SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- John Goodman was unsure five months ago if he would even be welcomed back to Notre Dame for a fifth season. And yet halfway through spring practice, with the Irish's 2012 season five months away, he has been walking and talking like the leader of a unit looking to fill the void left behind by the program's all-time leading receiver.
"That's the kind of guy I want to be, and I really think I can be that," Goodman said of Michael Floyd, a likely first-round draft pick in three weeks. "I have the utmost confidence about that, it's just, I've got to go show it."
Goodman's 2011 season did little to inspire the notion that he could capably fill Floyd's shoes, as the Fort Wayne native had just seven catches for 65 yards. In fact, Goodman's three-year total of 28 grabs for 315 yards looks like little more than any strong two- or three-game stretch by Floyd from the past two seasons.
But with the role of No. 1 target up for the taking this spring, Goodman has thus far risen to the challenge, locking in whenever he walks into the LaBar Practice Complex in a manner unseen the previous four years.
"I always saw ability," current offensive coordinator and former safeties coach Chuck Martin said. "We try to cover -- he's hard to cover. We cover good receivers on a lot of teams and Goody, our defensive backs are like, 'The kid's a good player.' I watched him, I'm like, 'God, he can run, he's tall, he can start, he can stop, he runs great routes.' But it's been the consistency.
"And that's what we've been saying: 'Are you going to be a 70-30 guy? Are you going to be 70 percent a really good player and 30 percent a guy that's going to help us lose a football game, or are you going to be the 100 percent guy?' And he's really approached it and taken it, and a lot of it is probably just senior, this is my last go-round. But just the emphasis that you can be a really effective player on our offense and play a ton and catch a lot of balls, but that's up to you. We'd love it to be you, but we'll find somebody else that's going to be consistent if you're not going to be consistent. So he's really done a nice job."
Goodman has been running with T.J. Jones and Robby Toma on the first team this spring, with head coach Brian Kelly calling the fifth-year senior the Irish's go-to guy thus far.
"He has stepped up his game considerably, and he's got a ways to go, but I expect him to do really big things for us," Kelly said. "He's fast -- he's one of the fastest guys on the team. He's got length. He can play taller than the average defensive back. I think more than anything else is just consistency with John. He's going to have a really fine year for us."
Goodman became the Irish's de facto punt returner last season, which, given the Irish's return struggles, essentially consisted of calling for fair catch after fair catch. He netted just five yards on eight returns and lost a fumble.
A U.S. Army All-American and multipurpose threat out of Bishop Dwenger High School four years ago, Goodman is aware of the expectations that were placed upon him when arriving at Notre Dame. And he knows, much like running back Jonas Gray's renaissance senior campaign in 2011, it's not too late to fulfill them.
"I haven't accomplished everything I wanted to, and there's so much left to be done here for me," Goodman said. "And I felt like my leadership skills have gotten better throughout the year and I just feel like I just needed that last year. It was just essential that I have it and without it, I don't even know what I would've done, because I had my mind set since I'd been a redshirt freshman that I'm going to play this fifth year. And all last season I wasn't sure about it and I just wanted to let Coach Kelly know, the other coaches know that I'm ready for it. I'm good. Once Mike leaves, I want to step up and take that position."