Gooden Ready to Fulfill a Dream

At 6-foot-2 and 217 pounds, Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas standout linebacker Tavares Gooden had only played limited action as a linebacker this season at St. Thomas.

"I was going to be a linebacker for my senior year so I could start getting ready for college," Gooden said. "But after the first game, we really didn't have anyone to rush the passer so I went back down."

Gooden then made the switch for the national all-star game last week, a performance in which drew attention from players across the board.

"I played linebacker the entire game and I was even in on some special teams," he said. "I'm comfortable at linebacker now. I wasn't sure going in but it all came to me real fast. I just have to keep learning the little things and I'll be fine."

All-American linebacker Wes Jefferson, of Maryland, talked about Gooden's performance as his teammate.

"Tavares looked great," Jefferson said. "I couldn't believe he just started playing linebacker. He looked like a natural out there and I think he's going to be a really good player in college."

One of the reasons Gooden wants to speed up the process of learning the position is so he can help make an early impact in college.

"I really want to help right away," Gooden said. "I know when I get to Miami that everyone will be really good. But I'll go in there, learn what they teach me, and just make plays. That's what it's all about and that's what I plan on doing."

The standout linebacker, who finished his senior season with 61 tackles, 10 sacks, and five caused fumbles, is really excited about becoming a Hurricane.

"I watched the Fiesta Bowl and saw a lot of things go wrong," he said. "Miami didn't take advantage of their opportunities."

Gooden said he hopes to go in and help out immediately and give the team some of his attitude.

"I thought a lot of the guys were playing timid," he said. "They waited until the 4th quarter way too many times this year. Even though they came back and won most of them, I knew it might come back to hurt them sooner or later. And against Ohio State, they ran out of time. That needs to change. We're not going to be like that next year. More leaders will emerge and I want to be one of them. Maybe not a team leader right away but I want to be some kind of leader early on."

Gooden said he thinks the loss will ultimately help his future teammates.

"Everyone was talking all about the winning streak and repeating and all that stuff," he said. "This is Miami and that's expected but after the loss, those guys are going to be so hungry. I can't wait to get in there and start being a part of it. I keep telling people about next year. Look at teams in recent years like Virginia Tech, Nebraska, teams like that who have great years then fall off the next year. Miami won't do that. Ohio State will, but Miami won't. We'll be right back in the title hunt next year if we stay hungry enough. And I promise you, we will with the players they have coming back and with the guys they're bringing in with this year's recruiting class."

The talented linebacker, who is a full academic qualifier, knew he wanted to be a Hurricane from the very beginning.

"When I was 14 I remember writing down a phone number for one of the coaches," he said. "I had no idea whose number it was or anything. I dialed it and I got Coach Greg Mark's voice mail. I left a 20-minute speech on his recorder introducing myself and telling him to watch for me in a few years and how much I wanted to become a Hurricane. I basically was asking them real early to start watching me. Now I got my wish."

Gooden, who lost his mother just before his football career started, said it'll be a dream come true.

"My Dad is my best friend," he said. "He's always looking out for me and I know my mom's looking over me. Both of them have given me the opportunity to be here where I am today and now the University of Miami is giving me an opportunity to be where I've always wanted to be and that's playing for the Hurricanes."

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