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Mike Goolsby: Bouncing back

Joe Hettler | Friday, November 12, 2004

Justin Tuck can’t help but laugh when thinking about Mike Goolsby on the football field.

“Man, Gools’, he’s funny at times,” Tuck said. “His passion for the game – it explodes on the field. You can tell because he just zones out. He’ll be in the huddle, just zoned out.”

Goolsby says he’s simply trying to prepare for each play.

“I’m always more worried about making mistakes so I’m always constantly [saying in] my head, ‘What do I have to do? What do I have to do?’ There’s so much emotion in this game. I mean, this year, I get a knot in my throat almost every single game because I want to win so bad.

“I’m not a big ‘rah-rah’ guy in the locker room, but I’ve learned how to get myself jacked up for games and sustain that throughout the game, which is the most important part.”

But there was a time when Goolsby didn’t know whether he’d play football at a high level again. An injury nearly ended Goolsby’s career before the fifth-year senior had a chance to reach his full potential.

A ‘special’ player

The day Notre Dame offered Goolsby a scholarship to play football, the Joliet, Ill. native knew his college choice

“Going into recruiting, I really didn’t have a clear plan of how I was going to do it. I was just taking offers as they came in. … I really knew I was headed [to Notre Dame] not for any particular reason but just because it felt right. I took a couple unofficial visits and I took my only official visit here and committed on my official. As soon as [Notre Dame] came into the picture, I knew I was headed here.”

Once at Notre Dame, Goolsby wanted to find anyway to be on the field. When the coaches asked him to be on special teams, the then-freshman was thrilled.

“[Special teams] definitely still holds a special place in my heart.” Goolsby said.

This season, Goolsby asked to play on the special teams unit once again – this time he wasn’t trying to get additional playing time. Rather, Goolsby thought the Irish needed to improve.

“I didn’t think our special teams played up to par,” Goolsby said. “Kickoff returns was my forte my freshman year. So I asked to be on that and they put me on punt as well. Early on in the season I did it more than I do now.”

Injured and out

Goolsby started all 13 games during the 2002 football season and excelled for the Irish. He recorded 75 tackles, including four sacks and a forced fumble. He led the team with 13 tackles for a loss and added an interception.

But the season ended on a sour note for the linebacker when he broke his left collarbone in the Gator Bowl against North Carolina State. In the offseason, Goolsby also had cartilage problems with his right shoulder at the time.

To make matters worse, Goolsby re-injured his left collarbone playing Bookstore Basketball in the offseason. That injury cost the linebacker the 2003 season.

While the Irish struggled to a 5-7 record, Goolsby could only watch, helpless.

“It was extremely frustrating,” Goolsby said. “The toughest part was seeing the guys every day in practice, working there butts off and not getting a ‘W’ on Saturday. That was the toughest part because I felt partially responsible because I shouldn’t have been out there screwing around at Bookstore.”

Yet, Goolsby says he’s learned a lot about himself during the time away from football on the sidelines.

“What I’ve learned from it is just how much I love the game and how much I miss the game and how much I took being healthy for granted and everything that goes into football,” Goolsby said. “I took it all for granted and then I had an opportunity to come back for a fifth year and I didn’t want to let the slip by.”

Returning with a vengeance

Goolsby came back this season scared to death.

“[Failing to reach my potential] consumed me for the longest time and I think it still does to some extent,” Goolsby said. “During spring ball there were a lot of sleepless nights, just driving myself nuts worrying about getting back with that one year left and trying to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish.

“It was a big worry of mine for a long time until camp when I got it out of my system.”

Goolsby’s worry seems to be for naught, as the fifth-year senior has played exceptional for much of the season. Notre Dame head coach Tyrone Willingham feels Goolsby is just now starting to hit his stride.

“Mike has had a fine year,” the third-year coach said. “[He] really appears to be even getting better as he finishes out this last stretch of games.”

Goolsby has tallied a team-high 84 tackles, 24 more than the next closest player and also has two sacks and two interceptions.

The latest interception was returned for a game-winning touchdown against No. 9 Tennessee at Neyland Stadium on Nov. 6.

Tuck said Goolsby’s return this season has been critical for the Irish defense.

“He brings great leadership,” Tuck said. “He had an injury last year that was just devastating but his passion for the game came back and he didn’t make no complaints about anything. He worked his butt off to get back to where he is. I’m just happy for him.”

Goolsby has had the luxury of focusing solely on football this season, since he already earned his degree in American Studies.

“Football is such a huge part of my life,” Goolsby said. “It’s pretty much a full plate of football for me. There isn’t any excuse not to excel. It’s put up or shut up for me. In life I try to work hard at different things and I think I have a pretty hard work ethic. I came back for a fifth year for a reason and that’s to be successful on the football field and that’s my main goal in life right now.”

Goolsby admits that he’s hoping for a career in the NFL after his final season at Notre Dame ends. But for now, he wants to focus on the final two games of the regular season and help Notre Dame finish strong.

“I’m proud of the way the team’s handled the adversity and bounced back time and time again,” Goolsby said. “Sometimes I wish we didn’t have to bounce back the way we do. But you can’t change the past. We’re going to try and get these next two games and win a bowl game. … then I’ll look back and say I was proud of what we accomplished.”

Personally, Goolsby has high goals for himself before he leaves this season.

“I’d also like to leave some kind of legacy here,” Goolsby said. You don’t want to be one of those guys who’s forgotten.

“You hear people talking about past players all the time and I think that’d be great just to be a part of that history.”