‘That fueled me’: Drake London defies the expectations as two-sport D-I athlete

It’s March 23, 2019. A senior at Moorpark High School, Drake London holds the ball in his left hand, staring down the hoop from beyond the 3-point line at the Battle of the Valley Dunk Contest. 

Soon, London’s in the paint. He rises. In the next fraction of a second, he and his green jersey are a blur: “0” on the back, “Moorpark” on the front, 0 again, Moorpark. His back to the hoop, London throws down the 540-degree dunk with two hands.

The clip goes viral. If it wasn’t already, Drake London is now a well-known name on the California high school basketball scene, almost a year out from his Trojan debut at Galen Center.

But back in March, Drake London had already committed to USC. 

For football. 

“I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I can’t do it,” London said of playing two sports in college. “That fueled me. I love when doubters try to tell me no.”

Eight months later to the day, London caught eight passes for 142 yards and a touchdown as a freshman wide receiver for the Trojans — in front of a crowd of over 64,000 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in a victory over UCLA — as if football is the only sport he’s ever known.

The inevitable spotlight that results from his two-sport status is one London has carried long before college. 

London comes from the relatively small Southern California town of Moorpark — population 36,830, with one high school in town. Walking down the street, everybody knew London’s name. Crowds came to watch him play. 

Dwan London, Drake’s father, said the attention had its pros and cons. 

“There’s 50% of the town who really, really love us and love our family, and they’re really, really behind us,” Dwan said. “And there’s 50% of the town who’s kind of tired of hearing the name Drake London.”

But according to Ryan Huisenga, Drake’s football coach at Moorpark, from that spotlight grew a kid who knew how to tune out the noise.

Huisenga said London was always the first one ready for practice and the last to leave; a competitor from route-running race drills to the Friday night lights; a leader by example. Huisenga credited Dwan, Drake’s mother Cindi, his sister Makayla and his friend group for never letting the limelight inflate Drake’s ego. 

Huisenga recalled a time toward the end of London’s junior year when London was invited to an NBA Players Association Top 100 camp in Virginia for elite high school prospects, and he had to miss some school. Moorpark’s principal met with London’s teachers to discuss his academic workload, and his teachers were caught off guard upon hearing the extent of London’s athletic achievements.

They knew he was a good athlete, Huisenga said, but they had no idea just how good.

“If you didn’t know who he was, you would just pass by the guy and just go, ‘Oh, that’s a really tall kid,’” Huisenga said.

It’s an attitude that London maintains under the Coliseum lights. 

“He drives home after ’SC games and hangs out with his boys from Moorpark sometimes,” said Ryan Moore, London’s basketball coach at Moorpark in his senior year. “And there’s times when like, man, I’d be at the 9-0 right now going wild back in the day if I were him.”

It’s not because London doesn’t care; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. His coaches lauded his competitiveness, and his parents said they’ve seen his passion from a young age: when he couldn’t wait to start moving around and walking as a baby, when he said in a first-grade parent-teacher conference his passion was football or when he convinced his parents to let him play tackle football in fifth grade instead of the original plan to start in sixth. 

Dwan joked that he and Cindi have focused on Drake’s load management since around eighth grade, limiting him to one sport at a time. Originally, London and his parents agreed that come senior year, he had to pick one. 

That didn’t work out. 

“I thought I was going to be a football player for the longest time until I grew about eight inches in high school,” Drake said. “Times change. So here I am.”

London tried out baseball, soccer and track at various points in his childhood, according to his mother, but always came back to football and basketball. (Daily Trojan file photo)

London’s commitment to playing two sports, and his refusal to drop one in favor of the other, is a large part of how he ended up at USC. 

Moore said he sat down with London early in the recruiting process, when London wasn’t necessarily tied to playing both sports. But the high schooler told him that if USC gave him the opportunity to play both, he’d wind up in cardinal and gold. 

The offers came, but more so for football. (Moore doesn’t think London got his dues in the basketball realm.) But USC gave him the chance to play both, and the rest is history. 

“Walking into my parents’ room and my dad watching Reggie and just seeing the Coli light up, I was fascinated,” London said, recalling a picture on a USC Athletics Twitter post of his 10-year-old self in a No. 10 Trojan jersey. “I just thought I would carry on the tradition of being an ’SC fan. It was a dream of mine.”

Playing two sports at London’s level is no easy task, even in high school. Still, Moore said London’s transitions between football and basketball seasons were seamless mentally and that he adjusted quickly physically. 

After the Moorpark football team would finish its Thursday walkthroughs, Moore said, London would head to basketball practice to watch the last half hour, and he’d sit with the team on the bench for weekend fall games.

London’s priorities have never wavered, then or now. Whatever sport he’s in, London said, it’s tunnel vision.

“Drake is probably one of the most loyal, hard-working kids that I know, and I’m not saying that just because I’m his mom,” Cindi said. “He’s not about the spotlight, he’s a team player. He wants to do what’s best for his team. And whether that’s a football team, a basketball team, his group of friends — he’ll do whatever he can to make sure everybody is in the best position.”

That loyalty and work ethic have helped turn London into one of USC’s most popular breakout picks this season. Though he doesn’t crave it, the spotlight is likely coming his way again.

But judging from how his parents, his coaches and London himself speak, it’s unlikely to affect him. The way he carries himself, he’s just a regular person — one who still visits his high school basketball team to talk to them about tuning out the outside noise, one who likes fitting his 6-foot-5 frame under the Londons’ kitchen table to jump out and scare his mom, one who dropped off infant-sized USC apparel for Moore after he had his first child in August 2019.

“People don’t expect people of Drake’s athletic ability and of his stature and of his potential … to be such a thoughtful person, to think about other people as much as he does,” Moore said. “It’s just unbelievable who he is as a person.”

And as for those doubters London mentioned? At this point, it’s possible none remain. 

But if they do, they’re only adding fuel to Drake London’s ever-burning fire.