MORGANTOWN -- Ben Goodman grew up in Texas and plays college football today in the Big 12. In between, the Kansas defensive end had role models and dreamed of endorsement deals. He practiced for hours and hours and once nearly lost a finger to his sport. He won all sorts of prizes as a kid and had schools lining up to offer him a scholarship.
And he did it all for calf roping.
"It probably goes back to my great-great grandpa," Goodman said. "We had a little ranch. Not a big ranch. Literally, a little ranch. But I grew up riding horses and competing in rodeos. I probably rode a horse before I was 1 year old.
"By the time I was 1 1/2 or 2 years old, I was riding by myself. Then I started roping calves. I was on my own, swinging the rope, riding a horse and tracking the calf when I was 5."
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He'd trade his boots for cleats and his hat for a helmet, but just because he left calf roping doesn't mean it left him. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound senior enters Saturday's noon home game against West Virginia at Memorial Stadium with a team-high 5 1/2 sacks.
"It actually taught me how to tackle," the senior from Beaumont, Texas, said. "As I rope the calf and jump off the horse, I run down the line and flip over the calf. I see it as the same thing. Going straight down the line, getting to the quarterback and wrapping him up, it's the same type of action." Goodman had two types of friends when he was a kid. The first were his friends from school, the ones who went to baseball, basketball or football practices in the evening and then had games over the weekend. The second were the ones he'd meet at the arena after school during the week so they could get ready for their next rodeo.
He loved rodeos and wouldn't start playing other sports until he was in seventh grade.
"I'd buy a stuffed calf head and stick in in a bale of hay and rope that thing 300 times a day, because I wanted to be like Fred Whitfield," Goodman said of the eight-time world champion. "I didn't want to be like Randy Moss or Michael Jordan. I wanted to be like Fred Whitfield."
There were people who thought he could do it, too. Goodman won "a whole lot of money" and a bunch of saddles, trophies and other prizes. P&P Trailers sponsored him and paid for his gas to travel to competitions and entry fees so he could participate in them.
"They'd pay all of that for me just so I'd wear their logo," he said. "It was a big deal. You travel to rodeos and all these people have that brand of trailer. For me, that was an honor to be sponsored by them."
It made him tough, too. There were tumbles when he'd try to jump off the horse and tie up the calf. There were times his horse bucked and threw him off during a run. A horse would sometimes get spooked before an event and rise up onto its hind legs in the small pen, which pinned Goodman up against the wall and squeezed the air out of his lungs.
He'd get kicked and stepped on, and one time when he wasn't even competing a gate swung shut and almost ripped of one of his finger.
He had it sewn back on.
"Growing up as a rodeo kid, when you get a cut, when you hurt your hand, when you fall, your mom's not coming to baby you and tell you it's going to be OK and put a Band-Aid on it," Goodman said. "When you get cut, you better go to the water hole. You don't tell your mom. You go to the water hole and wash it off. No Band-Aid. You're not worried about an infection."
None of that ever deterred him, not even as he became a football star and earned all-district and all-region honors after his junior and senior seasons. But the schools offering him rodeo scholarships were junior colleges with two-year programs for an associate degree. Goodman had two dozen football scholarships waiting for him, and he wanted a more complete education.
His aspirations changed from National Finals Rodeo to the National Football league, but changing his mind doesn't mean he's had a change of heart.
"You could win $2,000, $3,000 at a big-time rodeo or you could play on Sundays and get paid $35,000 every Sunday, which is just a tad bit nicer," said Goodman, who earned his bachelor's degree in liberal arts and sciences in June. "I don't want to say I gave up on it. I'd say I'm taking a break while pursuing other goals in my life. Eventually one day, I'll be back at it."