As time grows short in his college football career, Colby Goodwyn said that he reflects more frequently on the journey — highs, lows, accomplishments, setbacks.
In some ways, Old Dominion’s senior running back said, it seems that his career has lasted every bit of four years. In other ways, it’s flown past.
He finds it hard to believe that he’ll play his final home game at 1 p.m. Saturday when the Monarchs (7-3) face Campbell (2-8) at S.B. Ballard Stadium.
“I probably won’t know until game day how I’ll react,” Goodwyn said. “I don’t know if I’ll get all emotional. It might hit me like a tidal wave when I think about it being the last time.”
Goodwyn is one of 11 seniors making their final home appearance for a program that’s taken a quantum leap during their tenures.
When they arrived, ODU was a fledgling Football Championship Subdivision program playing an independent schedule. They leave with a pair of FCS playoff appearances and as part of the move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision and Conference USA.
Paul Morant considered things about which he was proudest and said, “Just being part of history. I wasn’t part of the first year of ODU football, but I still feel like I was a major part of the startup, because I was around a lot of the players who were here when it started.
“(Last) Saturday, being a part of the first FBS win (at Idaho), it just feels good to have that under your belt, that nobody can take that away from you. You were part of history at Old Dominion University.”
The senior group has a heavy Hampton Roads influence that’s all over the program’s record book. Goodwyn, from Phoebus High, is the career leading rusher with 1,526 yards, as well as the single-season and career leader in all-purpose yards.
Morant, Goodwyn’s former teammate at Phoebus, is the sixth-leading tackler in school history (169), despite a position shift this season that limited his playing time.
Place-kicker Jarod Brown (from Grafton High) is a four-year starter with 266 career points. He set an FCS record in 2012 for most PATs without a miss (73-for-73) and converted 94 consecutive extra points during a two-year stretch. His 54-yard field goal at Pittsburgh earlier this season is not only a school record, but also a Heinz Field record — college or professional.
“You talk about setting a high standard for place-kickers around here, that’s going to be one tough act to follow,” ODU coach Bobby Wilder said.
Kick returner Aaron Evans (from Woodside High) is 19 yards shy of Goodwyn’s kickoff return record (686) and is the only player to return both a kickoff and punt for touchdowns.
Wide receiver Marquel Thomas from Virginia Beach scored the first touchdown in ODU history and had career bests of seven catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns last Saturday versus Idaho. Cornerback T.J. Cowart from Virginia Beach has started 33 games and is the Monarchs’ career leader in pass breakups.
All of the seniors’ careers have had challenges. Brown originally went to West Virginia, but transferred when he didn’t emerge from a throng of prospective kickers.
Goodwyn overcame academic issues and adjustments to college life and responsibility. Morant endured a position switch that cut into his playing time. Defensive tackle Nate Barnes (from Heritage High) dealt with injuries that limited his senior year.
“It’s unfolded a little different than I expected,” Brown said, “but it’s been a really great ride for me.”
Not only is Brown a reliable kicker (47-for-67 on field goals), he is daring and effective at specialty kicks: onside kicks, pop-ups and various pooch and directional kicks.
“It’s gotten to the point where if I say to him during a game, ‘Hey Jarod, what do you think of this?’ I already know what the answer is,” Wilder said. “He’s all in. Any time we need to do something like that, he understands the magnitude of what we call ‘stealing a possession.’ He knows how critical that is when he performs something like that successfully.
“He’s always willing to do it. He’s willing to sacrifice his body and dive in a pile when he knows that there’s going to be a collision involved. He’s got a lot of courage for a position that you don’t always find it there.”
“You practice those things all the time,” Brown said, “but most of the time you’re not going to get to do it in games. So when you get to do it in a game, when you get to do the onside kicks that I’ve recovered or the special kickoffs or run in a 2-point conversion, it’s a lot of fun to do all those things. As a kicker, you can’t really ask for much more.”
Goodwyn takes equal pride in both personal and athletic endeavors. He would have liked more yards and carries, but he learned a great deal about patience and playing within another system.
“To be honest, I’m proud of making it through all four years,” he said. “Looking back, there’s been a lot of guys from Phoebus who have gotten in trouble and haven’t made it. I feel like that’s one of my biggest accomplishments.”
Indeed, ex-Phantoms Tyree Lee and Caleb Taylor were dismissed from the program this season. Former Phoebus stars Reid Evans and Markell Wilkins were dismissed previously after their arrests in an alleged sexual assault case on campus.
“A lot of players have been through a lot of stuff, just dealing with college issues,” Goodwyn said. “It’s been a bumpy road. Me and Paul are the first two Phoebus guys to make it all the way through. I feel good about that.”
Morant saw his playing time curbed after he was switched from defensive back to a hybrid linebacker/safety position in new coordinator Rich Nagy’s system. He persevered, with a big assist to his mom, Jocelyn.
“There were times I thought that I just wanted to stop,” Morant said, “but every time I talk to her, she knows my position and where I’ve come from, just talking to her kept me going and had me motivated to stay strong and keep playing.”
Morant wasn’t an integral part of the defensive game plan last Saturday at Idaho, but when the Vandals piled up points and yards in the first half, the coaches inserted him. He wound up tied for the lead in tackles, and ODU shut down Idaho in the second half on the way to a 59-38 win.
“What really impresses me about that,” Wilder said, “is here’s a senior who gets replaced by a younger guy and found a way to contribute in the other games, even though he wanted to be starting, he wanted to be playing a lot. He was contributing on special teams. Then when his team needed him in a critical game for us, he comes through.”
As the ODU program moves forward, the players who had a hand in its inception take pride in their contributions.
“People come up to us and talk to us about making history,” Morant said. “Being local, a lot of people know our names around here, so it’s nice to hear that. I like hearing that.”
Fairbank can be reached by phone at 757-247-4637.