I was there when he got the call from Penn State defensive football coach Ron Vanderlinden. I was there the first time he ran out of the tunnel at Beaver Stadium. I was there when he wanted to quit. I was there nearly every time someone asked him, “Did you play yet?” And I was there when he graduated from Penn State.
I was there for his first sleepover, his first beer, his first car accident and his first kiss. I was there, sharing the baseball diamond and basketball backcourt with him at George Washington High School. I was there (in the stands, of course) when he set a Philadelphia High School Public League Championship game record for most receiving yards.
He is my lifelong friend, former Washington three-sport All-Public athlete — and now recently graduated Penn State walk-on wide receiver — Andrew Goodman. Goodman, 22, and I, have been linked together our entire lives. We graduated from pre-school, George Washington High School and Penn State’s Smeal College of Business at together.
The foundation of our friendship began when playing sports with the Bustleton Bengals at the age of five. We played hockey, basketball, soccer and baseball — one sport for each season. Our fathers coached together to guarantee that we would play on the same team. And as a youngster, I was always the better athlete.
As we transitioned to high school, while I held my own on the basketball court, Goodman quickly became recognized as the better athlete. There was no debate. He was an All-Public athlete in football, basketball and baseball. His passion, though, was football, where he became one of Washington’s all-time leading receivers. He caught three balls for a Public-League championship game record 122 yards in 2007, helping GW to a 34-6 win over Bok.
Goodman took his football talents to the next level in the summer of 2008, and embarked on a journey that would change his life forever. That journey was a four-year career at Penn State. He was an invited walk-on wide receiver for the Nittany Lions football program under arguably the most influential collegiate football coach ever — Joe Paterno.
I, too, began my undergraduate career at Penn State that summer. Thanks to Goodman, I did not go to Penn State as just another student. I went as the friend of a Nittany Lions wide receiver.
Earlier that summer when the football workouts began, Goodman began to second-guess his decision to put his body through the wringer day in and day out, only to be considered a lowly practice player, a glorified tackling dummy.
“When I first got there, I was thrown to the wolves as a young cub,” Goodman said. “There’s no intro course to get you ready. It was just the summer workouts. As a three-sport athlete in high school, I didn’t lift weights or condition, like these guys did. We had intense runs and lifts starting at 6 a.m. I was in shock. I was about to quit, thinking it was way too tough for me.”
After some words of wisdom from his friends and parents, Goodman decided to stick with football. Even though he never played more than a few downs over the next four seasons, the decision turned out to be the best one of his life.
During his time at Penn State, Goodman experienced things no one could imagine. The pinnacle was running out of the tunnel behind Paterno and in front of more than 100,000 screaming, white-clad fans in Happy Valley.
“It’s something words can’t explain,” he said. “The feeling of running out of the tunnel with your brothers to go to war is something you have to experience to fully capture the moment. There is nothing more meaningful than being able to say I played football for Joe Paterno. He is and will always be the most influential college coach in history.”
In his freshman season, Goodman experienced a Big Ten championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl, both of which were hard to fathom as an 18-year-old freshman.
“I didn’t realize how special that season was until I was a senior,” Goodman said. “That season, we were a field goal away from the National Championship. I’d be at practice, and look around at future NFL players everywhere. There was a feeling of success in that locker room that I will never forget.”
He saw firsthand how Penn State handled one of the biggest off-the-field scandals in NCAA history.
“No other team will ever have to go through something like our team did this past season,” Goodman said, referring to Paterno’s sudden firing in November and downfall amid the Jerry Sandusky child-sex abuse case. “Everyone was watching, just waiting for us to slip up. We were highly scrutinized as the world was watching. But to be honest, this team was the perfect group of guys to handle a situation like this. We had a strong bond and became really close in the last four to five years together. We didn’t think about the scandal…we just played football.”
Goodman witnessed how the program, the team, the school and the Penn State community in general dealt with the death of the legendary Paterno, who passed away from lung cancer just two months after the university trustees fired him for not doing more when he heard of Sandusky’s abuse of a boy in a Penn State locker room shower.
“Joe Paterno is and will always be Penn State Football,” Goodman said. “The Grand Experiment was winning football games and excelling in the classroom. That’s what he preached to us.”
But more important than any game or practice was the relationships that Goodman built with his teammates.
“The biggest take away from the football program, besides all of the lessons learned, was the friendships and bonds I’ve made,” he said. “Teammates will do anything for each other. And I know I have 100 guys that I can count on for the rest of my life. These bonds are priceless and everlasting.”
Now, Goodman is officially done playing football, done playing sports altogether, for that matter. Instead, he will take his degree from Penn State, his football stories, his Big Ten Championship ring, his Rose Bowl jersey and a lifetime of memories to Wayne, N.J., where he will begin work for Toys R Us. He will enter the workforce just like everyone else fresh out of college — young, eager and motivated to succeed.
As for myself, I’ve started my own career at Sportsradio 94WIP back home in Philadelphia. For the first time in our lives, Goodman and I won’t be living in the same town. And for the first time in three years, we won’t be living under the same roof. But make no mistake about it, a 90-mile geography gap isn’t going to affect two decades of friendship with everlasting stories and memories that have changed both of our lives forever. ull;•EndFragment