Fluid mechanics … thermodynamics … biomicroelectromechanical systems—subject matter that Vanderbilt University School of Engineering mechanical engineering students must master before graduation.
Play action … double reverse … screen pass—subject matter that Vanderbilt football players must master before competing in the Southeastern Conference.
Rarely do you find a student who excels at both. But then rarely does a student like Jonathan Goff, BE’07, come along.
For the time being, Goff’s football career is taking precedence over his mechanical engineering career. As starting middle linebacker for the NFL’s New York Giants, Goff has his hands full defending against the likes of Peyton Manning and Michael Vick.
In 2008, Goff was drafted in the fifth round and 165th overall by the Giants after a standout career at Vanderbilt. During his time dressed in Commodore black and gold, Goff became only the 10th player in school history to lead the team in tackles in consecutive seasons. He was twice named to the All-SEC second team and was also Commodore team co-captain in his junior and senior years.
Though SEC wins were rare during his time, there are three that stand out.
I have to be able to understand the general concept behind each coverage or package and apply it to the given situation.
“My redshirt sophomore year, we played the University of Tennessee at Neyland Stadium for the last game of the year,” Goff says. “We had started the year 4 and 0 and then we just went on a losing streak. Everybody kept saying we only needed two more wins to become bowl-eligible, but we just never got there. We were playing for pride by the time we got to Knoxville, but we did beat them and it’s one of my best memories of playing football at Vanderbilt.”
Wins at heavily favored South Carolina and Georgia were also memorable to Goff, especially since Vanderbilt spoiled their homecoming festivities. (At least that’s Goff’s version of the story, and he’s sticking to it.)
Math and Science Guy Goff is the first to admit that engineering students are rare on most SEC football rosters. It was the combination of top-tier academics and athletics that sold him on Vanderbilt.
“I felt like Coach Bobby Johnson and his staff really had my best interest at heart, both as an athlete and a student,” Goff says. “Getting to play in the SEC was a really big deal for me, but I knew that Vanderbilt would challenge me academically as well. It was the best of both worlds.”
Though he has always had a natural affinity for math and science, the course work at the School of Engineering initially proved difficult.
“Time management was definitely an issue for me at first,” he says. “I went through a bit of a rough spot the second semester of my first year. But I’ve always been a math and science guy. I’d rather do algebra than analyze poems or write short stories.”
As a middle linebacker, Goff is charged with leading the defense. Just like the quarterback on offense, the 25-year-old is responsible for calling out the plays for the defense and making sure that the players are in the right positions. He, along with the coaches on the sidelines, must be aware of the other team’s tendencies and weaknesses. It’s a job that requires a lot of study and one that is similar in some ways to his engineering studies.
“A lot of my engineering classes involved understanding certain concepts,” he says. “You have to understand different formulas and different laws. The connection between that and football would be that in football, there are different offensive packages. I have to be able to understand the general concept behind each coverage or package and apply it to the given situation.”
Helmet and Hardhat
That Goff is successful in football and engineering is no surprise to his family of high achievers. His mother, Gwendolyn Tyre, was the first female African American law clerk at the Georgia Supreme Court; in 1996, Attorney General Janet Reno appointed her as executive director of a Department of Justice program of law enforcement, crime prevention and community revitalization. Today she is a juvenile court judge in Cambridge, Mass. Goff’s brother, Jason, has two bachelor’s and two master’s degrees, and is a staff engineer for Langan Engineering and Environmental Services.
Goff kept his own engineering wits sharp two years ago when the football pro interned during the offseason with Skanska, a construction management firm.
“It was interesting to me because they were overseeing the construction of the New Meadowlands Stadium,” Goff says. “I went over once or twice a week and shadowed a couple of people—the field supervisor and the safety inspector.”
“I’m definitely open to working in engineering after football,” he says. “I’ll use my Vanderbilt degree, somehow, someway.”
For the present, football takes center stage, even with the toll it takes on Goff’s body.
“I never really feel recovered from the season until February or March,” he says. “It starts in training camp and you just get used to being sore all the time. Football is all about competition and camaraderie, but really we’re just regular guys who happen to be in the limelight.”
Goff also had a few words for any prospective football-playing engineers.
“Vanderbilt is a great university. The School of Engineering will challenge you, and because you’re in the Southeastern Conference you’re going to be playing against the best, week in and week out,” he says. “Vanderbilt definitely helped me make the most of myself.”