Photo courtesy of Adam Kramer
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — He first appears inside Room 208 of Olmsted Academy North on aThursday in mid-March, sitting at the corner of a table his legs can't fit under.
Kiyaunta Goodwin is fully engaged in art class. But unlike his eighth-grade classmates, he doesn't draw on a sheet of paper. Because of the size and strength of his unusually large hands, the 14-year-old uses poster board because it allows him more room to operate.
As Goodwin shifts his 6'7", 370-pound body, the10 a.m.bell rings. Wearing a bright purple collared shirt and tan khakis, he walks toward the door, holding the black case that houses his bass clarinet in his left hand. His size 18 shoes and long strides reach the doorway in a matter of steps. He's a foot taller and 200 pounds heavier than anyone in the room.
As he exits, it's easy to see why Goodwin already has five verbal football scholarship offers—including one from Georgia, one of the hottest college football programs in the country. Local schools Louisville, Kentucky and Western Kentucky have offered as well.
"He's a real college lineman right now," says Raesean Bruce,Goodwin's middle school coach. When Goodwin gives you a "bro-like" handshake, Bruce says your head basically bashes into his shoulder."He's just so big, and he doesn't know his real strength yet."
In the strange, proactive and often uncomfortable world of college football recruiting, Goodwin is definitely on the radar of college coaches. While it all seems to be too much, too soon, those closest to Goodwin have been busy preparing him for what may lie ahead.
Kimberly Durham knew this day would come. She just didn't expect it to happen so soon. So quickly. So organically.
To this day, Durham keeps Goodwin's folded-up birth certificate in her purse, mainly out of habit. She kept it with her at first so he could ride the bus for free, back when he was six. Most bus drivers didn't believe he was that young otherwise. She's since been asked to produce it at football games and other places. The folds in the document are well-defined. The date of birth—Nov. 14, 2003—confirms what so few believe, even with visual evidence.
"Every day, someone wants to know how old he is," Durham says. "And when you tell them, they don't believe you. At his size, I get afraid that people will mistake him as a grown man."
Kiyaunta Goodwin and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.Photo courtesy of Chris Vaughn
College coaches have been guilty of this. When Goodwin visited Ohio State at the age of 13, the assistant coaches marveled at his size. It wasn't until he pulled out a Ring Pop and began sucking on it unprompted that he revealed his true age.
Goodwin came into this world at seven pounds and 21 inches long—the smallest and youngest of Durham's four children. By the age of two, however, she could see that he was different. "He was just so interested in everything,"Durham says. "And he kept getting taller and taller and taller."
Durham, who is 6'3", never envisioned she would be eye-to-eye with her son so soon. But by the end of sixth grade, it happened. It wasn't so much a growth spurt; he simply never stopped growing.
By the age of four, doctors told his mother that he could grow to be 7'10" based on his bone structure. On a visit a few months ago, doctors said that Goodwin could still grow to be more than seven feet tall.
As a result of both his height and weight, everything in Goodwin's life has had to be customized. His bed is king-sized and extra long. Most of his clothing and shoes must be ordered online. The football team had to borrow football pants for him from a nearby high school. He wears an NFL helmet and pads, and his cleats won't fit inside his school locker.
Football came into his life not because of his size. He began to play after his late grandmother, a fan of the sport, suggested he do so. Despite being so much larger than his competition, Goodwin struggled at first—with the concepts and the rules, and with how much larger he was than everyone around him.
A message from his grandmother lingered in the back of his mind. It's a message that he still thinks about every time he plays.
"She told him not to hurt the little kids," Durham recalls. "I know he's afraid of hurting someone because of his size, and he still holds back. Kiyaunta realizes the strength that he has, and I just don't think he's ready to release all of it yet."
Photo courtesy of Adam Kramer
His handshake is memorable, and the facial expressions that follow from those on the other end range from shock to discomfort. "People just react strange," Goodwin says. Some have asked him not to shake so hard; others have marveled at his powerful grip.
When he speaks, Goodwin finally seems his age. His voice still has the pitch of someone who's working through adolescence. He talks softly, to the point that it can be hard to hear him at times.
Hours before his third workout of the week, Goodwin sits inside a recently furnished office in Aspirations Fitness in Louisville, where he has trained for the past few years. His mother recently began working at the gym's front desk, and the two spend the majority of their nights inside these walls.
Football is becoming more a part of his life, although Goodwin seems far more interested in talking about his other interests. Like his love of art—not just creating but also studying paintings and drawings. Or his passion for chess and the strategy involved. Or how much of an impact music has on his life.
"It gives me a chance to express myself in different ways," he says of his bass clarinet. He's also played trombone. "It's just amazing how you can take your own air out of your body, put it through something and create music."
Goodwin hopes to find a high school and college with a robotics program. Dating back to his days of taking apart television remotes, engineering—not football—has been his greatest fascination.
The recent attention he's received as a football prospect has not altered those plans. Nor have the many voices telling him that his future is in the NFL. If there was concern that Goodwin would be negatively impacted by this abrupt, intense spotlight, he shows no signs of it.
"Robotics brings creating and today's technology together, and I love all of it," Goodwin says. "I love it so much that I know I want to do it with my life. Finding a robotics program is more important to me than finding a football team."
Chris Vaughn, a former captain of Louisville's football team and the founder and CEO of Aspirations Fitness, surveys his gym as it fills up on an early Thursday evening.
In the past six years, more than 100 Division I athletes have worked out at Aspirations under Vaughn. In Kentucky, this is where many of the best football players come to train. But in all his years around the sport, he's never been around anyone quite like Goodwin.
Vaughn has taken Goodwin on visits to Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia and others. The visits are simply to give him a taste of what's out there—to show him parts of the country and places that could become his home.
"I've been blessed to work with a lot of kids who are genetically blessed, but he's different,"Vaughnsays. "He's the 1 percent of the 1 percent. I've talked with coaches who have told me he's going to be the No. 1 player in the country and the No. 1 draft pick."
For the first hour of his workout, Goodwin is on the elliptical. His long legs and arms methodically go back and forth. Because of Goodwin's size and age,Vaughn has taken a delicate approach with his training. Much of what Goodwin does is cardio and stretching. There has been a conscious effort to limit the strain on his ankles and knees.
Once he's done at the elliptical, Goodwin comfortably leg-presses more than 1,000 pounds. He then bench-presses 315 pounds with a little assistance from his coach. A collection of players and coaches gather around as the weight increases.
Much of this is new to Goodwin, who has lifted weights for only three months. "I expect him to be every bit of a 500-pound bench-presser by the time he gets out of high school,"Vaughn says. "He has that kind of strength."
After lifting,Goodwin and a handful of other linemen work on footwork and blocking. Of all his gifts, his ability to deftly carry 370 pounds is most staggering. His weight is evenly distributed. He's well-coordinated and moves naturally.
"If he stays healthy, he's going to go to the NFL," says Rondale Moore, a 4-star wide receiver and Purdue signee in the Class of 2018, per 247Sports.
Kiyaunta Goodwin works on the bench press.Photo courtesy of Adam Kramer
Moore, one of the fastest players in the country, will leave Aspirations in the next few months for his next step. He, like so many others inside the gym, cannot help but wonder what Goodwin will look like four years from now.
"He'll probably have 100 offers, and I think he's definitely going to be the best player in the country," adds Wandale Robinson, a running back in the Class of 2019 who has nearly 20 offers.
Because of his size,Goodwin does not match up with players his own age during drills. Instead, he'll go up against Stephen Herron Jr.—one of the most coveted defensive ends in the country. Herron, a Michigan commit, is the No. 5 weak-side defensive end in the Class of 2019, according to247Sports.
"He's going to be the No. 1 tackle in the nation," Herron says. "It's just not fair to be that big and that strong at his age."
Every movementGoodwin makes is followed by watchful, curious eyes. Athletes, parents and coaches follow him no matter where he goes. Some record his movements on cellphones; others stop what they're doing to get a glimpse, even if he is someone they see almost every day.
There is a sense inside this dimly lit gym, even now, that they are witnessing the beginning of something extraordinary.
Kiyaunta Goodwin, pictured with his bass clarinet, with his family after a band concert.Photo courtesy of the Goodwin family
There is a part of all of this that is plenty uncomfortable, at least for some. Although it is no longer atypical for eighth-graders to receive interest from college football programs, that doesn't mean the attention bestowed on Goodwin is not excessive and premature.
This is something Vaughn has been mindful of since he met Goodwin years ago. It's why he's screened requests from media already trickling in on Goodwin's behalf. It's also why at least once a week the two will sit down and do mock interviews—to learn not just how to prepare for the attention but also how to talk to people.
"Once you get past the size and his stature, you realize he's very well-spoken and extremely articulate," Vaughn says. "He's a thoughtful, considerate kid."
Goodwin's mother has been in lockstep with Vaughn's plan and everything that has happened thus far. Each night when they come from the gym, she cooks dinner with her son. Then, when he closes his door, she can hear the sounds of the bass clarinet as she readies for bed.
As long as there is a balance and Goodwin is happy, she's happy. The idea that her son is already being evaluated by college coaches is not a concern.
"It's wonderful, and I am enjoying it," Durham says. "Mostly, I want him to focus on his education. At the end of the day, an injury today or tomorrow could end all of that."
Most importantly, Goodwin is content with his life. Sure, finding proper-fitting clothes can be challenging, and few chairs will ever sit him comfortably. But given everything else, these inconveniences seem small.
He has his art and his music and his love of robotics, none of which are defined by size. And he loves football, regardless of the expectations that are beginning to mount.
The pressure to play will always be there, based on who he is and what he looks like. But as much as any 14-year-old can at such a young age, he insists this game will not be what defines him.
"Football is something I love doing, but it's also something I want to use to get more out of life," Goodwin says. "I could be one of the first people in my family to graduate. I want to go to college and get a degree."