In this edition of our The Fifth Quarter series, GopherDigest caught up with departed senior Drew Goodger for an in-depth interview profiling his career in Minneapolis and four seasons as a Gopher.
GopherDigest.com: I'll start with saying that you came in under Coach Kill in 2011 and was wondering what Kill was like as a recruiter then?
Goodger: Coach Kill recruited me at Northern Illinois and then continued to recruit me when he made the transition to Minnesota, so I got to know him very well as a recruiter. He and his staff do a great job of finding talented kids that other large programs overlook. He is extremely personable as a recruiter and he recruits kids with character and work ethic who really want to be at the University of Minnesota. I don't think anyone else in the country does as good of a job at predicting the development of the kids they recruit than Coach Kill. It also helps when you have Coach Klien in the weight room.
GopherDigest.com: Curious what you mean by predicting the development of a recruit.
Goodger: Looking at the recruit coming out of high school and really pinpointing how he is going to help the team in the future as well as the amount of time they think it will take for them to get on the field. They also do a great job of recruiting athletic kids out of high school and transitioning those kids into a new position when they get to the U. Maxx Williams is a great example of that.
GopherDigest.com: As someone who really worked closely with Maxx every day for the last three years, what was that like?
Goodger: You couldn't ask for a better overall guy. He is a guy who has all the talent in the world and the work ethic to match it. He pushes the guys around him to get better everyday and brings the enthusiasm and humor to the tight end room. Everyone has obviously seen the freakish things he can do athletically on the football field, but what sets him apart is his understanding of the game.
GopherDigest.com: Do you have any funny stories from the practice field or maybe off the field even about Maxx?
Goodger: There have been quite a few funny times with Maxx, but something we always gave him a hard time about and had fun with was his touchdown celebrations. For as many touchdowns as he scored, we let him know that he had some of the worst celebrations that we've ever seen. I'm sure he's been working on it for Sunday's.
GopherDigest.com: So transitioning back to you, what was it like playing as a true freshman in the Big Ten?
Goodger: I learned real fast that I wasn't playing Kansas high school football anymore I'll tell you that. The game was moving at a speed that I wasn't used to and I couldn't get away with doing the same things I did in high school. Playing early on in my career helped me later on though because when you aren't as strong as the guys across from you, you have to really develop good technique. It was a great experience for me.
GopherDigest.com: Are there any moments from the early part of your career where you remember being thinking that this is what big-time football is like?
Goodger: I remember my first game as a Gopher coming down the tunnel against USC and looking up at the walls and seeing pictures like OJ Simpson and Reggie Bush and then walking out onto the field where 90,000+ fans were waiting. That's when I realized I was entering another level of football.
GopherDigest.com: What was the worst injury you fought through during your Gopher career?
Goodger: I had a few injuries throughout my career as I had a lot of problems with shoulder dislocations the last couple of years, but I think the toughest thing I had to play through was a torn MCL early on my junior year.
GopherDigest.com: How the heck did you manage that?
Goodger: Lots and lots of rehab. Our trainers always did a good job of getting us healthy and I knew only had a few years of football left and could through it. A lot of guys on our team played through things like that.
GopherDigest.com: Are there any plays of the thousands you played in that you'll always remember for whatever reason?
Goodger: There are a lot that I try to forget," Goodger said jokingly. "The one I will always remember though was my first play against USC. Tommy Olson and I were in the two-man shield on kickoff return (both of us had never stepped on the field before) and the guy we were assigned to block was an all Pac-10 linebacker the year before. I think we both will always remember that play. All I remember was thinking that it could have gone a lot worse.
GopherDigest.com: And how was your relationship with tight ends coach Rob Reeves and how'd it continue to develop over the years?
Goodger: We have had a great relationship throughout my career and have continued to stay in touch recently. It was awesome to have a guy like that coach me all four years. He is a "players coach" and always had the best interest for his guys, which is why his players play hard for him.
GopherDigest.com: Was Coach Reeves more of an in your face guy or more hands off?
Goodger: He was really a combination of the two. He's an extremely fiery competitor and if you make the same mistake over and over, he will be an in your face type of coach. No matter who you are, he's not afraid to coach you up. As a great leader and coach, he understands the right time to jump on a player as well as when to take a step back and let the player figure it out himself. He's a coach that you don't want to let down because you know your play reflects on him as a coach.
GopherDigest.com: And how'd that style sit with you?
Goodger: It was perfect for me. I had the same type of coaching growing up and for me personally, I think that style is the best way to demand the most out of your players. If you can't handle criticism, then you aren't only going to struggle in football, but you're going to struggle in life. Coach Reeves did a great job of instilling a lot of things on me that I will carry on the rest of my life and I'm pretty grateful for that.
GopherDigest.com: What were a couple of tougher times from your career that you remember?
Goodger: I was fortunate enough to not have a lot of extremely tough times in my career, but I can recall a few. There were a lot of different injuries that piled up on me throughout my junior season and going into my senior year. That was tough for me to deal with because I never really felt healthy and didn't feel like I had the same mobility I did earlier in my career. It took a toll on both my mind and body. Besides that, freshman year is always tough on kids coming out of high school and pretty much entering a new world. There were a lot of adjustments that I had to make my freshman year that were difficult, but it makes it a whole lot easier when you're with other guys that are dealing with the same things.
GopherDigest.com: And who were some of the guys you leaned on for support on the team?
Goodger: Being in the locker room and around the complex with the guys always made things easier. Just in general, you couldn't ask for a better group of guys to play with and be around daily. I really don't think that other programs around the nation have the same team morale that we have developed at Minnesota.
GopherDigest.com: And what do you attribute that close comradery to?
Goodger: The offseasons with Coach Klein really help develop the team chemistry. It order to make it through his staff's workouts, you have to depend on your teammates. They do a great job of coming up with workout plans that are not only going to get your body right, but are also going to develop the team as one unit. Another part of the team chemistry is the leadership in the locker room. There is strong leadership on both sides of the ball, which is important in bringing the team together.
GopherDigest.com: Would you consider yourself one of the leaders last year?
Goodger: Upperclassmen are leaders even if they don't want to be. When you have freshman coming in, they're going to naturally look at what the older guys are doing and in most cases try to replicate that. As a senior, I wanted to make sure that I was doing my job of setting an example for the younger guys.
GopherDigest.com: Of those younger guys like Brandon Lingen and Jerry Gibson, you think any can become as special as the Drew Goodger?
Goodger: The good thing is I set the expectation bar pretty low," Goodger said with a chuckle. "Those guys are going to both have great careers. Brandon is a guy who came in right away, saw big playing time and was not phased at all. Seeing how easy that transition was for him, and how he continued to improve throughout the year, I'm extremely excited to watch him for the next three years. Jerry is also going to be a fun one to watch as he has the speed of a receiver and size of a tight end. He continues to full into his body and will be a scary match-up for defenses. I'm going to greatly enjoy watching those guys play.
GopherDigest.com: So what's next in the life of Mr. Goodger?
Goodger: I've braved out the winters and am now working in Minneapolis as a National Account Manager for Coyote Logistics. I love Minneapolis and plan on staying here for awhile.
GopherDigest.com: You have anything else you want Gopher fans to know?
Goodger: Thank you guys for all of the support throughout the last four years. It's been a great pleasure playing at the U and I couldn't have asked for a better experience playing inside The Bank. I look forward to tailgating and watching the Gophs take care of business this year with you all!
The Fifth Quarter: Drew Goodger
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