"As far as work habits, doing what he does in school, his attitude, doing what he's coached to do on EVERY PLAY-- I'd like to have 9 or 10 Jonathan Goffs," Johnson said. "He's two classes away from getting his degree in engineering. He's humble as he can be, but I know when he plays football, he's serious about being as good as he can be.
"If the linebacker coach tells him he wants him to be at a certain angle, he'll be at that angle-- and I mean every time. That kind of player you just love to coach."
Similarly, asked to name the toughest player on this year's Vanderbilt squad, star receiver Earl Bennett was quick to name Goff, who served alongside Bennett as Vandy's Media Days player reps.
"Jonathan is all over the field," said Bennett-- who ought to know. "No matter where you catch the ball-- you can catch the ball away from him, but if you're just goofing around, he's gonna be busting you with that tackle."
After posting 93 tackles in his junior season, the fifth-year senior from Lynn, Mass. is finally, it seems, starting to get some long-overdue recognition. He's been named first-team All-SEC by both the coaches and the media, he's a cover boy on several preseason magazines, and he's made the watch list for the Bronko Nagurski, the Butkus and the Bednarik awards.
Is he ready for that kind of attention?
"It's awesome," he says. "It's a real honor to be represented that way. I know my family and friends back home are proud, and I'm really glad they get to see what I'm doing. Most of all I'm thankful for the attention it brings for the university."
It's linebackers like Goff who lately have helped Vandy mount a challenge to Penn State for the title of "Linebacker U." Goff is the latest in a long line of outstanding Commodore linebackers, a list that includes Jamie Duncan, Jamie Winborn, Matt Stewart, Hunter Hillenmeyer and Moses Osemwegie.
The 2007 Vanderbilt team, one of the program's most experienced in recent years, will be led by a number of fifth-year seniors. Vanderbilt fans should frankly be ecstatic that Goff, after testing his NFL waters last winter, opted to return to the Commodore program for a fifth year.
"That [my decision] might have been hyped up to be a little bit more than it was," said Goff, humbly. "I really just wanted to explore my options. Coach Johnson thought it would be a good idea, and he helped me with the process.
"In the end, I felt like I wasn't really finished at Vanderbilt yet. I still wanted to finish and play out my eligibility and get my degree, and help this team get as far as it can."
Just how far the team will be able to go this fall may depend on how far Goff and his teammates on the defensive side can take it. The defense lost only three starters from a unit that showed marked improvement from the previous season.
"Our goal is to win every game on our schedule," Goff says, caring nothing about the fact that Vanderbilt has had 24 straight losing seasons. "That's our goal, and that's what we believe we're capable of doing.
"At workouts all summer, we have always broken down [closed practice] with 'B-C-S'. We're just having everybody set that mindset, having everybody on the same page, and trying to establish the confidence that it takes."
At Media Days, the soft-spoken and somewhat shy Goff answered question after question, never falling for some of the tricky ones thrown his way by reporters. For example: with all the great players in the league this year, who are you most looking forward to shutting down?
Goff didn't hesitate a second with his answer.
"Richmond," he replied, referring to Vandy's Division I-AA opponent in game one.
Fans may be overlooking that game just a bit perhaps-- but certainly not Goff.
It's that kind of extraordinary focus that should allow him not only to complete his Mechanical Engineering degree in the fall, but could also potentially lead the Commodores to gridiron glory this fall.
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