CLEMSON — There are fewer people living in B.J. Goodson’s hometown than there are pedestrians on a city block during rush hour in Manhattan.
The former Clemson inside linebacker learned his professional destination Saturday. Hailing from little Lamar and graduating last December from Clemson, Goodson was drafted No. 109 overall (early fourth round) by the New York Giants.
Day 3 of the 2016 NFL Draft was a fine one for Clemson, with five Saturday selections bringing the school’s 2016 total to nine. That’s Clemson’s most in 33 years, which was topped this week only by Ohio State’s dozen draftees.
Defensive tackle D.J. Reader went to Houston in the fifth round, and the seventh round sent receiver Charone Peake to the New York Jets, safety Jayron Kearse to the Minnesota Vikings and tailback Zac Brooks to the Seattle Seahawks.
Goodson was the first to go Saturday, and from the most rural of towns — Lamar’s population remains under 1,000 to this day — to the biggest city in America, he has his head on straight about the move.
“I’m going to keep life simple,” Goodson told the Post and Courier in a phone interview shortly after being drafted. “That’s my key to success, keeping God and football first. I’ll run and go from there.”
Goodson is set to become the fifth native of Lamar to play in the NFL, and all five played their college ball in the Palmetto State. Linebacker Levon Kirkland, a hero of Goodson’s, and safety Michael Hamlin played at Clemson; defensive end John Abraham was a 2000 first-round draft selection out of South Carolina; and linebacker Marshall McFadden played at South Carolina State.
Besides his Lamar roots — which were profiled recently on Yahoo! Sports in what Goodson called “a wonderful article” — Goodson also adds to an impressive list of defenders from the Tigers’ top-rated 2014 defense finding their way to the NFL.
With the selections of Reader and Kearse, that makes 11 starters or key reserves from that 2014 defense getting taken in the 2015 or 2016 drafts, including seven in the past three days.
“Man, it feels so great. Being a part of that No. 1 defense from over a year ago, being a part of that and having the success we had this year, I knew I was going into a great opportunity,” Goodson said. “(Defensive coordinator Brent) Venables and (head coach) Dabo Swinney from Clemson helped out a lot making that happen. I’m just happy for the opportunity I was given.”
Goodson said he grew up a fan of former Giants defensive linemen Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck, who helped New York win Super Bowls after the 2007 and 2011 seasons.
The Tigers’ leading tackler in 2015, Goodson was a starter for one season but emerged in the middle of Clemson’s College Football Playoff national runner-up defense. He was named second-team All-ACC by the media, and was a three-time ACC linebacker of the week in wins over Notre Dame, Florida State and South Carolina.
Goodson follows defensive mates Shaq Lawson, who went No. 19 overall to the Buffalo Bills, and second-rounders Kevin Dodd, Mackensie Alexander and T.J. Green in this year’s draft.
Reader started six games and played nine as a senior after sitting out the first half of the regular season due to undisclosed personal reasons. He joins Houston’s defensive line alongside NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and ex-South Carolina standout Jadeveon Clowney, and becomes the Texans’ second Clemson draftee in franchise history following 2012 first-round receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Speaking of receivers from Clemson, Peake became the Tigers’ first offensive draft pick of 2016 when the New York Jets took him in the seventh round Saturday. Peake was Clemson’s second-leading receiver in 2015 with 50 catches, 716 yards and five touchdowns; his selection was met with praise from ESPN commentators who pointed to Peake’s success against Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey, this draft’s No. 5 overall pick.
After the draft concluded, former Clemson offensive tackle Joe Gore told The Post and Courier he intends to sign a free-agent contract with the Washington Redskins.
Kearse had once been considered a high-round pick and was voted 2015 first-team All-American by ESPN.com and second-team All-American by four other services. However, when he turned professional in January, NFLDraftScout.com listed him outside the top 150 prospects. An inconsistent 2015 season, poor measurables at the NFL Combine (a 4.62-second 40-yard-dash) and a reportedly poor impression during predraft workouts contributed to Kearse’s slip to the seventh round.
On Kearse’s NFL combine page, an anonymous NFC scout based in the Southeast said the following: “He’s a big guy, but he just doesn’t make many plays. You see him out there just drifting around sometimes and you just wish he had the same attitude and fire that the rest of the defense has because he could be so much better. Do you draft him on traits and hope your coaches reach him?”
In Swinney’s tenure as head coach, 13 underclassmen have decided to forgo eligibility to declare early for the NFL draft. Only two fell out of the first four rounds of their corresponding drafts: punter Bradley Pinion (fifth round, 2015, 49ers) and Kearse, who does join his former secondary mate and south Florida native Alexander with the Vikings.
The Tigers haven’t had an early entrant go undrafted since offensive tackle Akil Smith in 2002, and Smith had been dismissed from the program due to drug issues.