The following is part one of a two-part column detailing Wheeling native C.J. Goodwin's rise to the NFL.
WHEELING - C.J. Goodwin's first love was football.
His family, however, had a strong passion for basketball. So, in turn, Goodwin slowly began to drift away from the gridiron and started using his athletic abilities on the hardwood.
Then, in the summer of 2007, right before his senior year at Linsly began, Goodwin decided to go out for the football team.
''Just because I thought I'd never get the chance to play again,'' he said.
He didn't then, but now, when Goodwin tells that story, he laughs about it.
Actually, Goodwin laughs a lot these days. That wide grin never seems to leave his face.
And why should it? You'd be smiling too if you just experienced the week Goodwin did.
See, Goodwin was signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers on June 4 as an undrafted free agent. A dream come true.
''This past week has been really a blessing,'' said Goodwin, who just returned from Latrobe with the rest of the Steelers' rookies when I got the chance to talk with him. ''To have this opportunity is amazing.''
The path the 24-year-old Goodwin took just to have this opportunity is amazing in itself.
After he graduated from Linsly in 2008, Goodwin went to Bethany College with hopes to continue his basketball career. After two years - and playing no basketball - he decided to transfer to Fairmont State because he ''wasn't really getting the college experience I hoped for.''
It was during his senior year at Fairmont that Goodwin was drawn back to football.
He was playing intramural basketball against the Falcon's football coaching staff when then-head coach Mike Lopez noticed how athletic he was, which really shouldn't have been that much of a surprise considering Goodwin is 6-foot-3, 190-pounds.
''The football coaches, they're really competitive. They foul a lot,'' Goodwin said. ''One of my teammates threw me the ball and I put it down and one of the coaches told me I was a good athlete and I should come out for football.''
After talking about it with his roommate, Dewey McDonald who was already on the team, Goodwin decided to give it a try.
It didn't work out too bad.
Goodwin finished third on the team with 24 receptions for 440 yards. He also had four touchdown grabs, one of which was for a school record 83 yards and proved to be the game winner against West Liberty University.
Then, after he earned his bachelor's degree in business administration and finished his lone season with the Falcons, Goodwin decided to accept a scholarship to California University of Pa., the same school Lopez became defensive coordinator at after he was fired at Fairmont.
This time, it didn't work out as Goodwin had hoped.
''I went up there with high expectations,'' he said. ''Then I ended up sitting behind three guys who were all seniors and had been in the system for years.
''It's my fault, really. I didn't do the right research before I transferred. I understand why I was put behind those guys, but my receivers coach, he let me play special teams. He saw something in me.''
In his one season with the Vulcans, Goodwin recorded 11 receptions for 126 yards and one touchdown. Despite not posting outstanding numbers, Goodwin still wanted to pursue a professional football career. He reached out to his old friend Mel Blount for help. (Yes, that Mel Blount - the four-time Super Bowl Champion, four-time First Team All-Pro selection, 1975 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and Pro Football Hall of Famer.)
''My first job was on (Blount's) farm,'' Goodwin said. ''I just cut grass, chased cows, fed horses he's been one of the biggest blessings.''
Blount, who sons Akil and Jibri went to Linsly with Goodwin, got him a tryout with the Steelers.
''I was getting some looks from teams, but it was real slow,'' Goodwin said. ''I did well at the tryout (with the Steelers), but I could have done better. I'm my own worst critic.''
A few days later, Goodwin was training at his own facility when he nearly missed the call of a lifetime.
''My agent actually called me twice, but I missed both calls,'' Goodwin said. ''Then he texted me saying to call him immediately when you get this. I called my agent then the Steelers' guy called me and asked, 'How fast can you get here?' I told him as fast as you want me there.
''As soon as I signed with the Steelers, the (New York) Giants called me. That day was a good day.''
So far, every day has been a good day for Goodwin.
Tony Viola can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.