“The toughest man in football.” That’s what Gophers head coach Jerry Kill calls Drew Goodger. A case of a Kansas-bred coach favoring a fellow Sunflower State native? Maybe a little bit, but no one can argue that Goodger’s toughness deserves recognition.
Goodger seems like someone from the sports pages of a bygone era. The senior tight end has dealt with ankle and knee sprains and frequent shoulder dislocations during his collegiate career. His shoulder will pop out during a game, and he will pop it back in and get back on the field.
“Not very many people do that now,” Kill said. “I guarantee you I couldn’t. That’s a tough cat.”
Goodger’s childhood helped shape his attitude toward overcoming obstacles. He grew up with twin brothers Chris and Scott, four years his senior.
“I got picked on a bit from them, and they roughed me up,” Goodger said. “I think in the end, it’s probably toughened me up and carried over into sports.”
Being bigger than most prep football players he encountered while at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School, Goodger spent more time picking on the opposition than getting picked on himself. He earned all-state honors at both tight end and defensive end.
When he arrived at the University of Minnesota, Goodger soon discovered that things were going to be different than they were in high school. Players of his size are more common in Division I football. Tougher workouts and tougher competition mean better chances of getting banged up, especially playing a position focused on blocking. As a freshman, Goodger found a role model in Collin McGarry, then a senior for the Gophers.
“He played virtually every single snap at tight end,” Goodger said. “He would get dinged up every game or every other game. He would come in Sunday morning for walkthroughs and barely be able to walk, but at Tuesday practice he’d be back on the field going at it. I think he set a really good example for me.”
Now Goodger is the one setting an example for his teammates. Sophomore tight end Maxx Williams called Goodger “one of the toughest guys I’ve ever met.”
“I think everyone’s a little envious,” Williams said. “Coach (Rob) Reeves says, ‘Goodger played through it, so why aren’t you?’ He kind of has that mark now. ‘Goodger played through it, so you should.’”
Goodger played in all 13 games last season, starting all but one. He has played in 34 of 37 possible games in the first three years of his career. A few highlight-reel moments for Goodger in 2013 included a fourth-down touchdown in a win at Indiana and a 68-yard receiving game in a win against Nebraska.
“It was a fun game,” Goodger said. “Most of my teammates were just kind of laughing and joking with me. There are not many times that I’m going to catch the ball in the open field in our offense. When I do, they like to let me know my top speed’s not quite like Maxx Williams.”
Williams may be more recognizable to the average Big Ten football fan than Goodger, having led Minnesota in receiving yardage last fall. But Goodger doesn’t worry about drawing attention. He is content to haul in the occasional pass that comes his way and spend the rest of his time doing the grunt work.
“I really enjoy blocking,” he said. “It’s just something I take pride in. I’ve been doing it here for four years. I’m not big about all the stats and going down and catching the ball. I think it’s a lot more rewarding when you know that you did a solid job blocking the whole game and your running back ran for 150 yards.”
In his last year with the Gophers, Goodger will try to help pave the way to a third straight bowl game. He may have to fight through some sprains and strains, and will almost certainly have to relocate a shoulder. However, it will take more than that to keep him out of the game. TCF Bank Stadium’s artificial playing surface makes it hard to literally “rub some dirt on it,” but no one on the team embodies that expression better than Drew Goodger.
Game 4: Minnesota at Penn State
Minnesota opens Big Ten play at Penn State on Saturday, Oct. 1. The game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network and can be heard on KFAN.
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