BROWNSVILLE – Hard work.
That’s Emmit Gooden’s mantra and to what he attributes his success in recruiting.
The Haywood defensive lineman has been among the area’s tackling leaders the last two years and is by far the leading scholarship offer leader in rural West Tennessee.
“It’s over 30,” Gooden said when asked how many offers he has.
That offer list includes local favorites Tennessee, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Powerhouses like Alabama and LSU are on that list as well. Improving programs like Texas A&M and Penn State are there, too.
Penn State head coach James Franklin likes Gooden so much he continued recruiting him after he left Vanderbilt, which was Gooden’s first offer during his sophomore season.
“They came and talked to me the day of our homecoming game that year,” Gooden said. “They checked my grades and talked with my coaches and told me if I was interested, there would be a spot for me on their team when I graduated.”
Since then the offers have continued to come in while college coaches and scouts have beaten a path into Brownsville to get some face time with the blue chip recruit.
Gooden’s visit schedule resembles the travel schedule for the crew at CBS Sports during the season when they broadcast the SEC game of the week in the mid-afternoon kickoff slot.
He traveled to College Station, Texas one week. Then he was in Tuscaloosa, Alabama the next. Then he was off to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Then he stayed closer to home a couple of weeks with trips to Oxford and Starkville, Mississippi. Of course, trips to Nashville and Knoxville were in there as well.
“It’s been fun to get to know these coaches and talk to them about the opportunity to play for their teams,” Gooden said. “Most of them are exactly the same way on a recruiting visit as you see on TV during a game or in an interview.”
LSU head coach Les Miles is outlandish in person as he comes across on TV, and Gooden even said he offered him a piece of turf to chew on while they talked. )Miles made a lot of eyebrows across the country rise when he was shown on national TV to pick up a piece of grass and chew it during a game.)
Kevin Sumlin works as hard at promoting Texas A&M football to a 17-year-old high school senior as he does to the national media during the preseason.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban is all business when he sits in a room with Gooden at Haywood High School just like he is when he leads the Crimson Tide onto the field.
“I’m glad they’re all like that, because if they weren’t, I’d wonder what they’re like when I actually got on their team,” Gooden said. “Butch Jones is the same way.
“He’s all the time talking about what needs to be done to make Tennessee football great again, and he talks about that with me, too. He tells me I can be a part of that and help lay the foundation and the bricks. They all make this decision pretty difficult.”
Gooden said he hopes to parlay this opportunity into a chance to either play in the NFL or get a quality education and become successful in other ventures. He said being successful and being able to give back to the town he was raised in is a goal for him.
“I’d love it if I made it to the NFL and then was able to come back and do something like hold a free football camp for the kids here or something like that,” Gooden said. “Brownsville is a good town with good people.
“A lot of people outside Brownsville might not think so, but I grew up here. My family’s here. My friends are here. I love living here and playing football here.”
Gooden grew up on Fairground Street, not far from Haywood High School. He was usually the youngest in his neighborhood playing football when he was growing up in neighbors’ backyards, which he said has helped him be successful now that he’s usually one of the biggest people on the field.
“I learned to keep playing and working no matter what’s going on during the game,” Gooden said. “I’ve always been big for my age, but I played with my cousins growing up, and they made me tough.”
Now he credits first-year Haywood coach Steve Hookfin and the coaching staff for bringing an overall toughness to the Tomcats.
“He came right in and started pushing us in the weight room and to get better in the spring,” Gooden said. “He told me personally that college coaches may want me now, but if I want them to continue to want me on their teams, I can’t let up.
“I’ve never planned on letting up, and I’m not going to for this season. We think we can compete for a state championship, but we’ve got to put in the work to make it to the playoffs and take it one game at a time.”
Brandon Shields, 425-9751
Bench max: 275
Squat max: 450
Power clean max: 245
40 time: 4.7