfracture surgery, Gordon had a lot to overcome.
Peterson, who cemented his legend with a 2,066-yard season coming off that ACL injury, knows something about how to bounce back.
"The mental aspect of the game — when stuff gets hard, you just push through it," Gordon said.
Gordon bounced back last season, ripping off 997 rushing yards, 419 receiving yards and 12 total touchdowns before an ankle injury cut his season short after just 13 games. Peterson, who went through his own struggles after tearing his patellar tendon, proudly watched from afar.
"It's good to see him have the kind of success that he's had, knowing the work that he's put in," Peterson said.
When the offseason arrived, Gordon was back in Houston to train with Peterson, this time with Ty Montgomery of the Green Bay Packers and Cincinnati Bengals rookie Joe Mixon in the fold. But until Thursday, he had never gotten to be on a practice field with one of his heroes.
Gordon, who also maintains a close relationship with new Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson, suffered a minor injury during practice and did some work with trainers, forcing him to miss some of Peterson's efforts, but he planned to circle back.
Peterson hadn't disappointed, ripping off a couple of vintage runs in the full-pads practice.
"I'll get a chance to watch him on tape later, but I've seen him," Gordon said. "He's a Hall of Famer. I've also got L.T. in my back pocket. And I didn't get to watch L.T. play, so the fact that I get to watch (Peterson) play, that's kind of dope."