B.J. Goodson thrives from small-town school to middle of Clemson’s defense

Clemson linebacker B.J. Goodson (44) celebrates after making an interception against Florida State at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 7. Gwinn Davis/Special to The Post and Courier

It’s all relative: Clemson is the big city in B.J. Goodson’s mind. Hey, at least it has a Wal-Mart.

Goodson was an unheralded linebacker recruit in Lamar, S.C., with a population hovering around 1,000 residents and a high school football team participating in Class A against other small schools.

“We really don’t have much,” Goodson said. “A lot of jobs, you have to go out of the city to make a living.”

His parents both commute a half-hour outside of town — his mom a parole officer east in Florence, his dad a factory worker north in Hartsville — and while Goodson never would have felt comfortable on a massive campus like South Carolina’s or Ohio State’s, he never thought to settle for the lower levels of college football.

“(Clemson) was one of the first teams to reach out to me,” said Goodson, who later received scholarship offers from LSU and Tennessee. “I’m real big on loyalty. Once I visited here, I didn’t want to visit anywhere else. This was enough for me — small, country town. It’s a little different from Lamar, but I’m used to not being in the city. Clemson is the big city compared to Lamar.

“I’ve always dreamed big. This was always a vision of mine. You have to put forth the effort to get an outcome.”

Loyalty, vision, effort, these are critical words in the vocabulary of Clemson’s leading tackler. Goodson is the only senior defender in the Tigers’ starting lineup, sticking with it after redshirting in 2011, playing very few snaps his freshman and sophomore years and serving as a part-time starter in 2014 as a Sam linebacker who only played when formations called to sit starting nickelback Korrin Wiggins.

When last year’s starting linebackers, Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward, were selected in the spring’s NFL Draft, junior linebacker Ben Boulware was an obvious replacement, having logged significant playing time in both those graduates’ absence. Goodson had the benefit of naturally knowing the middle linebacker position coming out of Lamar, happy to return from the sporadic Sam-nickel role.

“It was a homecoming party for me,” Goodson said. “Being able to make those calls and make those reads, it wasn’t a difficult thing for me to transition to.”

Goodson’s 100 tackles, based on Clemson coaches’ stat sheets, is tied with Boulware for the team lead, and his 12 tackles for a loss are second behind defensive end Shaq Lawson, a Nagurski Award finalist. After the Tigers’ massive wins this year against Notre Dame and Florida State, Goodson was named ACC Linebacker of the Week each of those weekends.

“B.J.’s going to be a pro. He’s a big-time player,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “Never grown weary. He’s stayed the course and he’s played great all year.”

Goodson and Swinney each mentioned the rich history of football greats produced by little Lamar, including Goodson’s hero, two-time All-American linebacker Levon Kirkland.

“He’s a great inspiration,” Goodson said. “Levon might be the first football player I had ever known of, consciously.”

Others from Lamar include former Clemson safety Michael Hamlin (drafted in the 2009 fifth round by Dallas), five-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker and former USC standout John Abraham, and recent S.C. State product Marshall McFadden, a linebacker who’s played sparsely with the Steelers, Raiders and Rams.

Goodson is not listed on any mock drafts or prospect rankings. Then again, neither was Steward, a fifth-round pick of the Buffalo Bills, and the New Orleans Saints made Goodson’s replacement (Anthony) an unexpected first-rounder.

“I still am kind of under the radar. I kind of like to fly that way,” Goodson said. “Put your head down at work, and at the end, look up and see where you’re at.”

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