The Vanderbilt defense takes the field and gathers around player number 47. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound middle linebacker sets the defensive formation, and waits for the offensive play to begin and his opportunity to crush it.And when the ball is whistled dead and the bodies are sorted out, number 47, Jonathan Goff, is in the mix and ready to go again.
Goff, a redshirt senior, has anchored the Vanderbilt defense after winning a starting role three years ago. He entered the 2007 season having started 28 consecutive games, the most of any current Commodore. He returns as Vanderbilt’s leading tackler and one of the Southeastern Conference’s top active tacklers. He was named second-team All- SEC by the coaches last year and was a preseason All-SEC pick this year.He has been named a team co-captain for the second consecutive year and passed up a chance at the NFL draft to return for his final season of eligibility.
“It’s a great honor to be elected again by my teammates,”Goff says. “I’m really appreciative of the support from my teammates and coaches and hope to be an outstanding leader for this football team.”
“He’s as steady as a rock,” Coach Bobby Johnson says of Goff.”He doesn’t talk much and tries to lead by example. If you walked up to anyone in our locker room and asked who works the hardest or who our leader is, they’ll say Jonathan Goff.” Goff has been named to watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Award and the Chuck Bednarik Award, honors given annually to the best defensive players in the nation.
Born in Atlanta,Goff moved to the Boston area with his mother and older brother at the age of 2. He started playing football in the eighth grade and played high school football at St. John’s Prep,where his team posted undefeated regular seasons in 2001 and 2002, and he was named All-Conference and a Prep- Star All-East pick.”Before that I was a soccer kid,” Goff recalls. “In high school I also enjoyed playing basketball and running track.”
Goff was recruited by a number of colleges and offered scholarships at Wisconsin, Indiana and Northeastern.He chose Vanderbilt.”Coach Johnson and his support staff seemed like they wanted to get the best out of me as a player, an athlete and a person,” he says of his decision.”I thought Vanderbilt would be the best place for me to grow and mature.
“My freshman year I did a lot of learning. I spent a lot of extra time in the weight room to develop myself physically and learn the defensive scheme. It took me some time to settle down and feel comfortable and understand it completely.My redshirt freshman year, I had the opportunity to start my first game against LSU down in Death Valley. I think it was their homecoming, too,” he recalls with a smile.
“The place was packed, and it was more humid down there than any place I ever remember being. It was a real eye-opening experience. There’s no other feeling like that. I sort of felt like I was being thrown into the lion’s den, if you know what I mean. It was a great experience for me.”
Through the next two years, Goff was getting more comfortable and his numbers reflected his progress. “It felt like the game was slowing down a lot. Just understanding offensive schemes a bit better and understanding where I fit and where my teammates fit into the defensive scheme have helped me a great deal and allowed me to make some plays.”
“It seems we have a lot more talent than we’ve ever had,” he says of the current crop of Commodores. “We have a lot of players who’ve come a long way. I think this is the best team and the best opportunity for us to go to a bowl game since I’ve been here, at least as far as talent.”
Goff graduates in December with a degree in mechanical engineering.”After graduation I’m going to prepare for the next level,” he says, “working out and getting in shape for the scouts and NFL combines.”