GREEN BAY—It’s a common topic of discussion in an NFL locker room, which guy is the best basketball player.
With the drafting of former Gonzaga hoops star turned Baylor cornerback Demetri Goodson, it would seem the debate would be settled in the Packers locker room. But no.
“Everyone here thinks they’re a basketball player,” Goodson said after two days of rookie orientation workouts this past weekend. “Casey (Hayward) thinks he’s a point guard. I’ll be walking by him and he’ll bump into me or something like that. Everybody here is a big fan.”
Goodson confessed a few players already got a piece of him in the small basketball gym in the lower level of Lambeau Field, beating him at horse. So the debate likely will rage on, and Goodson’s game-winning shot to send Gonzaga to the Sweet 16 a few years back won’t carry much cache with his new teammates.
That’s OK with Goodson, though, because he’s got more to prove on the football field. As a sixth-round pick added to a relatively deep cornerback stable, he will have a competition on his hands in training camp every bit as intense, if not more so, than anything from his March Madness days.
If the one workout open to the media during rookie orientation is any indication, Goodson is already gearing up for the battle. One of the louder, more fired-up players on the Don Hutson Center practice field on Friday, Goodson was right in the thick of the action, physically and audibly.
He was outjumped by tryout receiver Cole Sanford for a pass one moment and ran stride-for-stride with seventh-round pick Jeff Janis and broke up a deep ball a few snaps later, all the while barking at and high-fiving anyone in his vicinity.
“That’s me in practice every day,” he said. “I practice how I play. I’ve always been like that my whole life. I just love to play.”
It’s intriguing to ponder the what-ifs with Goodson, who left Gonzaga after three years as a point guard, spurning the doubts of basketball coach Mark Few and others about switching sports so late in the game.
Had he stuck with basketball, he figures he’d probably be playing overseas somewhere right now. But had he been dedicated to football all along and not entered the 2014 draft one month shy of his 25th birthday, he might have been drafted much higher than the sixth round.
It didn’t take him long to get back into a groove with football. In the fourth game of Baylor’s 2011 season, at Kansas State, Goodson got his first shot as the kickoff return man and promptly returned the opening kick 42 yards.
“Everybody was like, ‘Oh, man, this guy can play,’” said Goodson, who had been on the Baylor campus all of six weeks at that point. “It kind of rolled from there.”
Only the road got bumpy, as Goodson’s 2011 season was cut short by an ankle injury and his 2012 season also ended early due to a broken arm. After a full, and solid, season in 2013 (thanks to an extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA for medical reasons), Goodson showed enough raw ability to attract attention in the draft.
While the defensive principles Goodson employed in basketball translate in some ways to man-to-man coverage in football, his transition is still unusual. Power forwards become tight ends far more often when a basketball-to-football switch is made.
It’s a challenge Goodson is determined to conquer. There’s no questioning his desire, after persevering through two season-ending injuries.
“I’ve never been a guy to quit or think bad thoughts about anything, so I just rolled with the punches,” he said.
Goodson believes he could be a “steal” as a late-round pick. He can’t wait to compete for the passes Aaron Rodgers will be throwing in OTAs and training camp. He can’t help but be encouraged by the fact the Packers’ two highest-paid cornerbacks, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields, were both undrafted players who overcame significant odds to reach their current level.
Goodson has done plenty of dreaming, and he’ll keep doing it, but he’s also in tune with reality and what lies ahead. His first weekend in the NFL reminded him that first things are first.
“I’ve learned that I have to study plays and study them hard,” he said. “It’s like schoolwork.
“If you don’t know the plays, then you’re probably going to get cut. This is a cut-throat business, and you have to know that.”