Is Goff the next big star at linebacker?

With all the attention that senior Moses Osemwegie has garnered at linebacker this season, it's easy to overlook the contributions of his defensive teammates. But in terms of the future, the most exciting thing happening in the Dores' linebacking corps is the play of sophomore Jonathan Goff.

As fans look for the next in line to continue Vanderbilt's tradition of outstanding linebackers, there are many who look to Goff as the logical successor. And while it is certainly premature to tout the standout sophomore as the next Jamie Duncan or Winborn, there is reason to be excited about his potential for greatness.

"As a young player, he's ready to develop and become a really great player," linebackers coach Warren Belin said. "It's up to Jonathan how good he really wants to be. He's a student of the game and works hard in practice. He's been performing very well for us this year so we're excited about the future that Jon is going to bring to this defense and to this program."

Goff's appetite for learning the game of football has been instrumental in his early development. Like the true student of the game that his coach calls him, Goff spends significant time on his own watching game film in his effort to gain the advantage over his opponents.

Perhaps this studious approach should not be surprising, considering that Goff is majoring in Mechanical Engineering. Without a doubt, the academic workload associated with his engineering major has added challenges above and beyond what the average student-athlete faces.

"Time management has been a pretty big issue," Goff said. "I've learned how to manage my time well enough to be able to come over here and study football as well as meet with professors, tutors and study groups to make sure I'm getting everything done."

Luckily for the football team, the same intelligence that allows Goff to succeed in the classroom has also translated into success on the field.

"The good thing about Jon is that he's football smart as well as being very smart in the classroom," Belin said. "That helps him, to go from one phase of his life to the other and be able to combine both the academics and athletics. He knows what it's going to take, and he studies. You tell him something one time on the film and he'll pick it up. If he makes a mistake, you correct it and he doesn't make it again. He's really impressed us in the way he's worked and the way he's continued to work at becoming a better linebacker."

Even the naturally shy and reserved Goff has to admit the advantage that his smarts give him on the gridiron.

"It helps when I know what's going on and I know what I'm supposed to be doing, so I can just let loose and go out there and have fun."

Goff certainly did not waste any time letting loose in his first year of play. The Lynn, Mass. native earned the starting position at middle linebacker in the final four games of the 2004 season as a redshirt freshman. Taking advantage of the opportunity given to him, Goff turned out seven- and nine-tackle performances against Florida and Kentucky, respectively.

This season, Goff ranks third on the team in tackles with 36, trailing only Osemwegie and senior cornerback Andrew Pace. He has also made his big play potential apparent. Amidst the questions swirling around Vanderbilt's run defense heading into Fayetteville earlier this season, Goff helped stymie the Razorbacks by racking up a whopping 14 tackles, a team high for the season thus far.

And though his performance against Arkansas is by far his best statistically, don't be misled into thinking that his play hasn't been as solid the rest of the season.

"Jon's been pretty consistent," Belin said. "I know he probably had more stats in the Arkansas game, but he's been consistent year round with the number of plays that he's making. Obviously as a linebacker coach, I want him to make more, but as he's continued to develop, he's in the right spot."

As he continues to mature at his middle linebacker position, there is little danger that Goff will allow his early success to go to his head. Goff remains quite conscious of the work and preparation needed to take his game to the next level, and is quick to point to the leadership of Osemwegie as being instrumental in his development thus far.

"It's great having a guy like Moses—someone to look up to on defense, who's a real good player with a lot of experience," Goff said. "He's helped me out quite a bit, as far as talking to me, letting me know my responsibility in the defense that's called, and making sure that I'm there mentally. I'm just trying to do my best to do what the coaches ask me to do."

As of now, it remains to be seen whether or not Goff is the heir apparent as Vanderbilt's next great linebacker, but as long as this student of the game keeps on learning, it seems safe to say that the defense will at least have a solid centerpiece for the next few years.

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