By Dave Morrison
Register-Herald Sports Writer
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. —
The way West Virginia redshirt senior linebacker Najee Goode has it figured, the Mountaineers are playing in the Super Bowl tonight.
Or the Final Four.
Pick another top-notch sporting event, and tonight’s 8:30 p.m. Orange Bowl matchup with Clemson at Miami’s Sun Life Stadium is the pinnacle.
“The environment is just like being at Madison Square Garden or Caesar’s Palace,” Goode said. “It’s the Main Event.
“This is our Main Event. When you think about it, college football’s Super Bowl are the four BCS (bowls) and we’ve gotten invited to one. We’ve got our Main Event.”
And Goode is hoping to be part of a defense that can knock out the potent Tigers and give WVU a third BCS bowl title, after winning the Sugar (2006) and Fiesta (2008).
Goode was a freshman on the 2008 team, a long way removed from where he is now, but he had a ringside seat for that Main Event.
And he wants his young teammates to reap the same benefits.
“It’s a big deal for me; I didn’t play in that game,” Goode said. “For the guys now, they need to realize what a big deal this really is and approach it like that. Not everybody gets this opportunity. We know they don’t come along every day.”
This time he will be at linebacker when the Mountaineers line up against Clemson and its outstanding offense, led by wide receiver Sammy Watkins and quarterback Tajh Boyd.
He said the defense is well-schooled in what Clemson brings to the table.
“I still don’t believe anybody in the country can check (WVU receiver) Tavon (Austin),” Goode said. “I thought I could do it but I was lying to myself. Just the fact that we get to go up against our (offense helps). Stedman has hands like glue, nobody can catch Tavon, ‘Sticks’ (Ivan McCartney) is a big guy who can get it and Tyler (Urban) is a big guy.
“Going against those guys is a big advantage for us.”
Also, playing all three linebacker spots has helped make Goode a better player. Doesn’t seem like much of a stretch, but it was, Goode said.
“It was hard,” he said. “They tell you not to learn one side or the other, but you do because you are slotted there. Once you are slotted there you fix everything you are doing wrong on this side. And then you get moved around and you’ve got to fix everything that you’re doing wrong there.”
No matter, Goode has thrived.
This season the 6-foot-1, 239-pound Benedictine High (Cleveland, Ohio) native leads the Mountaineers with 84 tackles. He has 12.5 tackles for a loss (second on the squad), four sacks, an interception and a forced fumble.
Not bad for a walk-on, who came to WVU with no promises.
“Just the fact that he is a walk-on says it all,” fellow senior and defensive lineman Julian Miller said. “I watched how he came in here and busted his butt and did what he could to make himself a better player. It’s a tribute to Najee.”
Goode comes from a bloodline of West Virginia linebackers who were outstanding.
He waited his turn and learned by watching guys like Reed Williams, J.T. Thomas, Marc Magro and Mortty Ivy.
“It was tough but I learned from the best,” Goode said. You learn their techniques and you use them to your advantage. I put that into the stuff I learned from Coach (Jeff) Casteel and that is what makes a great player a great player and a playmaker a playmaker.”
And tonight, this defensive playmaker is looking for a KO in the Main Event.