Defensive Player of the Year: Eli Goodson
By Bret Strelow
West Rowan senior Eli Goodson made up for a lack of size with a motivated approach.
A 5-foot-10, 245-pound nose guard, Goodson is the county’s defensive player of the year.
Division I programs look for bigger interior linemen, but prep coaches who faced West recognize Goodson’s value to a dominant front four.
“Play like you’re big; play like you’re oversized,” Goodson said. “As soon as I found out I wasn’t going to get as much looks as everybody else because of my size, that’s how I had to play. Show everybody I’m bigger than what I look like.”
Salisbury’s Darien Rankin and West defensive end Chris Smith were strong candidates for the award claimed by Goodson, who was also an all-county selection in 2008.
Goodson had 124 tackles, including nine sacks and 35 stops behind the line of scrimmage, this season. He forced four fumbles, was named the NPC’s top defensive player and received all-state recognition Wednesday.
Goodson is attracting attention from Division II schools in North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama.
“Eli was a guy we felt we had to double-team every single play,” East Rowan coach Brian Hinson said. “If he got in the backfield, he created havoc. He deserved every award he got this year.
“He’s so fast off the ball, explosive for a kid 5-10 and 250 pounds. A lot of that comes to heart and how hard you want to play. A lot of kids don’t play as hard as he does.”
Smith, an Arkansas commitment who was an MVP at the recent Shrine Bowl, shared the county’s top defensive honor with Salisbury’s Pierre Jimenez last year. Smith had 26 sacks that season and encountered more double-teams as a senior.
He still accumulated 14 sacks as part of a defense that pitched four shutouts and allowed 11.0 points per game. The Falcons limited league opponents to 6.5 points a contest.
Smith, Goodson, defensive tackle Mackel Gaither and defensive end Emmanuel Gbunblee terrorized offenses.
“It all starts with your nose,” Smith said. “He would go out there and play good, and it would make everything easier for me, Mackel and Gbunblee. Playing with a great guy like him, he was very physical. He’s not very tall, but he has a whole lot of heart, and that’s where it counts.”
Goodson earned the nickname “Michael Phelps” early in the season based on his penchant for using a “swim” move to swat away offensive linemen. West coaches encouraged Goodson to rely more on a “rip” move that allows a shorter player to create leverage with an uppercut punch to a blocker’s pads.
“He played low and hard and with great effort 90 percent of the time,” West head coach Scott Young said. “When he goes, he goes. It’s with leverage, it’s low and it’s hard.”
Goodson said he played his best in a 28-0 win against South Rowan (the Raiders totaled 28 rushing yards) and a 28-14 playoff victory against Asheville.
He left a second-round game against R-S Central with a sprained ankle and excelled a week later against the Cougars, recording three tackles for loss.
Goodson often faced double-teams against Eastern Alamance in the 3A state championship game, and the trio of Smith, Gaither and Gbunblee combined for seven of West’s nine sacks in a 28-21 win.
“It’s something you get used to,” Goodson said. “After the first game, you already know the rest of the season that’s how it’s going to play out. You just play harder.
“If you get two people, the person you’re lined up against, you have to beat him. If you beat two people, you’re going to leave somebody free, so you know you’re doing your job one way or another.”