He's a 10-year NFL veteran, an integral part of the long line of defensive backs that have made the University of South Carolina DB-U. He's also one of only a handful of the players who watched first-hand as the Gamecocks went from 0-21 to 17 wins in two years, and his Gamecock memories are justly filled with highs (the 2000 Georgia game that marked his return from injury and featured a 70-yard interception return) and lows (Rod Gardner push-off, anyone?).
In his first football season with the team, he's already made a difference. As a player who himself fought his way back from a near-catastrophic knee injury eerily similar to the one suffered by Marcus Lattimore, he was instrumental in working with Lattimore in the weeks and months afterward to help him make a decision that was best for his personal and professional future.
Along the way he's earned the respect and trust of players and coaches in the same fashion he earned it as a player both in Columbia and with the Lions, Dolphins and Broncos - through hard work and a humility that's as evident now as when he arrived on campus in 1997 as a highly regarded prospect from Greenville's Eastside High, where he was rated the No. 20 prospect in South Carolina and was All-State in football playing wide receiver and safety (not to mention as well as a track standout, notching personal bests of 10.5 in the 100 meters and 22.4 in the 200 meters).
Meet André Goodman, one of the most soft-spoken USC success stories you'll ever come across.
Gamecock Central: First, you're not but one season removed from the NFL. How did this job come about so quickly for you?
André Goodman: I don't think the goal was to transition when I did. I always was in constant communication with (USC Director of High School Relations) Robbie Liles, he helped me a lot when I was coming back to visit, so I was calling back actually to buy season tickets and found out Terry (Cousins) was no longer in the position (of player development) and he asked me if I was interested in the position and was I ready to transition?
I told him, "Definitely", because I'm not one for idle time. I hate it. I love spending time with my wife and kids, but I was ready to work, too.
GC: You really didn't have much down time at all after playing in Denver's final game of the 2011 season just over a year ago (Jan. 14, 2012, a 45-10 loss to the New England Patriots), did you?
Goodman: No, I didn't, and I preferred it that way. I realized quickly that football was probably in my past, and the goal was to give myself and my wife and kids six months just to settle down, but six months was probably going to be my max. I think once you get comfortable in a role of being lazy and lounging around, it's hard to get back up and go, and opportunities kind of pass you by.
When I called over here just to get season tickets, an opportunity presented itself, and I wasn't going to say "no" to an opportunity. I'm not built that way. When an opportunity presents itself, I'm going to take advantage of it.
GC: Was player development something you'd considered as a post-football career possibility?
Goodman: It's always a sense of wanting to give back once you get to a certain level, which is where I was toward the end of my career. You want to share that. You don't want to keep it to yourself. Being in this type of position, which is kind of a mentoring role, you can share your experiences with the players.
That was always the goal, being in a position of employment to do that, to assist in the path that these guys are aspiring to. Whether it's professional football or just career development, understanding that to transition from a college athlete to a professional athlete or college student to the business world, there's basic life skills you need, and I hope I'm able to help show them how to develop those through my own experience.
GC: Ten years in the NFL is an impressive run in the most grueling profession there is on the planet in terms of the toll it takes on the body and the constant challenge for your job every year from younger, healthier competition.
Goodman: Ten years was definitely a full career for me. I think coming out of the draft, I thought if I could get eight years, that was my goal. I wanted to get the full benefits and I didn't want to beat my body up too bad to where I can't continue to live and enjoy my kids after the game is over. I'm proud of the 10 years I had, and I definitely feel like I maxed-out, I peaked, and was on the downside of my career.
Physically, when you feel you can't compete in the way you enjoy competing, it gets tough.
GC: And that's something you had to deal with early in your playing career with the injury you suffered against Georgia in 1998 in just the second game of your career and only the 11th play of the game.
Goodman: I was at the game on the sidelines when Marcus got hurt, and seeing the replay brought back memories of that (Georgia) game. The one thing I speak to those kids about now when dealing with my injury was, you never know when your last play is going to come. Whether you play 15 years of NFL football or just four years of collegiate football, you don't decide when the transition happens. You just have to be prepared for it when it does.
That's what I share with players. At that time, I was starting as a redshirt freshman and I thought my career was ready to take off. Then all of a sudden, one play and I'm told I may not play another snap. Again, it's all in the preparation for the transition, and this platform, this title, gives me the chance to do that and help give back.
GC: You didn't get a medical redshirt after that, did you?
Goodman: I didn't. I already had my redshirt year, so I ended up missing almost two full years of competition but returned and finished with two full years of competition. My injury was ACL, MCL and PCL, with all the other injuries that go with that, the thigh and hamstring, ligaments, no one ever knows all of it. It was a mess.
GC: So was it the same injury then, as Marcus'?
Goodman: Pretty similar. He tore the same ligaments; some of the smaller, minor details might have been a little different. I'm not sure if he tore his meniscus or not. Once you get into that multiple-ligament, three-ligament tear area, you're looking at pretty much the same rehab.
GC: Many people believe it was a dirty hit against you on that game by Georgia tight end Jermaine Wiggins. Do you?
Goodman: You know...ahhhhh. I don't think the intent was to hurt. I've kept up with Jermaine Wiggins in his career, and he's been consistent in the way he's done those things in terms of how he goes about getting his blocks.
I'll say this, at the time, me being a smaller guy and thinking he had a blind shot on me, I think he probably could have gone about it in a better way. But I never think the intent was to injure the player. It's football, it's a violent sport. It's hard to protect yourself at all times. I've never faulted anyone for an injury on the field. At the end of the day you try to protect yourself but things happen.
GC: That injury created one of the big story lines of your career and the 2000 season when you faced Georgia again and helped key a huge upset of the then-No. 10 Bulldogs, the first win over a top-10 team for Carolina in 12 years.
Goodman: That was probably the highlight of my collegiate career. That it happened against those guys was great, and that being the stepping stone for South Carolina going to back-to-back Outback Bowls and winning them after losing 21-straight games was amazing. Beating a top-10 team at the time gave us the confidence we could be a better program.
It obviously was the highlight of my collegiate career and something I can always look back on with a lot of happiness. I still remember those goalposts coming down.
GC: I think Quincy Carter just threw another interception.
Goodman: Yeah, that was a rough one for him. I think that knocked him off the Heisman block at the time. I'm good friends with Richard Seymour, and he played in that game as well. We talk about that game a lot because he's a hometown (Columbia) guy.
GC: Your interception in that game went for 70 yards, but you were pulled down at the 4. What happened?
Goodman: Yeah, they caught me. But Derek Watson went in to score, so we scored.
GC: That came at a huge time, too, in the first quarter. Georgia had scored on its opening drive, then USC scored, then Georgia had gotten the ball back and was driving again. You never trailed again after that and it got all the interceptions going.
Goodman: It definitely helped change the momentum of that game. Easily the highlight of my career.
GC: You signed to play under Brad Scott and then ended-up playing for Lou Holtz. Did you always want to be a Gamecock?
Goodman: You know, I wasn't really highly recruited out of high school. I wasn't the five-star athlete that some of these guys now are. The reason I came to Carolina is because they were the first school to offer me a scholarship. I was thinking about it from an academic standpoint. I'm a high school kid, and obviously the goal is to get to college. I wasn't arrogant enough to turn down a scholarship.
Obviously there were other offers that followed South Carolina, but to me, if the goal is to get to school and a major four-year university is offering you a scholarship, I'm not arrogant enough to turn that down. I wasn't thinking about it from an athletic standpoint, and as a matter of fact I had some disagreements with my high school coach over that, because he definitely said I didn't handle it the right way. But I was thinking from a personal standpoint. I wanted to get to school. If Wofford would have offered first, I might have gone to Wofford. That's just the reality of it. I just wanted to get to school, man, and wherever I went, I was going to make it work.
But obviously, I think South Carolina ended-up being the best decision for me. It worked out well. I learned so much while I was here, and I've watched the success here of the program over the past couple of years and loved it. I'm a huge Gamecock supporter. I'm a fan.
GC: What was it like in the locker room with the transition from Coach Scott to Coach Holtz?
Goodman: You were watching it grow. You remember the low points of the 0-and-21, the articles about how South Carolina isn't able to compete in the SEC, why don't we kick them out of the conference. So you see the growth of not just the program but the staff, the players, everything that goes along with it.
I remember being in that 0-and-21 stretch and still having the stands packed. But then the motivation is to reward all that support and growth, so I think once you get that confidence that, "Guys, we can compete with anyone in this conference if we handle our business the right way," it becomes an amazing ride. You remember the lows, and it makes you appreciate the highs so much more because you don't take them for granted. Being able to win those back-to-back Outback Bowls for the university was great.
GC: Personally, that Outback Bowl was the first bowl game I got to cover as a reporter for The State, and I remember so clearly talking with Ryan Brewer on the field immediately after the game and how excited he was.
Goodman: Oh man, what a great storyline that was. It's ageless, really. Every time you think about it you remember the feeling, feeling for him, the kid from Ohio who didn't get the scholarship from Ohio State and comes here and is the low man of the totem pole who got his chance after Derek Watson was suspended. There was nothing about him that was fast or quick, he was just a workaholic, man, and those are the guys you root for. For him to have had such an amazing day that day really highlights that two-year period when we had some good success.
GC: The 17 wins in two years was the best in school history to that point, and it only recently got beaten here in the last three years.
Goodman: I'm proud to see the progress that the school is making. Obviously, getting good coaches, great coaches like Steve Spurrier and Lou Holtz was at the time. That's done a lot in terms of bringing national attention to the school, which is always the goal. Once you get the attention to the school, athletes want to come to the school to play. They realize they're not missing out on anything if they're here, and that's a big deal. They want to make sure wherever they are, they're getting the exposure they need, and obviously they're not missing anything by being at Carolina.
GC: What were your memories of Holtz personally?
Goodman: His ability to motivate. He's one of the best people I've been around in terms of motivating people, and not just in terms of a football team; I remember how people responded to him at business speeches and how he went about his own business. But the motivation he had in terms of changing the mindset from a player's perspective. From feeling like you can't compete to knowing that "Hey, if I do things this way versus the way I've done them before, I can have a lot greater success." It's easy to say but harder to get kids to do, and he was great at getting people to do that, to change their behavior and attitude.
And it didn't take long at all. I remember a team meeting when he got here and there were like 15, 20 guys who were told, "Right now, you're on the fence and it could go either way. If you don't do the things the right way now, we're going to get rid of you." It was shocking at the time, because you didn't think it was possible, but he was serious, and the guys who stayed, it motivated them to do the right things the right way. At this level, if guys are not focused, you can't achieve your goals. That had to change for us.
GC: During your final season, were you thinking about the NFL much?
Goodman: You know, the NFL was never a lifelong dream for me. Again, the reason I came here was to get a degree and somehow become a better provider once I left here. But my senior year after the Mississippi State game, one of the coaches told me a scout had asked about me and told him where they had me ranked in terms of the cornerbacks coming out, and from that day forward Coach Holtz told me and Sheldon Brown that we had to start preparing ourselves like professional players from a mindset standpoint and in how you train, how you go about your business, and they stayed on us the rest of the way.
But I never let that enter my thought process as I was playing. I just stayed in the moment. I think I was built different in a manner that I wasn't thinking so far ahead.
GC: You got your degree in sports management, and were drafted with the third pick in the third round by Detroit. What was the draft like for you?
Goodman: I kind of hung out with a couple guys, Willie Offord and I and we were over at John Abraham's house just watching it with no expectations. I had heard where the potential for me to go was, but I had no expectation. It was a small group. I remember I was on the phone with the Carolina Panthers for 10 minutes, and they said they were taking me with the next pick, and then I got a beep from another call, so I had to take it, and it was Matt Millen saying they were taking me with this pick. It was jubilation, because you realize somebody appreciates your talent and is giving you an opportunity to fulfill a dream from an employment standpoint, obviously with financial rewards, and also the amount of respect that goes with the title "professional football player."
It was great because Sheldon (Brown) had gone a couple of picks before me and Willie (Offord) went a couple of picks after me. We had a great time celebrating.
GC: That group really helped start the string of NFL defensive backs that have come to define USC at least in terms of NFL success and recognition.
Goodman: I think now that we're getting recognized for it, the players have taken notice of it and feel a level of expectation. South Carolina, the school itself has always had the talent, but the state, South Carolina is a great state talent-wise. I watched Dunta (Robinson) grow, and I was close to Jonathan Joseph and of course later guys like Stephon Gilmore and Fred Bennett, I can't say there's something in the water, but people recognize if you come to school here and are playing defensive back, obviously there's a tradition that goes along with it that wasn't there before. I'm proud, and trust me, I pay attention.
GC: You started this job back at USC October 1st; what's it been like?
Goodman: The schedule is pretty flexible; I try to keep hours open to meet with guys and develop programs to share with them about meeting expectations, managing time, coping with adversity, some of the things they'll deal with off the field. Whether it's things on or off the field or even from a peer-pressure standpoint, I'm here to help them cope and be a mentor. I meet with the academic people, I meet with the coaches, and when the players have personal things they call me for I meet with them.
I try not to be overbearing, because I've been there before. I don't want to be another guy in their ear, I want to be a guy that when it gets overbearing, I can be an outlet for them and can relieve some of those things. I want to make sure I'm giving the coaches and the parents and the players exactly what they need. I'm still learning people and building relationships and building trust, but that's my motivation for being here, and I hope I'm here for a long time.