Taking the reins in Iowa’s backfield

August 22, 2021


Wyatt Dlouhy

Iowa running back Tyler Goodson carries the ball during the game against Nebraska on Friday, November 29, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Corn Huskers 27-24.

A collage of photos hanging in the living room of the Goodson home contains one of Tyler, Maurice, and Taylor attending the Iowa-Wisconsin football game at Kinnick Stadium in September 2018.

The game was Tyler’s first impression of an Iowa City game-day environment. It didn’t disappoint. And it wasn’t what he was expecting.

“Especially the fans,” Tyler said, still sitting on the couch. “It was crazy. Out of all the games I had been to, not one [fanbase] knew who I was except when I went to Iowa. They were out there shouting my name. When the game started, the energy, I was just like, ‘The SEC is not like this.’”

“We’d been to some pretty big SEC games,” Felicia said.

“Nothing like Iowa though,” Maurice responded.

Despite visiting Iowa City on Tyler’s recruiting trip, Felicia didn’t know much about Hawkeye fans when her oldest son committed. But shortly after Tyler picked his school, Felicia wore an Iowa shirt while driving in Georgia and realized that Hawkeye fans are everywhere.

“I was at a stoplight coming from work,” Felicia said. “And the lady did a honk-honk and yelled, ‘Go Hawks!’ And then she drove off. I was like, ‘Wow, there’s Hawkeyes here.’”

Felicia and Maurice are now fully acquainted with Hawkeye fandom. Both have thousands of followers on Twitter and are among the more well-known Iowa football parents.

“When fans approach me, they don’t talk about me, they talk about them,” Tyler said, pointing at his parents. “‘I love your mom and dad, they’re so awesome.’ And I’m like yeah, yeah.”

Tyler gets his fair share of attention, too. Fans send footballs, trading cards, gloves — anything they can think of to the Goodson home seeking his autograph. On campus, it’s common for a fellow student to approach Tyler in the middle of a lecture and try to make conversation.

If Tyler played everything right, he’d be playing in Kinnick in front of thousands of these devoted Hawkeye fans soon after joining the team as a freshman. But as he was working to earn his spot on the field, Tyler also had to adjust to living in Iowa City.

Tyler estimates it took him about a year to acclimate to life in the Midwest. Living through four changing seasons was different.

Felicia mentions she still has a picture from Tyler’s freshman year that he sent during the winter when it was below zero. Tyler snapped a shot of himself bundled up and simply wrote, “SOS.”

“It makes no sense how cold it is,” Tyler chimes in.

But other parts of Iowa City have been easier to adapt to. Yes, Tyler still prefers Georgia to Iowa (largely because of the weather), but he doesn’t mind his seemingly daily trips to the Get Fresh Cafe in Iowa City, where he gets an acai bowl. Pizza at Airliner isn’t bad, either.

Felicia interrupts the conversation with laughter when asked how to describe Tyler’s personality.

“Definitely not quiet,” Felicia said of Tyler. “Outgoing, never meets a stranger. Life of the party. Always laughing, joking, fooling around. Fun to be around, even as a kid. But when he doesn’t want to be bothered, he doesn’t want to be bothered. And you know that because he goes to his room and shuts the door.”

When Tyler got to Iowa, he figured out that shutting his door wasn’t always going to be enough.

Tyler points out that in the dorms freshman year, he had to take his name tag off his door and stick on a nearby room to prevent people from barging into his space and talking to him all night.

Tyler’s freshman year was full of learning experiences — on and off the football field.

When asked about his “welcome to college football” moment, it took him about two seconds to blurt out the name A.J. Epenesa.

“I ran up the middle and I was running high — I don’t know why because I never do this — and A.J. just completely like flipped me,” Tyler said grinning. “I was like, ‘Woah. I need to watch out for you, buddy.’ That was my wake-up call.”

It must have worked. In the first college game of his career, Tyler touched the ball 10 times. In Week 4 of that 2019 season, he fell three yards short of his first 100-yard rushing performance.

But Iowa went 2-3 over its next five games after a 4-0 start. Tyler didn’t exceed eight rushing attempts in any of the three losses.

“I knew there was a chance for me to play,” Tyler said. “But at times it would get frustrating because I could have been making plays and getting my momentum, but I’d get taken out so the other guys got their reps.”

Tyler’s coaches told him he was playing his role, which would get larger as the season went on. Tyler knew he had to earn the trust of the coaching staff over the course of his freshman season.

By the 10th game of the season, he had.

On the Monday ahead of Iowa’s game at Kinnick Stadium against No. 7 Minnesota, at the time 9-0, Foster pulled Tyler aside and told him he was starting. But he couldn’t tell his parents until the day of the game, per the coaching staff’s request. They didn’t want word to get out.

“That whole week I was nervous,” Tyler said. “In practice I would mess up plays, miss a protection I normally wouldn’t miss, drop the ball. I was like, ‘Bro, I’m starting this week. This is real.’”

Maurice was Tyler’s only parent in attendance for his first start. Felicia, not knowing Tyler was starting, was staying in Georgia to go to Taylor’s senior photos scheduled for that same day.

Wanting his mother to see his first start, but unable to tell her it was happening, Tyler started to implore Felicia to make the trip to Iowa City, telling her she’d probably want to be there for this one.

After Tyler denied that he was starting, Felicia attended Taylor’s pictures that Saturday, then went to the movies with Tavien. She might miss the start of Tyler’s game, she thought, but he wouldn’t be playing anyway, she figured.

“How do you miss the whole first quarter?” Maurice asks, interrupting Felicia’s story.

After leaving the theatre with Tavien, Felicia tuned into the Iowa game on her phone while getting gas and wondered why she was seeing Tyler on the field so much so early in the game.

“He’s playing?” Felicia remembers Tavien asking her.

Then, Felicia saw a text from her husband from earlier in the day informing her that Tyler was starting for the Hawkeyes. Tyler called Maurice as soon as he landed in Cedar Rapids that morning, and Maurice immediately texted his wife as he sprinted to his rental car.

“I got to campus in like 15 minutes, going 100 [mph],” Maurice recalls, only slightly exaggerating.

Felicia sped home, trying to listen to the game on the radio. She had to watch most of Tyler’s first college start on DVR.

“Mom, I couldn’t tell you because you would have put it on social media and they didn’t want anybody to know,” Tyler said, still trying to rationalize not telling her. Moments later, Felicia found out Tyler told Taylor early on.

With Maurice watching from the stands and Felicia catching up back in Suwanee, Tyler had quite the first collegiate start, even though he was shaking when he walked out of the tunnel. Displaying his dynamic running style, Tyler ran for 94 yards and his second college touchdown in Iowa’s upset win over Minnesota.

On Iowa’s first drive of the game, Goodson took a quick pitch to the left on a third-and-short, bursting outside for a 26-yard gain. On the second drive, Goodson bounced another run out to the right, stiff-armed two defenders, and powered his way into the end zone, reminding his parents of a similar run from North Gwinnett’s state championship game.

“Freshmen don’t do that,” Ferentz said at Big Ten Media Days, recalling Tyler’s runs from his first start.

By season’s end, Tyler became the first freshman to ever lead Iowa in rushing (638 yards). Last season, as a sophomore, Tyler was the primary back, compiling 914 total yards and seven touchdowns in an eight-game season shortened by the pandemic. Tyler earned first-team all-conference honors for his performance in 2020. But to him, that wasn’t good enough.

Individually, Tyler has his sights on the Doak Walker Award for his junior season, an award which goes to the best running back in the nation. He suggests that 1,500 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns should be enough to earn that honor.

“I know I can do more,” Tyler said, sitting up on the couch as his voice gets more passionate. “I know I can do better. [762 rushing] yards is OK, a good number. But it’s not good enough, especially if you want to go to another level. I always feel like I can do more. That’s why I can work so hard to be the best that I can be.

“This upcoming season is going to be different.”

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