JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A message on Twitter pops in.
A random person poses that question from across the fence.
Someone stops him in passing.
Hey, aren’t you? …
Johnathan Goddard Jr. has gotten those interactions on social media and even been asked that question after football games. The jersey number, 50, and the last name tend to do that.
Was your dad, Johnathan Goddard?
It’s an honor each time that the Trinity Christian defensive end/linebacker is asked about it. He may learn something that he hadn’t known about his dad who died when he was 5 years old.
The name and the number prompt the question. And Johnathan Goddard Jr. always answers the same way that he plays the game — with pride and respect.
“It really tells me a lot,” Johnathan Jr. said. “What type of guy he was, really, outside of football, people tell me, he helped them and stuff. It’s real nice to hear.”
Stories and memories are precious reminders of Johnathan Goddard Sr. And they are especially memorable to his oldest son, whose headlining high school play was the sack that ended last year’s Class 3A state championship game to help seal a 25-22 Trinity victory over Chaminade-Madonna.
For those who saw his father play, the crushing, walk-off sack looked familiar.
Honoring his legacy
Trinity coach Verlon Dorminey calls him “Johnny,” and says with a laugh that he’s about as quiet of a player as a coach will ever come across.
“Johnny doesn’t talk much,” he said.
But ask Johnny about his father and his voice ticks up a few decibels, just loud enough to be heard over the sounds in the adjacent locker room.
He was a ferocious defensive player for coach Dan Disch at White High in the late 1990s. He went on to become a first-team All-American at Marshall University and was the first Commanders player to be selected in the NFL draft. Goddard won a Super Bowl when he was on injured reserve with the Colts.
He’s also a tale of a life ended far too soon.
On June 14, 2008, Johnathan was in a motorcycle accident close to his parent’s house in Starke. He was airlifted to UF Health and put on life support. He died the next day.
His four children with longtime fiancée, Allyson Johnson, Baylee, Johnathan Jr., and twins, Zac and Zoe, all have varying degrees of memories of their father. Baylee was 8. Johnathan Jr. was 5. Goddard’s twins were born the year prior to his death.
While Zoe and Zac have come to know their father through pictures, videos and stories, Baylee and Johnathan Jr. were old enough to remember him being in their lives and being dad.
Baylee starred at Oakleaf in softball and is currently a junior at the University of Florida. For Johnathan Jr., his father’s passion would ultimately become his. While he has grown to love the game of football and become quite good at it, it wasn’t until three years after his father’s death that Johnathan Jr. opted to give the game a try.
He did it then out of obligation. He wanted to be like his father. While his sister was carving out a name in softball, Johnathan’s contribution to his father’s legacy was no doubt going to come on the football field. For him, it almost had to. In some sort of therapeutic way, the game would help bring him closer to a father who never got the chance to see him play. Goddard has worn the number 50 jersey ever since he began playing.
“Just when I wear that No. 50, I don’t do this because I just want to play the game of football,” he said. “I do this to keep his name alive and it really just represents that it’s more than a sport for us.”
Talk Ed White football of any era and Johnathan Goddard Sr. is mentioned as one of the best to wear the green and yellow. On the field, he was relentless.
Dorminey never faced the Commanders on the football field, but that time in area football lore was rooted in smashmouth, physical football. If a player could start on a Disch defense for those White High teams, that was something.
Goddard played on some of the most physical teams in Disch’s tenure. He wanted to attend college at Florida, but his size (6 foot, 230 pounds) wasn’t ideal as a Power 5 defensive end. And his test scores weren’t high enough to help him get into college at his dream school in Gainesville.
Goddard’s best option turned out to be Marshall University.
In fact, it’s hard to picture him anywhere else but with Marshall. Goddard had a pair of defensive touchdowns as a junior in 2003, the headliner an 84-yard fumble return in a 27-20 upset of No. 6 Kansas State. His senior season was otherworldly.
Goddard was the MAC Defensive Player of the Year, scored two other times on defense, had 28.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks. He was a first-team All-American selection and one of five finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Award.
Goddard wound up drafted by the Lions in the sixth round in 2005. He was cut after battling injuries in the preseason. The Colts picked him up and Goddard spent the 2005 season on the practice squad before playing in one regular season game later that season. He suffered a foot injury in the 2006 preseason and spent the remainder of that year on injured reserve. Goddard did get a ring as a member of the Colts when they won Super Bowl 41.
Professional football life was fleeting, and Goddard was out of the NFL for good by 2007. The motorcycle accident came the following year and reshaped life for everyone in the Goddard circle.
Johnathan Jr. said that his memories from the day his father died remain seared into his mind. He remembers seeing him in the hospital bed and said that he just knew that his father was going to get up and be OK. His dad was a ‘Superman’ type of presence.
Goddard died the day after his accident.
When he decided to give football a shot, it was tough. Football was the sport he associated with his father, and his father wasn’t there. Johnathan said that his mother, Allyson, was instrumental in helping fill that void.
“It was really hard, especially growing up without a dad, when you’re at the football field, everybody else has a dad, coaching and doing stuff, telling them what to do,” he said. “And my mom really stepped up and played a big role in my life and helped me a lot.”
The sport stuck with him. And there are always reminders.
Both Baylee and Johnathan Jr. said that not long after their father died, they began noticing butterflies at significant moments in their lives, be it an athletic achievement or something else. It seldom fails. It’s become common within the Goddard family that seeing a butterfly carries a big meaning.
“I see the butterfly all the time, too,” he said. “Either I’m going through a hard time, or before a game, I’ll see a butterfly pass. Something good happens, I see a butterfly. It really sort of just represents that he’s here.”
Here for Johnathan Jr. is on the football field at Trinity Christian, where he’s trying to help the Conquerors defend their state championship. He’s already got a signature play, a ferocious sack to preserve Trinity’s win in the Class 3A state title game last season. This year, Goddard is third on the team in tackles (59) and tied for second on the team in passes defensed (five).
“He’s just a great kid, just goes about his business knows what he’s supposed to do, works hard in the classroom, works hard out here. Great leader,” Dorminey said. “I know his dad’s proud of him, I know his mom is, she talks about it all the time. We’re just glad he’s here playing football for us.”
The football field is where Goddard is supposed to be. It’s the only place he wants to be.
When asked if there was one thing he’d like his dad to know, Goddard didn’t hesitate.
“That really I’m doing this all for him,” he said. “All this football stuff, all this grinding and putting the work in the weight room, it’s all for him.”
Note: Goddard family photos provided by Allyson Johnson; Marshall highlights courtesy of WSAZ