When Atticus Goodson showed up for Independence football practice as a first-time player as a sophomore in 2019, he was unceremoniously greeted by being placed last on the depth chart at running back.
Like everything else he took it as a challenge and ran with it.
And in some ways, he never stopped.
From fifth string running back Goodson ascended to the record books, finishing as the school leader in rushing yards (5,292 yards), touchdowns (83 total and 79 rushing), a two-time first-team all-stater and earlier this week winner of the Warner Award as the state’s top running back.
After a season that saw Goodson rush for 1,907 yards on 182 carries and 29 touchdowns, he finished off a storied career by being named winner of the prestigious Kennedy Award as the state’s top player by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.
The 6-fooot-1, 230-pound Independence senior averaged 190.7 yards per game and 10.5 yards per carry and rarely played in the second half of any of the Patriots first nine games.
But when he needed to carry the load, in the final three games of the season, he was ready, with 80 carries in those games.
He added 776 yard and nine touchdowns in four postseason games.
“We didn’t really know what he could do,” Independence coach John H. Lilly said of Goodson’s first days with the program. “I think he had played in midget league. We knew he was a good athlete. But we didn’t know he was that kind of athlete. I guess it was after the Midland Trail game (in the 2019 season opener) when we said, ‘Oh, this kid is going to be special.’ And you could just see him grow on the football field with every game that season.”
“I looked at it like a challenge, that I needed to work to get better,” he said.
After rushing for 103 yards and a touchdown in his debut in 2019 against a Trail team that would advance to Class A semifinals that season, he would top 200 yards in six of the final nine games that season and score 24 more touchdowns.
For the season he rushed for 1,767 yards and 25 touchdowns and caught 19 passes for 342 yards and three more scores.
He was named captain of the second-team Class AA all-state offense.
In a Covid shortened 2020 season Goodson rushed for 1,618 yards and 25 touchdowns and was a first-team all-state running back.
Four of the top eight players in voting for the Kennedy Award played in the teams that competed for the Class AAA championship game. Huntington quarterback Gavin Lochow finished second and his teammate Noah Waynick finished fourth. In a rarity, Martinsburg brothers Hudson and Murphy (injured prior to the Bulldogs playoff run) Clement finished third and eighth, respectively.
Spring Valley’s Ty Bartrum was fifth, Robert C. Byrd’s Jeremiah King was sixth and Berkley Spring’s Gavin Barkley was seventh.
For Goodson, finding out he won the Kennedy was a nice start to the holiday season.
“It’s definitely a really good Christmas present,” Goodson said. “It’s one of the better ones I’ve received.”
He said he would give it back for another shot at a state title, with no guarantees on the outcome, after Independence fell to Fairmont 21-12 in the Class AA state title game at Wheeling Island earlier this month.
“One-hundred percent, just to have a state championship under my belt would be the greatest thing on earth,” he said of the trade. “But this is pretty daggone good.”
Asked to describe his running style, Goodson said. “I run hard. I didn’t think anyone could tackle me and if you were in front of me you were challenging me and I was going to make you pay for it.”
Challenging himself was Goodson’s form of motivation.
His favorite run of the 445 carries he amassed over his career at Independence mirrors his description.
“It would probably be the one against Nicholas County (in 2020) when I stiff-armed that kid to the ground,” he said.
Everyone in the Independence program had a favorite Goodson moment – the A-Train’s Greatest Hits – from his pile moving runs, like the one against Roane County in which he dragged a scrum of six or seven defenders 10 more yards before he was stopped (yet not tackled, a trait of the runner) to the quick starts that saw him score on the first play of a game three different times.
One of his biggest plays this year came on defensive side of the ball. With added depth in the program, Goodson didn’t have to play full-time at linebacker or at defensive back, where he started in 2020. He was, however, inserted on defense against Roane County and he stopped fellow all-stater Brier Begley on fourth-and-one after brushing aside a block by a bigger lineman.
“He is just an athlete,” Lilly said. “He has some of the best hands on our team. I’ve seen him kick 50-yard field goals in practice. Some of our coaches think he could eventually develop into an NFL-caliber punter if he worked on it. He can do it all.”
His calling card on the field is physicality. His calling card off the field is opposite. He is respected for his ability on the field, liked for his demeanor after the battle.
“I really never heard from an opposing coach who didn’t like him, I really never heard another kid say an ill-word about him,” Lilly said. “Even in the heat of battle or after a bad loss, they come up and shake hands. He’s a different type of kid and that’s probably what has helped him handle all the hype. He just really doesn’t pay attention to it.”
Like most outstanding, numbers-producing running backs, Goodson always went out of his way to praise his offensive linemen.
Given a chance, he expanded the list.
“I’ve said my whole career I want to thank my linemen a ton, but I’m going to thank my linemen and my wide receivers,” Goodson said. “The wide receivers do just as much for me as the linemen do. The linemen keep (defenders) from getting to me early but without wide receivers blocking down field I would never get anywhere. So, it’s a me, the line, and wide receivers award. It’s really the whole team. They made it all possible.”
Of his 79 career rushing touchdowns, Goodson had many that went 50 plus yards.
“We have multiple videos that we watch at my house of me running down the field and (his brother) Cyrus coming in and hitting somebody or Judah (Price) coming in and hitting somebody that was getting ready to blindside me, or all of them, Cyrus, Trey (Bowers), Judah, running right beside be just blocking,” Goodson said.
He was first team all-state offensive captain, winner of the Warner Award as the state’s top running back in the state and now owns the award as the state’s top football player.
But his future is on the diamond, and he has committed to Walters State, one of the top JUCO baseball programs in the nation.
His brother Cyrus is an all-state first teamer, his dad John was an all-state lineman who was a Hunt Award finalist on the 1992 Fayetteville state championship team and his uncle Chris Grose was a starting fullback at Marshall. But baseball was always Atticus Goodson’s plan.
“Since God decided to give me to my mom (Melissa, a multiple all-state athlete herself and a member of the girls’ basketball Hall of Fame at Woodrow Wilson),” Goodson said of his love of baseball. “When He decided to make me is when my love for baseball started. I came out of the womb ready to play baseball. It’s just a great sport.”
But he was also good in football.
Even with a tackler in front of him, Goodson was rarely tackled going into the end zone, and he got into the end zone with frequency, averaging just under three touchdowns a game. He scored at least one touchdown in 26 of his 28 career games.
He also made a habit of either handing or flipping the ball to the nearest official after touchdowns, something that caught on with his teammates.
“I just figured if it was me, I wouldn’t want to chase a ball around because somebody was celebrating when I was there to do a job,” he said.
In his career Goodson was only held under 100 yads three times, twice against Nicholas County in the two games around the stiff-arm game, and he was injured in both of those.
The one time he was held under 100 came in his first meeting against rival Shady Spring, when he had just 35 yards on 13 carries.
He made up for that over the rest of his career, with both his 300-yard games coming against the Tigers ad he finished career putting up 865 yards on 56 carries with 16 touchdowns in three games, one a playoff game this past season. He averaged 15.4 yards per carry in those final three meetings.
Goodson finished his career with those two games over 300 yards, 13 other games over 200 yards and 10 more over 100.
Five of the last six Kennedy Award winners have been from Class AA schools, three of those running backs.
Goodson will be honored at the 75th annual Victory Awards Dinner May 1 at the Embassy Suites in Charleston.
Dave Morrison is a sports writer for the Beckley Register-Herald and provided this story on behalf of the WVSWA.