No offense to Marquise Goodwin, but I was one of the guilty ones. Back in April, when the Bills picked Goodwin in the third round of the NFL draft, my first reaction was, “Oh, the track and field star!”
Could you blame me? Football fans knew Goodwin as the fastest player in the draft, the former Texas Longhorns flash who had been the offensive MVP of the Alamo Bowl. I was more impressed that he had represented the U.S. in the long jump at the London Olympics the previous summer.
Goodwin, who finished 10th in London, is used to it by now. Ever since he was a high school track and field star in his native Texas, the fastest kid in the country’s second-biggest state, people have thought of him as a track guy first and a football player second.
“Yeah, and it’s going to continue to be out there,” Goodwin said Monday at One Bills Drive. “‘Oh, you’re just a track guy.’ Track guy this and track guy that. I was like, ‘Dang, I’m a football guy.’ I’ve been one since I was 9 years old.
“I don’t care anymore,” he said. “At first, it did bother me a little bit. but I just embrace it and take it for what it’s worth.”
When you’re a world-class sprinter and jumper, people wonder if your speed will translate to the football field. It’s been that way for years, since people doubted whether Bob Hayes would succeed for the Cowboys almost 50 years ago.
People will doubt you, especially if you’re 5-foot-9. They’ve been doubting Goodwin from the first time he stepped on a football field.
“Every day,” he said.
Goodwin played four years at Texas, where he doubled as a football wide receiver and track standout — a sprinter and two-time NCAA long jump champion. He scored the game-winning touchdown against Oklahoma as a freshman. And yet, in four years he was never a full-time starter, and some fans felt he was underused.
So when the Bills made their pick in the third round of the draft, their fourth choice overall, Goodwin was still there, despite having run the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.27) in a decade at the NFL Combine.
The Bills were looking to become faster, to bring in dynamic weapons for Doug Marrone’s uptempo passing attack. Goodwin seemed perfect, and he made a big impact in training camp. But he broke his hand in the opener and was forced to sit and wait for a month.
“Man, that was tough,” Goodwin said, “not being able to be out there and be productive. Being drafted in the third round, you expect to do a lot and help the team out. But it happens, and what matters is how you bounce back from it and what type of resiliency you show.
“I feel like I’m a pretty resilient guy.”
He showed it Sunday, making two big plays in the Bills’ fourth-quarter rally against the Bengals. Goodwin caught an 11-yard pass on the first TD drive. Then he blew by his defender to haul in a 40-yard TD bomb from Thad Lewis with 1:14 left to tie the game and force overtime.
There was ample cause for regret after the Bills lost in OT. But Goodwin’s resilient performance in his first extended regular-season action was an encouraging sign for a rising young team. Goodwin, who had a 107-yard kick return in preseason, also ran back four kickoffs for a 23.5-yard average.
It was evident early in the season that the 2013 draft might the Bills’ best in years. After the Carolina game, I talked about EJ Manuel, Robert Woods and Kiko Alonso being a promising 1-2-3. I almost forgot about Goodwin, their fourth choice, who looks like a keeper as well.
“Guys get injured, not necessarily forgotten,” Goodwin said. “They can’t worry about you. They got to get the next guy ready.”
It was excruciating to sit. But Goodwin rehabbed the hand and remained ready. Stevie Johnson said Goodwin sent weekly group messages to his fellow receivers, saying “Man, I wish I could have been out there with you guys!”
Goodwin laughed when reminded about the text messages.
“We always have fun on the group messages,” he said. “It’s a great group of guys to be around, win lose or draw. So I’m excited to be back out there with the guys.”
Marrone said he’s encouraged by the development of his young receivers. T.J. Graham had a career day against the Bengals with four catches, including a 47-yarder. Woods has had a solid rookie year. Johnson, who missed the game with a back injury, can’t wait to see how good the offense can be when the receivers are healthy and complementing one another.
“Marquise is a football player,” said defensive back Aaron Williams, who played with Goodwin at Texas. “He’s not a track guy. He’s shown you his toughness and his physicality. As long as he stays healthy and does what he needs to do to keep his body right, he’ll be a great player for us.”
Goodwin has fond memories of his track career. He won a junior world title and a national outdoor title in the long jump. His qualifying jump at the Trials would have won the gold medal. It would be nice to make up for a disappointing finish in London.
But he’s a track guy no more. He’s a football player now. The only long jump on his mind is the uncertain leap to NFL star.