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Goolsby prepares for return to gridiron, not blacktop

Andrew Soukup | Monday, April 5, 2004

For the thousandth time, Mike Goolsby is not playing Bookstore Basketball this year.

Not after he re-broke his collarbone playing in the campus tournament last year, earned the wrath of his coaching staff and put his left arm and his 2003 season in a sling that hung from his neck.

“Now,” he grinned, “I’m going to stick to safe sports, like football.”

What happened to Goolsby in 2003 was often a mystery to most outside the football program. Reporters rarely had the opportunity to interview him and Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham always said that Goolsby’s status was “week-to-week” with an undisclosed injury.

Most thought that Goolsby’s Bookstore injury a year ago kept him off the field. But this spring, the soon-to-be fifth-year senior revealed that both his shoulders were hurt when he decided to play Bookstore Basketball.

Goolsby first hurt his left collarbone in Notre Dame’s 28-6 Gator Bowl loss. While that injury healed, he had surgery to repair cartilage in his right shoulder. Then, just weeks after he took the sling off his right shoulder, he again fractured his collarbone playing in Bookstore Basketball. The healing process began all over again, and Goolsby had to miss the entire season as a result.

“It was really rough,” he said. “Had we had a successful season, it would have been different. It’s tough to watch your buddies put everything into it and not come out on [top] – and I felt partially responsible for it, too.”

“It was a bad decision to play Bookstore.”

Goolsby didn’t put on pads until two-thirds of the way through Notre Dame’s season, when he lined up with the scout team. He could have played had the Irish needed him, but at that point in the season, it simply wasn’t worth it.

“What we were looking for was what was best for him,” Irish linebackers coach Bob Simmons said. “Had he come back with three to four games left, that would have been difficult for him to do. And I think he wanted to redshirt, too.”

Simmons initially brushed off the effects of Goolsby’s injury, saying it gave other players a chance to step up and prove they belonged. Courtney Watson had to switch from his traditional outside linebacker position to play Goolsby’s inside slot, giving Brandon Hoyte plenty of opportunity to see quality playing time.

Now, Simmons relishes having Goolsby and his experience back in the Irish linebacker corps. Goolsby joins Hoyte and Derek Curry as the expected 2004 starting linebackers – and all have started at least a year for the Irish. But while Hoyte and Curry gained valuable game experience last year, the year on the sidelines has transformed some (but not all) of Goolsby’s ferocity into discipline.

“He’s more fundamentally sound, in terms of accepting coaching and understanding that you can’t do things his way,” Simmons said. “He knows know that you have to play within the framework of the defense and make plays within the framework. Technique is big at that position. You can’t do freelancing at that position.”

After getting over initial fears about re-injuring his collarbone in a fierce collision or brutal impact with the ground, Goolsby has a broad smile on his face and an extra bounce in his step.

After all, he’s back on the football field – and far, far away from a basketball court.

“Would I have been able to play or not?” Goolsby wondered. “If the team needed me, I could have been out there.

“But everything happens for a reason, and I’m really looking forward to this season.”