Remember the good times at Tennessee when they were winning Southeastern Conference championships and even hoisted up the first BCS championship in 1998 under coach Phillip Fulmer? They had the SEC in a choke-hold and were reeling in the best recruits during his tenure as it appeared the Tennessee Volunteers reign of terror would never end. Well, even if you don’t remember the Vols’ glory days, incoming four-star recruit Emmit Gooden does as he hopes to restore the greatness that has eluded Tennessee the last decade or so.
After a series of events, Gooden found himself at Independence Community College in Kansas. He had a chance to go play Division 1 football in high school, but that opportunity vanished like smoke. Independence was the second chance he needed, and he made it count. As a sophomore, Gooden finished with 55 tackles, 13.5 tackles for losses, four sacks, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. At the JUCO level, Gooden described it as “rough”, but his family helped him get through it.
The 6’4 300-pound defensive tackle had offers from schools like Alabama, Georgia, West Virginia, Arkansas, and other schools. However, he chose to play at Rocky Top, giving them a guy that can be inserted into the defensive line rotation now. Gooden had a feeling of euphoria while his mother was proud of him because she knew how much it meant to him to play at Tennessee. He talked about why the Volunteers made sense for him.
“The coaching staff and the vision they have is perfect for me. Playing in your home state is very rare for some people,” said the new Vol.
Speaking of new, Volunteers’ head coach Jeremy Pruitt, former Alabama defensive coordinator, is defensive minded and he knows the importance of having good, tenacious players in the trenches. Also, Tennessee is undergoing a culture change so the new coaching staff will be looking to see who can be the key pillars to their team and, more importantly, who will be the heart and soul of the team. Gooden wants to be one of those guys that can galvanize the troops by making plays on the field. He is one of those “watch me do this” kind of leaders.
The stout defensive tackle compares himself to Ndamukong Suh and Jarran Reed. His approach and demeanor to games are similar to Suh as he wants to impose his will on the opponent. He is like Reed in his ability to provide pressure up the middle. He can keep his linebackers clean by forcing offensive linemen to double team him. Also, he can sniff out the run and swallow running backs whole in the backfield.
Gooden will be joining the Vols at the beginning of the summer, but as for right now he is focusing on lifting weights as he follows a program provided to him by the team’s strength coach. He is grinding hard on the field too as he works on his pass rushing skills. He is even going beyond that as he watches film on Tennessee last year as well as Alabama to see the scheme he will be playing in.
For this upcoming season and school year, Gooden wants to perform at a high level. In between the lines, he wants to be an All-American and finish with 10 sacks. Academically, he wants to be a 3.0 student as he majors in Sports Management. He wants to continue to be around football, even after his days are over, as a coach. As for his legacy, Gooden talked about how he wants to be remembered.
“One of the greatest players to play in the new Pruitt era and bring Rocky Top an SEC championship. It’s so important because we have an A.D. [Fulmer] that wants to bring that winning culture back to UT,” exclaimed Gooden.
The Volunteers are on the cusp of becoming relevant again on a national spectrum. Hiring Pruitt as the head man as well as Fulmer as the athletic director has been aesthetically pleasing to a dormant fan base. Having Gooden bodes well for the Vols as he will wear the orange and white with resurrecting a winning tradition in mind. That kind of mindset is contagious and critical to changing the culture at Tennessee.
Photo courtesy of JB Sports Edits