"It's awesome just being back with the guys," said Mike Goolsby. "Being back, trying to run the defense, getting everyone lined up, it's great."
Sitting out last season was difficult for Goolsby. He's known as a fierce competitor and one with a lot to say on and off the field. "It was rough," said Goolsby of his spot on the sidelines in 2003. "Seeing the guys go down playing hard and still coming out with not as many (wins) as you'd like. Anytime you see your buddies out there losing, and putting everything they've got into it, it sucks. We're going to try to change that this season."
One of the most difficult tasks of Goolsby's return was just getting back into shape. "That was probably the worst thing. I always tell the young guys, ‘if you're going to be out there lifting weights, you might as well try to look good.' I looked like garbage after I was out of the weight room for seven months. Getting back into it wasn't that bad. I've put on some weight, I weigh 250 right now. I wanted to get a little bigger, get a little bit stronger. Mickey did a hell of a job getting me back into shape."
For the Irish to get back on track, Goolsby believes they needed to change their attitude and their work ethic. He says he's seen a change over last year and it's a positive change. "I think it's been going on all winter. People realize what we did wrong, what we had to get corrected. We can finally put it together on the field."
Goolsby said the change has to start for the beginning. "Kind of get back to basics. Anytime you kind of have an off season, anything bad happens, just try to get back to where you'd liked to be. You start from the bottom up. You start with the fundamentals, get everyone lined up, and you take it from there. Getting our attitude back we had a couple of years ago. Getting everybody to the ball, making big plays. I think if you start with that attitude, that's a good starting point."
The Irish will lose some key players on defense in 2004, especially the secondary. Goolsby says he believes the losses will be overcome. "I think were going to shine as a whole. I'm real excited about the young secondary. There's some great athletes back there and they're excited to play. Obviously linebackers, we've got a lot of experiences coming back so we expect a lot out of ourselves. We've got a great defensive line coming back too. I think everybody is ready to step it up to another level."
Turning the corner for the Irish will have to start with attitude according to Goolsby. "That's a big thing we try to get across to the guys—bring back that toughness that we should be known for as a defense."
"I think it's a personal battle, it's a mental thing, it's an attitude thing where you just come out every day and bust your butt," Goolsby continued. "You come out here and go to the ball. That's all we did two years ago and we had a great season."
The hardest thing for Goolsby to watch was the losing last season. "I see us losing, I know that's not why I came here and I know that's not what they came here for. We came here to win. We've got to get back to doing to whatever it takes to win. As cliché as that sounds, that's really the truth."
It appeared to Irish Eyes that the 2003 Irish lacked some vocal leaders and players like Goolsby on the field. We asked him his thoughts on being a vocal leader and how that helps a team. "I think it's good to have a balance on the team where you have some vocal leaders and some lead-by-example guys. In the past I've heard a lot of guys say "I'll just lead by example." It comes to a certain point to where you can't have 11 guys out there or 22 guys out there leading by example. Somebody is going to have to step up and do that."
A player like Shane Walton comes to mind when talking about a vocal leader. Goolsby said Walton made a big difference in the 2002 Irish, and he's hoping he will see more "Shane's" on the field in 2004. "Seeing Shane, he was a huge, huge impact. I think anyone on the defense will tell you that. The way his energy level and the intensity he brought every day. I think that's something we can all strive to be. He made himself a better player by the way he did that and brought everybody with him. However many guys we can get to do that, the better."
Goolsby has always had the attitude of a winner and his attitude should be infectious. The Irish missed Goolsby and players like him in 2004, and we've seen what players like he can bring to a team. Hopefully Goolsby will have the same impact that Walton had in 2002, and he's right, the more that follow the example set by Walton, the better.