By: Vince Menon
Success in professional sports seems meant to be, almost predetermined for some. Destiny, if you will. Some have an instinctive knack or feel for the game. They’re naturally gifted. Still others are told they don’t have what it takes, yet they silence the naysayers, tenaciously fighting their way to the top. Beating the odds, one might call it.
One of the most interesting groups of professional athletes is one of the least common: those that take up their sport as prep upperclassman or collegiate students. They adopted an entirely unfamiliar profession as late teens or in their early twenties and even with an athletic background are severely disadvantaged. While their competitors had been scrupulously honing their skills for years, these fledglings were likely trying to learn the basic rules of their new sport.
SaberCats wide receiver Samora Goodson seems like a natural when he executes a perfect block on a screen pass, dexterously cradles the football when securing a throw, or when he glides smoothly downfield tracking a toss. But don’t let him fool you – he used to be downright clueless.
The 6-3, 205 pound Goodson did not step onto a football field until he was a senior in high school. At the time, the San Jose native was 17-years-old and mere months away from the conclusion of his prep career. Although Goodson’s father had played growing up, he wasn’t in favor of having his son participate due to the sport’s ferocity. His mother concurred, as she didn’t understand the game.
So what prompted the sudden change of heart? Why take up football when seniors were busy stressing about colleges?
“In order to play basketball,” says Goodson.
Goodson, who was an avid basketball player, realized that without some help he would be unable to obtain a scholarship and pursue the sport at the next level. His friends talked him into playing football for the first time and he gave the game a shot with the hope of using it as a means to attaining his coveted collegiate basketball scholarship.
The transition was extremely difficult, however, as Goodson needed to acquire the many physical maneuvers that were essential as a wide receiver. He had far less football knowledge than even a casual fan which complicated the changeover even further.
“I didn’t know wide receivers blocked, I needed help putting on my pads, and I didn’t know how to do any of those things. Not only did I not watch football, I didn’t know anything about the game.”
Goodson’s inexperience was on full display from the get-go. As his teammates perfected their positions he worked to develop the basics. Even that was a struggle.
“My first time blocking in high school I boxed a guy out [like in basketball] so I could see the runner. Everyone laughed and made fun of me. In an old photo I have on lineman gloves, lineman cleats and looked horrible. I didn’t like [football]. It was cold because you’re playing outside and was just unpleasant.”
Goodson slowly improved over the course of the season and finally got to start after an improbable injury. His hard work finally paid off as he seized the moment and capitalized on the opportunity despite his inexperience.
“I scored three touchdowns in the first half at homecoming which was pretty much my high school football career.”
As luck would have it, Goodson’s big night didn’t go unnoticed. He was approached by the coach at Bishop O’Dowd High School who was taking over the Citrus Junior College program. The coach let Goodson know that he thought highly of him and liked his potential, but Goodson wanted to play basketball and expressed as much. An agreement was reached for Goodson to play football the first year after which he could switch to basketball as a sophomore.
Goodson traveled to southern California to join the Fighting Owls and embraced the opportunity to prove himself. While the potential was there, his inexperience was still a major obstacle in the wide receiver’s development.
“I didn’t know anything about the game until I got to college. I got embarrassed a lot during the first few practices but my pride took over and I wanted to improve. I started watching Randy Moss on TV, started developing my skills and learning how to play football. I started to figure it out and get pretty good, and I never went back to basketball.”
Although most football programs have a number of coaches to serve as position-specific coaches, Citrus did not. Without a true wide receivers coach, Goodson took to studying the National Football League’s top receivers in order to teach himself the ins and outs of the position.
Goodson proved to be a hard-worker and quick-learner at Citrus. After making football his sole focus he built himself into one of the best at his position, earning All-Western State Conference and All-State honors. His success at Citrus allowed him to transfer to Southeast Missouri State, where he played two seasons before setting his sights on the National Football League Draft.
Having made good on his potential, Goodson’s collegiate career placed him inside the top 150 wide receivers in the country. It was an incredible accomplishment given the stiff competition and tremendous growth he had made in such a short amount of time. Although getting drafted would have been a stretch, he did expect to get some workouts. Goodson hired an agent as part of the draft process, and set about the physical and mental preparation for whatever would come his way. It never materialized.
“I never heard from my agent. A week after the draft, I found out that the agent wasn’t an agent at all and that he had lied to me. He lost all kinds of information and contacts and I went from getting ready for workouts and having a bag packed to sitting around being depressed.”
As the NFL season came and went, Goodson found himself thinking about what could have been. He felt he was as good if not a little better than some of the players that were in the league.
Goodson’s fortunes eventually took a positive turn, however, despite the heartbreaking setback. In 2008, he went along with a friend who attended a SaberCats workout. He ended up joining the practice squad that year and was promoted to the active roster for the 2008 postseason.
“I was the last player signed and was the only player from an open workout on the team. It was an uphill battle, constantly putting my skills against other guys who were supposed to be better than me. It was just amazing to make it through and finally get the contract.”
In 2011, Goodson returned to San Jose and appeared in seven games, catching 46 passes for 630 yards and 12 touchdowns. His growth has continued in 2012 and leads the SaberCats in yards (1,386), catches (103) and touchdowns (27). Goodson has also played a vital role as the ‘Cats have suffered some key injuries at the wideout position.
“The biggest thing for me is knowing all the positions. This season I was expected to play all three positions and I have so far. My job was to know everything so I could fill in wherever I was needed.
“Getting on the same page with Grieb is very important. Each position he likes people to be in a certain spot and there are certain adjustments that each position has. You need to know what’s going on at all times and where Grieb wants you. He knows exactly what he wants and how it’s supposed to look and my job is to pick his brain enough so I can be where he wants me to be.”
Samora Goodson has taken a road like few others on his way to professional football success. He was not destined for greatness from childhood, given the natural ability to haul in anything thrown his way, and he did not face and defeat years and years of critics with relentless underdog perseverance.
Instead, Goodson began his football career when most are ending theirs, and has made up for lost time by learning his craft to the best of his ability. So next time Goodson eludes a defensive back, sprawls out for a catch or simply delivers a textbook block, don’t be fooled: it wasn’t always natural.