When Jonathan Goff and his older brother, Jason, were little, they did everything together. Born just 14 months apart, both liked Legos and while Jonathan's towers were bigger, Jason's were more stable. In eighth grade, Jonathan started playing football, and that's where their paths diverged.
This year they both embark on new roles. Jonathan will try to lock down the starting middle linebacker spot on the New York Giants, while Jason will start a new career as a geotechnical engineer on the West Coast.
Last year, Jonathan started out of necessity when Antonio Pierce was injured -- but he did not win the job outright. As the draft got closer last spring, analysts were predicting the team would need a middle linebacker. Goff didn't listen to the pundits, thinking instead about the reps he got late in the season.
"I definitely say that that experience was invaluable just finishing out the end of the season, getting those snaps under my belt," Goff said.
If he seems a man of few words, that's because the 24-year-old has always been one to let his game do the talking. He wouldn't necessarily tell you that he got his degree in mechanical engineering from Vanderbilt before he was drafted, or that he was named student-athlete of the month in January 2007, made the SEC honor roll that year or that his work in friction-based welding was mentioned in a published paper.
"You can't play football forever," Goff said. "It's just a fact of life. I guess you could call it a Plan B. I decided a long time ago that I didn't want to be a coach or on television. I don't want to be a television personality. It's not my cup of tea."
Last spring he took an internship with Skanska, one of the companies involved in the construction of new Meadowlands stadium. Goff shadowed engineers during the construction, just to keep his skills fresh.
Meanwhile, his focus is on convincing the Giants' coaching staff that he has the presence and the play-calling authority to orchestrate the defense.
"He's done a good job," Tom Coughlin said. "He's communicated well, he's directed traffic out there, he's been physical, he's made good progress."
What people don't see much of is Goff's lighter side. Giants long-snapper Zak DeOssie has roomed with Goff, his best friend on the team, for seven months. It's a bit like the odd couple: DeOssie is outgoing where Goff is quiet -- to a point.
"He's a little more reserved around here," DeOssie said, "but you get him in his element and he's a funny, funny guy."
Jason Goff -- who managed to earn two bachelor's degrees in five years through a program at Morehouse College and Georgia Tech -- still marvels that his brother could do what he did while playing SEC football. That they both have excelled has a lot to do with their mother's influence. Gwendolyn Tyre is an associate justice for the Juvenile Court Department of Middlesex County (Mass).
"The bar was set pretty high," Jason said.
He can remember being a kid and watching from banquet rooms as his mother accepted one award or another. Tyre ran an academically conscientious house. Homework was done first; both boys had to be organized and thorough if they wanted to go outside and play.
It's still that way. Only now the instruction Jonathan gets has to do with what happens on the playing field. Goff has had plenty of other candidates apply for the job he wants, but when Keith Bulluck was moved to outside linebacker, the lane was cleared.
"Competition is going to bring out the best in everyone," Goff said. "In this business competition brings out the best and brings out what's best for the team."