The Irish defense is hoping to forget some unflattering numbers from 2003. The Irish defense allowed a disappointing 26.3 points per game in 2003—an increase of almost 10 points per game over 2002. Goolsby is hoping to make people forget about 2003.
"I gained a different perspective as an outsider," Goolsby said of his seat from the sidelines in 2003. "I wasn't involved in the games and I was able to see a lot of different things that I probably would've never gotten the chance to see. Now as a senior leader coming back, you do a lot to change those things that you saw."
The 2003 defense seemed to lack the same emotion that we saw from the 2002 defense. The 6-4, 242-pound senior says that the 2004 Irish defense will be trying to find that spark again early in fall camp.
"We're trying to establish an attitude and an identity on this defense—being a bunch of tough guys because that's what it all comes down to," Goolsby said. "It's definitely something that I'm going to have a major hand in coming up in these next few weeks."
As to why the Irish lacked that fire, the senior middle linebacker didn't have an answer or want to speculate.
"I think it's definitely something that you have to have—especially as a defense," said Goolsby when asked if he felt the team needed that fire to be successful.
"I wasn't in the huddle last year out on the field. I can't really say if they had it or not. Something was definitely missing. I think we'll have that back next year."
"I think it falls upon myself, it falls upon the other leaders, and it falls upon the individual, too," said Goolsby when asked if he would be the one to make people accountable for their play this season.
"If somebody is not pulling their weight, yeah, somebody has got to step up and say something. Hopefully, as much as we talked about it in the off-season, that won't be an issue."
Goolsby did have an answer when asked how the Irish could fix their problems on defense. He said he feels it all boils down to old fashioned want to.
"Something that we talked about all the time, effort to the ball," he said of how to turn things around. "It sounds cliché', but it's the truth. As soon as you get the whole team playing like that, good things happen. Eventually you have the turnovers, touchdowns and all those big plays. We need to get back to that."
The Irish also allowed a number of big plays in 2003. From the beginning of the season to the end, the Irish couldn't stop the big play. Who can forget Washington State's Sammy Moore sneaking behind the line of defense to tie the game, 26-26, with a 34-yard touchdown grab with only 53 seconds in the game? Or the last game of the season when Syracuse's Walter Reyes scampered 71 yards to put any hope of an Irish victory out of reach?
And, there were many big plays in between. How about the 71-yard Jaren Hayes run to put Michigan State up 13-6? Or Craphonso Thorpe's touchdown grabs of 35 and 38 yards to cement a statement made by the Seminoles in Notre Dame Stadium. Worse yet, seeing Reggie Bush rip off a 58-yard run while making the Irish look like they were standing still.
Goolsby says big plays are a result of blown assignments, and the Irish have to do something about the blown assignments this season.
"Anytime where you see a big play, somebody had to have busted their responsibility," he said. "Accountability is a big theme for us this whole year. I think that it comes down to that."
For the Irish to right the ship, they're going to need leadership and the vocal Goolsby has always been one to stand up and say something.
The former Parade All-American says his leadership is something that just comes natural. He feels his best chance to lead this team is try to get the team to play the game his way.
"My best approach to it is just being myself as a player," Goolsby said of how he'll lead. "People sometimes tend to feed of that—my aggression and whatever it is I have out there that you guys talk about. It's something that I can't necessarily be conscious of. I'm just going to go try and play my game, and hopefully everyone will follow."
There is no question the Irish defense missed some sort of spark in 2003. The Irish will rely heavily on their experienced linebackers this season, and Goolsby will likely be leading the way. If he can convince the defense to follow, and play the game his way, they just might have a chance to make people forget about 2003.