Gooden has Miami pedigree

Tavares Gooden may have gone to the same school that Ray Lewis did (University of Miami), played the same middle linebacker position and donned the same immortal No. 52, but his path to the NFL definitely was not the same.

Gooden, from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was an elite athlete at St.Thomas Aquinas High School where he excelled at football and track and field. While he was the 2002 state champion in the discus, football was his passion. Gooden was regarded as one of the best football players in Florida and was named a two-time Class 4A All-State selection.

After a distinguished high school career, Gooden moved on to play linebacker at Miami, a school known for breeding many NFL players.

Unlike Lewis who started several games his freshman year, Gooden began his Hurricane career on special teams and had minimal impact. In Gooden's sophomore year, he cracked the starting lineup and wound up at weakside backer; he finished third on the team in tackles with 83 and also compiled 10 tackles for a loss. His career seemed like it was about to take off , but he was derailed the following year in the season opener against arch-rival Florida St. Gooden suffered a dislocated left shoulder in the first quarter and later underwent surgery to repair the damage. His season was over and he received a medical redshirt.

However, Gooden was undeterred and worked hard in the off-season to regain his starting spot the next fall, but this time, it was at strongside linebacker. Despite thriving in his sophomore season, Gooden struggled in his second attempt at a junior year. His production was nearly cut in half and he ended the year with just 41 tackles.

Gooden bounced back in his senior year and his star high school billing finally came to fruition as he transitioned to the middle linebacker spot at Miami. The Hurricane team had an unsuccessful season, but Gooden was one of the lone bright spots, totaling 100 tackles which led the team and started to make him look more like Lewis.

"He had a great year this year," said Baltimore Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta. "We think he's got a lot of potential. He made huge strides from his junior year to his senior year, in terms of improving his play and really taking the next step in becoming an elite college linebacker."

After finishing his career in college, Gooden demonstrated great physical skills and a strong work ethic at his auditions for NFL scouts. Because of his 6'1 and 235 pound stature, along with great speed and athleticism, the Ravens selected him in the third round of the NFL draft at pick 71. In contrast, Lewis was picked 45 spots earlier in 1996 at pick 26 overall (making him a first round selection).

"The only thing I told him was that he couldn't have No. 52 when he got here, because it belongs to someone else," said general manager Ozzie Newsome after the selection of Gooden. "But anytime you get a player from the Miami Hurricanes, you know you get someone who loves the game, who runs to the football, and knows and understands how to play the game." Gooden knew he would have to change his number, but he was fine with doing so because it was in good hands.

"That's alright," said Gooden at this past weekend's mini camp about changing his number from 52. "A great guy has it. A legendary player. I'm just trying to follow in his footsteps and play just like he did while he was here."

Emulating Lewis' career is exactly what Gooden hopes to do, though it will begin differently just like in Miami. Lewis was entrenched as the starting man in the middle of the Ravens defense from day one, but that doesn't mean that Gooden won't learn everything he can before he has the chance to fill the shoes of the future hall-of-famer.

"Oh, it's great," said Gooden about having Lewis as a mentor. "Small little things that I mess up on, he always tells me,

‘I'm going to teach you that.' That's how he is, and I think that's a great opportunity for me to have – a guy who went to Miami, a guy that I followed through my whole career."

Hank Nathan is a guest columnist for Ravens Insider and a journalism student at Washington & Lee.

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