NOTRE DAME — It turns out when you’re trying to replace the best receiver in your program’s history, it may be more than a one-man job.
While DaVaris Daniels looks to fill the physical void left by Michael Floyd, from a leadership standpoint, the rising sophomore just doesn’t have the experience.
Enter John Goodman.
Yes, the same John Goodman who recorded seven catches for 65 yards last fall and has combined for 28 grabs and 315 yards total in three seasons with the Irish.
The same John Goodman who fielded eight punt returns for a total of five yards in 2011.
But after being granted a fifth year of eligibility for the 2012 season, Goodman was smacked with the realization that this fall will be his last shot at playing for the team he grew up cheering for.
“My days at Notre Dame are counting down,” the Fort Wayne native said after practice Wednesday. “You look up on that board up there and see Navy in a hundred-and-whatever days and that just counts down every single day. One day it’s at 160, one day it’s at 140 and it keeps going down and down.
“I’m outta here after the season. I have less than a year left at Notre Dame so I have to make my dream come true.”
Don’t underestimate the power of that final-year dose of reality; that same moment of clarity fueled tailback Jonas Gray’s fairy tale senior season in 2011.
While Goodman waited to hear if he’d be invited back for a fifth season, he said he never once thought of leaving Notre Dame.
“I’m a Notre Dame guy,” he said. “I wouldn’t go anywhere else. I just wouldn’t love it anywhere else. That’s why I’m here. I love it and I love the game here. I grew up a Notre Dame fan and I just wouldn’t be able to do it at any other school.”
The receiver showed flashes of promise his sophomore year in 2009, finishing with six receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown and again in 2010 with 15 catches for 146 yards, but his production slowed considerably last year, just when he was primed for a breakout.
While Goodman, who was a track star at Bishop Dwenger, knew he had the physical aspects of his game down, he said he needed to overcome mental hurdles last season.
Those hurdles sprang up when a hamstring injury in preseason camp sidelined Goodman for six practices, where he watched other receivers fill what could have been his spot on the depth chart.
“It was definitely my fault last year, the playing time, the catches, the minutes I had total,” he said. “But eventually I worked my way through the season to get that fifth year just to work at the small things to get better and better.
“I think that’s what the coaches were looking at throughout the season. ‘Is he going to fight through those little things and through all the mental aspects of the game that he kind of lacked at before?’ It was all mental for me and I think I got through that.”
Head coach Brian Kelly is already seeing Goodman’s turnaround just over halfway through spring practice.
“Really, he’s been, from a wide receiver position, our go-to guy,” Kelly said of Goodman after practice March 30. “He has stepped up his game considerably, and he’s got a ways to go. But I expect him to do really big things for us.
“He’s fast, he’s one of the fastest guys on the team. He’s got length. He can play taller than the average defensive back. More than anything else, it’s just consistency with John. But he’s going to have a really fine year for us.”