Oct. 4, 2002
By Lisa Mushett
Senior tight end Gary Godsey entered the media room after practice in late August surprised to see a hoard of reporters wanting to talk to him.
Almost on cue, he coyly said, “You know I don’t play quarterback anymore?”
How things have changed for the 6-6, 250-pound tight end.
It is almost two years to the day when quarterback Gary Godsey was summoned to direct the Irish offense after a wrist injury sidelined then-starter Arnaz Battle for the season.
His first career start came against these same Purdue Boilermakers at Notre Dame Stadium. After the Irish blocked a Purdue punt on the first possession of the game, Godsey scrambled nine yards for a touchdown, giving the Irish an early 7-0 lead. Notre Dame and Purdue battled back and forth for the entire game, and with the Boilers leading 21-20 with 3:39 to go in the contest, Godsey embarked on what he claims was his best moment thus far with the Irish football program. Remaining calm and collected with 80,000 screaming fans, many of them wearing t-shirts which claimed “In Godsey We Trust,” hanging on every cadence he barked, Godsey led the Irish 59 yards in setting up kicker Nicholas Setta’s game-winning field goal and giving the Irish a 23-21 victory.
“I remember (tight end) Jabari Holloway telling me he had confidence in me and that I could do this,” Godsey said.
“I had all the confidence in the world. I had everyone behind me. I had good coaches and good quarterbacks ahead of me who prepared me for that situation. I went out there and six or seven plays later, Nick was kicking the field goal to win the game.”
Godsey finished his first start at quarterback going 14-of-25 for 158 yards passing and a rushing touchdown. He finished with more completions and attempts than Heisman Trophy candidate and current San Diego Chargers starting quarterback Drew Brees.
“Looking back on that game, it seems like a flash in time,” Godsey says.
“All I remember is being out there and having the jitters coming out of tunnel. The next thing I remember is seeing all of the bodies storming the field after Nick hit the field goal. I remember being around my teammates and classmates, having a great time.”
Riding the high of the Purdue game, Godsey earned his second start the following week against Michigan State. Once again getting off to a good beginning, Godsey threw his first career touchdown pass – a seven-yard strike to fullback Jason Murray in the first quarter – giving the Irish an early 7-0 lead. Helping put everyone’s mind at ease concerning the loss of Battle, Godsey seemed to be the savior of what could have been disaster for the Irish faithful.
But then the savior ran into trouble. As the Spartans began to blitz more in the second and third quarters, Godsey – and his large 6-6 frame – could not elude the Spartans’ pass rush and the Irish offense stalled. Then head coach Bob Davie had to make a decision. Should he stay with Godsey who had led the Irish to such an impressive victory over Purdue just a week earlier or should he replace him with true freshman Matt LoVecchio, who was more mobile than his starter? Davie chose the latter, replacing Godsey with just over a minute to go in the third quarter. What had been the greatest of highs for Godsey after the Purdue game became the lowest of lows only two-plus quarters later.
“It is naturally tough when something like that happens just because of the competitive nature in you,” Godsey said.
“Then again you have to be a team player and do what is best for the team at time. The coaches felt it was better to put Matt in the game, and we ended up going to the Fiesta Bowl. Looking back, it was a good decision.”
As the 2000 season unfolded – and the Irish proceeded to go on a seven-game winning streak under LoVecchio – Godsey continued to struggle with what could have been. Coming from a football family where his brother, Greg, played at Air Force and his brother, George, was currently vying for the Heisman Trophy as the starting quarterback at Georgia Tech, Gary finally realized his dream of being the starting quarterback at Notre Dame before having it suddenly ripped away from him.
Depending on the strength and knowledge of his brothers, as well as his father John, who was a walk-on at Alabama under legendary head coach Bear Bryant, Godsey tried to make sense of everything, as well as figure out what his role was going to be now on this team.
“I talked to a lot of people when all this happened, starting with George,” Godsey said.
“He was a big help, as well as Greg. They had played the game and had experienced the ups and downs. They reminded me what I had to do for the team. I also talked to my high school coach (Dominick Chao) and he kept saying to me ‘Bigger things will come for you down the road.'”
Godsey saw action under center one last time against Navy, where he threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Jay Johnson on his only pass attempt. Davie, realizing that LoVecchio was the quarterback the Irish needed at that point, called Godsey into his office before the Air Force game, asking him if he would be willing to move to tight end. Although disappointed his dream of playing quarterback was over, for the good of the team Godsey agreed to the position change.
“Coach Davie said he thought it would be better for me to move to tight end. Matt was doing a great job at quarterback and I could see what Coach Davie was saying. I agreed and kept reminding myself that if I was not going to play quarterback anymore, then I needed to do what was right for the team and myself, and be the best tight end I could be.”
Godsey saw action in the final three games of the 2000 season as a reserve tight end, including the 2001 Fiesta Bowl, but failed to catch a pass. Still struggling to see his role on the team, the native of Tampa, Fla., rededicated himself to the game – this time as a tight end – gaining almost 40 pounds in the off-season and working on his blocking skills.
In 2001, he received the first start of his career at tight end as the Irish opened up in a two-tight end set against Nebraska in the season opener. Godsey also started against Michigan State, but was primarily the back-up to starter John Owens (who was a fifth-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions in 2002) for most of the year. Godsey, who saw action in all 11 games during 2001, was used mostly as a blocker during the season. He did catch two passes for a game-high 50 yards against Navy, but those were his only two receptions of the season and Godsey still struggled with what his role really was on this team.
“I was behind a great tight end in John, so I just worked hard with him. I just did what I could do. I got up to 275 pounds, and in that type of offense, I needed to block.”
Enter head coach Tyrone Willingham and his West Coast offense. Realizing that Willingham’s offense utilizes the tight ends much more in passing situations than the old offense, Godsey has a sense of renewed hope for the 2002 season. Godsey lost 25 pounds during the summer and worked on improving his footwork, running pass routes and finishing a play once he caught the ball.
‘The coaching staff told me in the spring that we (the tight ends) are going to get a lot more attention. We are going to be a big part of this offense. I think in this offense they count on a lot of people and the ball is going to be in our hands a lot. You just have to make big plays and that is the role we are going to play.
“I find one thing a day in practice to concentrate on and get better at. You can never be perfect so I try to focus on something every day. I am not negative toward myself, but I try to make sure I do everything the best I can, although it is never good enough. I always try to push myself to be better.”
Godsey made his share of big plays during fall practice and has recorded eight catches for 77 yards in 2002.. Godsey, as well as Willingham, know how things change from one game to the next and hopes this campaign is different from the highs and lows he experienced during the 2000 season.
“Gary is truly finding himself and learning what he can bring to the team,” Willingham says. “He has more options than to be just a blocker this season. He can be an active part of the team’s offense in all areas and really determine what his role is going to be. It can be as big as he wants to make it.”
“Gary has accepted the role of playing tight end in our offense with the kind of effort and enthusiasm that is takes to be successful,” tight ends coach Mike Denbrock says.
‘He has made some outstanding plays as the fall has come along and is really starting to understand the tight end position and what it takes to play in the style of offense that we run.”
So in Godsey’s mind, what is the best part of his game?
“I would like to be classified as an in-between guy,” Godsey says.
“I want to be the best at everything obviously. I think I am a good blocker and I’m a good pass receiver as well.
“I think playing quarterback helped me a lot in learning about the game of football and in developing my game at tight end. Playing quarterback you have to have an extra feel as to what is going on out there. You have to know what everyone is doing and where each player is going. Playing tight end, I am able to feel things out and anticipate what people are doing next.” His fellow tight ends agree.
“Gary is a great student of the game,” junior Billy Palmer says.
“Being a former quarterback, he knows a lot about defenses. He goes out there and plays hard all of the time. He is a happy-go-lucky guy who plays hard and has a lot of presence on the field.”
“Gary’s best asset is his knowledge of the game,” says Jared Clark, the former quarterback who also converted tight end in the spring of 2002.
“He knows what every position on the field is supposed to do, not just the tight end position. He always knows what the correct answers are to any situation.”
All that knowledge and ability puts Godsey is a promising position for the upcoming year. A management information systems major in the Mendoza College of Business, Godsey can apply for a fifth-year of eligibility after not playing his freshman season. He could have two years left to complete the transition of not being the starting quarterback at Notre Dame anymore, but being the starting tight end in an offense which sees how valuable that position can be – both in blocking and catching the football.
“I think back to what my high coach said about better things coming down the road,” Godsey says.
“I didn’t really believe it then, but I now see I have a chance to be a pretty good tight end.”
Godsey has the chance to follow in a long line of Irish tight ends including Dave Casper, Mark Bavaro, Pete Chryplewich, Jabari Holloway, Dan O’Leary and Owens who have advanced to the next level. Although his favorite NFL player has always been Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, his focus has now shifted to the tight ends.
“I now watch (Denver Bronco) Shannon Sharpe, obviously, and I really like to watch the Ravens’ Todd Heap (who happens to share the same birthday as Godsey). My dream has been to make it to the NFL and I am in a position to do that. I do not regret anything that has happened in the past and I am looking forward to be able to do what all of them have done.”
As he enters Notre Dame Stadium today, it is now two years later and so many things have changed for Godsey. He has gone from being the golden boy on that September day, who for one fleeting moment was the king of the hill, to the rugged tight end who is now making his mark down in the trenches.
You have to wonder, does he still think about his self-proclaimed greatest career moment when he led the Irish down the field for that game-winning drive against Purdue and what could have been?
“Without a doubt,” Godsey says.
“That game always brings back good memories. It was a great day in my football career, but it is a new year and a new game, and I am helping the team in a different way now.”
Maybe Godsey will make some new memories in 2002.
Lisa Mushett, a native of Keller, Texas, is in her fifth season as an assistant sports information director at the University of Notre Dame.