The always entertaining Tavares Gooden had plenty to say once again. Gooden, a junior linebacker from Fort Lauderdale, has 96 career tackles in 26 games.
· Heading into the 2006 season, he decided to cut his hair in the spring because...
"I was feeling kind of good-looking one day when I looked in the mirror so I cut my hair off. I feel like I look better than D-Wade and they givin' him top 50 most beautiful people. So I said 'If I cut my hair down, I think I'd be in the top 25.' I feel like I am one of the top 25 most beautiful people in the world."
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· Gooden's thoughts on the 2006 defense...
"I expect our defense to fly around this year. I hope everybody sees that in themselves and that they are going to make plays. And when that video game came out (NCAA 2007), it kind of gets me hot because it has three impact players, but you can't label an impact player on our defense. We got so many of them that I don't understand it. I see everybody on our defense as impact players. If you base things off that and off paper, you know we wouldn't be on top of anybody's list because I believe we the underdogs already. Our defense, like I said, we have 11 impact players who are going to be starting the game and I believe our backups are impact players as well. So we got 22 players out there who are going to make big plays at any point in the game. I think we are all blessed to have each other on this defense."
· Gooden says this year's team will be better than 9-3 because...
"Family. Everybody is a family. There is nobody here that thinks they are greater than the team. Everybody here can take the criticism and take the knock down. I think that's the difference. Last year we weren't together. It was more individualism."
· On what he learned last year being hurt and missing 11 games...
"You learn how to humble yourself. You still think you are the best player because that is what you are supposed to do. You are supposed to look in the mirror and ask yourself, 'how can I get better every day? And how can I be the best player at Miami?' At the same time, you realize that these guys can win without you. You think 'oh it's not just about Tavares Gooden, it is about the team'. That's when you think, 'What can I do to help out this team?' instead of 'I am the team'. Being injured, I think that was the key factor in everything. Your mind starts to wander and you think about a lot of things. I am just blessed to be around these football players. Like I said, there are 22 impact players and I am blessed to be around them."
Tavares Gooden has been the team’s first-team strongside linebacker for the past two practices as he battles Romeo Davis for the starting position.
"Things have been going well," Gooden said. "Just coming down here and playing physical. I got a great D-line in front of me."
Competition is not something he shies away from.
"Every day I look at it like a challenge," Gooden said. "That's why you come to Miami, to compete. If I didn't have anyone to compete with, then I think I would be a sub-par player."
Gooden has been on the first team every other day except for today when he was with the first team for the second straight day.
“I have been coming into practice playing full-speed playing like I have got nothing to lose,” Gooden said. “I am getting ready for big games in the future because we are trying to win the National Championship this year.”
As he prepares for the 2006 season, he has been focusing on every practice.
"I am just playing like I am starting because that is what you have to do out here," Gooden said. "Basically what I am doing is trying to play hard on every play."
After tearing up his shoulder last season including having bone chip fragments, he says his shoulder is about 90 percent now.
"It is there as far as strength," said Gooden, who has benched 350 pounds since the injury. "It is all just a mental thing."
"The main thing now is that it is in the socket and it is ready to go now."
After recording 83 tackles--good for third best on the team--as a sophomore in 2004 while he started nine games at weakside linebacker, Gooden had high expectations heading into the 2005 season.
However, he played in just one game last year when he hurt his shoudler in the first quarter of the opener against Florida State. He received a medical redshirt.
“I thought last year was going to be a big year for me,” Gooden said. “I ended up watching my teammates perform from the sidelines. I felt a couple of tears rolling down my eyes a couple games because I wanted to be out there that bad.”
Sitting on the sidelines was never easy for Gooden, who played in all 26 games after arriving in Coral Gables in 2003.
"It was real painful because you see the plays guys are making and celebrating, dancing on the field," Gooden said. "You think back to the year before when I was one of the guys who encouraged those guys to dance and got everyone hyped."
He said the losses were the hardest part to deal with and there was nothing he could do to help.
But he's back now and looking to be an impact player in 2006. Head coach Larry Coker thinks Gooden has done well in the first week of fall practices.
“He looks good,” Coker said. “I have been pleased with Tavares. Tavares has always looked good. Now I want him to play well."
I wonder if that means Coker would vote for Gooden as one of the most beautiful people in the world.
Christopher Stock can be reached at email@example.com