Goodson impresses Panthers

Rookie tailback's overwhelming speed, attitude help him overcome college, family challenges.

Staff writerAugust 2, 2009 

  • Height: 6-0, Weight: 212

    40-yard dash: 4.5 seconds

    Position: RB, KR

    Age: 22

    College: Texas A&M

    Hometown: Spring, Texas

    High School: Rated the nation's No. 3 overall prospect in 2006 by SuperPrep magazine and played in the U.S. Army All-America Game.

    College stats: Played in 36 games with 14 starts. Rushed for 1,964 yards on 374 carries (5.3 avg.) with 13 touchdowns. Caught 90 passes for 860 yards and seven TDs.

    Big Plays: Ran 80 yards for a TD in 2008 vs. Oklahoma State, the school's longest run since '03. Caught a 44-yard TD pass vs. Texas in '07. Topped the team that year with 13 plays gaining 20 or more yards (seven rushing, six receiving). As a freshman in '06, ran 41 yards for a TD against a Texas defense ranked No. 1 nationally and had a 64-yard TD run in the closing minutes to beat Baylor.

    2009 draft: Panthers picked him in the fourth round (111th overall).

    Rookie contract: Four years, $2.24 million, including a $492.400 signing bonus.

The boyhood dream Carolina Panthers rookie running back Mike Goodson shared with his father is about to come true.

Today, he reports to his first NFL training camp.

It's a chance to make good on the enormous promise he showed as a high school All-America but only partially fulfilled during a three-year college career at Texas A&M.

"I'm really excited about the whole opportunity to make some guys miss and to make some plays," said Goodson, a fourth-round draft pick.

Panthers officials and coaches envision him as a third-down back, slot receiver and kickoff returner capable of making big plays with his explosive open-field running.

He was nothing short of dazzling during minicamp and summer drills. Fullback Brad Hoover, a 10-year veteran, recalls only one other Carolina player having similar ability to jet away from defenders -- Steve Smith, the Pro Bowl wide receiver.

Guard Keydrick Vincent, a nine-year pro, said of Goodson: "When he makes a cut, it's 110 mph. His stop-and-go is amazing. This dude, to me, looks like a game-breaker."

Perhaps no one is more positive about Goodson's chances for stardom than his dad, Mike Sr., a former college basketball player at Pittsburgh who introduced his son to football at age 5.

"There is so much people have not seen of him," Goodson Sr. said.

Despite the excitement they share, this is a bittersweet time for father and son.

Mike Sr.'s telephone interview with the Charlotte Observer took place from a federal prison in Yazoo City, Miss., where he is serving a sentence that runs through 2027 for committing mortgage fraud.

After attending virtually all of Mike Jr.'s practices and games from Pop Warner League through high school, Mike Sr., 41, may never see his son play in person in the NFL.

Promise, then a struggle

Mike Goodson Jr.'s athletic ability is a family trait.

Mike Sr. played in the Continental Basketball Association after his college career.

Mike Jr.'s mother, Yolanda Pike, was a hurdler at Pitt.

Goodson's brother, Demetri, plays basketball at Gonzaga and hit a last-second shot to beat Western Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament in March, sending the Zags to a round of 16 matchup against eventual national champion North Carolina.

After starring at Klein Collins High near Houston, Mike Jr. was courted by elite college football programs, including Southern California and Oklahoma. Trojans' coach Pete Carroll visited his home and then-USC running back Reggie Bush hosted him on his campus recruiting visit.

Goodson ultimately signed close to home with Texas A&M and was expected to be a megastar for the Aggies.

His college career had enough highlight reel plays to fill up nearly five minutes on a YouTube video titled "Thunderstruck."

The video, posted in June 2008 when he was being touted as a Heisman Trophy candidate as a junior, shows his ability to dart and slash through defenders, plus his outstanding pass-receiving skills.

Despite his big plays, Goodson didn't put together a blockbuster year in any of his three college seasons. His rushing totals went down each year -- from 847 yards as a freshman, to 711 as a sophomore and 406 last year as a junior. He also had a career-best 386 receiving yards last year.

"I went from wide receiver to slot back to running back and I did a lot of different things," he said. "So my numbers weren't as high in one aspect of the game. But I made some big plays."

Goodson rushed for only 80 yards in the second half of his junior season last year amid injuries and a difficult relationship with first-year Aggies coach Mike Sherman, who formerly coached the Green Bay Packers.

"I think if I would have had a little bit more time with him, we would have grown on each other," Goodson said.

Sherman installed strict academic requirements, which he said Goodson had difficulty abiding.

"He was a student of football rather than a student of academia," Sherman said. "He preferred to be on the practice field [more] than the classroom."

Sherman said he expected big things from Goodson after watching him during spring practice.

"I really thought coming out of the spring Mike [eventually] would be a first- or second-round draft pick, for sure," Sherman said.

When the season ended, Goodson decided to turn pro. His relationship with Sherman was a factor, but he also was motivated by his family's financial needs due to his father's incarceration.

"We were struggling," said his mother.

Severe consequences

Mike Jr. says his father is the reason he is on the verge of joining the NFL.

"He was the person who put the football in my hands," Mike Jr. said. "Through middle school and high school, he was that encouragement, that push [who] gave me the edge. I kind of owe this to him, just being here."

Now, Mike Sr. lives in a federal prison cell that he estimates is 6x12 feet.

A U.S. Department of Justice news release in July 2007 said his conviction was for engaging in "a scheme to defraud mortgage lenders" through mail and wire fraud. He was found guilty of using falsified loan applications to induce mortgage lenders across the country to loan more than $11 million from early 2003 through early 2005.

Mike Sr. has filed an appeal. He said he erred in some of his business associations.

"Sometimes we make the mistake of making fast, hasty decisions," he said. "You end up taking a risk."

He was imprisoned in the spring of 2006, shortly before Mike Jr.'s high school graduation. At the time, Mike Sr. had custody of his four children, which he gained after he and Pike divorced in 1995. She regained custody after he went to jail.

Mike Sr. said he has tried to keep his children distanced from his problems as much as possible. They talk by phone frequently and sometimes visit at the prison.

"To walk in this place, it's quite an experience," Mike Sr. said. "I'm very proud of the way all of them have handled it."

Of Mike Jr., he said: "It's amazing that he's in the position he's in to be drafted into the NFL. I know there's a lot of kids who fall off the map when something like this happens in their life."

Mike Jr. signed a four-year contract with the Panthers in June that included a $492,400 signing bonus. He used some of the money to pay off the mortgage on his family's four-bedroom home in Spring, Texas.

"It's something he said he was going to do from the time he was a little boy," Pike said. "He used to say, 'I'm gonna buy my mama a house.' It has helped us tremendously."

Another Willie Parker?

Mike Jr. impressed his Panthers coaches and teammates during minicamp and summer school not only with his physical skills, but also with his ability to learn the playbook.

"We're throwing a bunch at him, and he's not making many mental mistakes, so that's a good sign," running backs coach Jim Skipper said.

The Panthers believe Goodson has first- or second-round talent.

They drafted him with the fourth-round pick acquired from San Francisco in the trade that also allowed them to select defensive end Everette Brown in the second round. Carolina gave up its 2010 first-round selection to swing the deal.

The Panthers already were loaded at the running back position with former first-round picks DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart but believed Goodson's multiple skills could diversify and enhance their offense and kick returns.

General manager Marty Hurney said Goodson "has got some explosion" and so far has made a positive overall impression.

"He's got a great attitude," Hurney said. "He always smiles and just has one of those personalities that makes people feel good and is kind of contagious."

Teammates say they're looking forward to seeing him perform in pads in training camp and in preseason exhibitions.

Guard Keydrick Vincent said Goodson brings back memories of when he watched then-unknown running back Willie Parker shine as a rookie for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2004.

Parker, who played sparingly in college at North Carolina, has developed into one of the NFL's top runners.

Skipper is so excited that he calls Goodson's speed and quickness "a major, major, major factor," but also doesn't want to overestimate Goodson's potential.

"I'm a little bit superstitious, so I don't want to be beating on the drum and enshrine the guy in the Hall of Fame yet," Skipper said. "Hopefully, he'll just be himself."

While Goodson might've preferred going to a team that wasn't so deep at running back, he has gotten used to the idea of being a complement to Williams and Stewart.

"I'm kind of like a curveball guy," Goodson said. "We have a slasher [Williams] and Stew is a big guy. [I] just bring some speed on the edge and speed through the holes."

Goodson said he will run not only for himself but also for his dad, who will watch Panthers games on television with fellow inmates.

"He's doing the best he can, the best anybody could make out of that situation," Mike Jr. said. "Me being here and making the best out of this situation will help him out a lot."

cchandler@charlotteobserver.com or 704-358-5123

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