Thomas Gooding is a 6-foot-5 senior at Garinger, playing high school football for the first time after turning his life and grades around. He’s buoyed by the chance to go to college via football.

Last winter, Garinger High football coach Chris Carter was walking by the gym after school. He stuck his head in and saw 6-foot-5, 215-pound junior Thomas Gooding playing basketball for an organization called Right Moves For Youth that tries to help at-risk youth get on the right track.

Carter saw an athletic young man with long arms and great leaping ability.
“Man, I just saw a lot of potential,” Carter said.

After the game, he approached Gooding and asked why he’d never played sports at Garinger. Carter told him he really thought he could have a future playing football, one that might include a college scholarship.

“That doesn’t happen all the time,” said Carter, whose team will host East Mecklenburg (3-0) tonight. “But one look at this kid and I was like, ‘Wow.’”

Two weeks ago, Gooding played his first game for Garinger (0-2). He played receiver and safety. He had three tackles and an interception on defense.

On offense, he beat his man on a deep pass and drew a pass interference call. He got open a few more times, but the Garinger quarterback just missed him on plays that might’ve produced Garinger’s first points of the season.

“He started showing that potential,” Carter said. Actually, Carter’s just glad Gooding is getting the chance to show it. When they started talking last winter, Gooding had missed 60 days of school and was ineligible for sports. His family was moving around frequently.
“My life just wasn’t going how I wanted,” Gooding said. “I wasn’t focused on school. My family was going through a hard time.”

Gooding played football in middle school at Eastway. He liked the game and wanted to play in high school, too, but his grades always prevented him. His high school social worker, Sara Morrell, saw that sports was something Gooding was interested in and got him involved in the Right Moves program.

“That was the springboard,” she said. “And when coach Carter saw him and started encouraging him and starting saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got some skills. Hey you can make it,’ that’s when things started turning around for Thomas.”

Gooding practiced with the Wildcats football team in the offseason. Coaches from Akron and Marshall watched him and told Carter they were very interested. Gooding started going to school, going to class – and he started excelling.

“Right Moves got me playing basketball and doing other things,” Gooding said. “It showed me school isn’t as bad as I thought, and coach showed interest in me and got me to come out here. I love football, but every year, I would get my report card and it wasn’t good. Coach said, ‘You can do this. You can get the grades.’”

Gooding started believing.

“It was just focus,” he said. “I can do the work. I didn’t care before. School wasn’t my first priority. But I’ve seen now what my life could be. Coach started telling me I could be something, that I could be really good. But he said, ‘You gotta get the scores.’”Gooding’s sudden change surprised his mother, Jackie Haney.

“He did it real quick,” she said. “I’m really proud of him. He knew what he had to do. He brought Fs up to As in one quarter. He just came home one day and said, ‘Mama, I’m going to do it.’”

Gooding pulled a 3.2 GPA in the fourth quarter of the 2007-08 school year, his mother said.
Playing with Garinger in summer drills and scrimmages, he began to turn heads.

“He’s impressive for his first year playing,” said Mallard Creek coach Mike Palmieri, whose team scrimmaged Garinger in July. “He was physical. He made some good catches. I only saw him for 90 minutes, but I’d say he has a future in the game. I see college potential as far as size and speed. I don’t know at what level, but he can definitely play.”

Carter promises he’ll do everything he can to help Gooding get to college, even if the route includes a stop at a prep school or junior college.

Gooding is just thankful for the chance.

“I really hope I can go to college and play football,” he said. “It’s what I always wanted to do, but it just wasn’t how my life was going. I didn’t know where it was going. Now I’m doing everything I can. I hope it works out, you know. I mean, you can always do better.

“If your family is doing bad, you can go to school and help your family. If you sit around and do nothing, it won’t get any better. That’s what I learned.”

Written by: Langston Wertz Jr: 704-358-5133

Reprinted with permission from the Charlotte Observer.
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