Dwayne Goodrich back with message

IRVING, Texas -- As Dwayne Goodrich walked through the halls of the Dallas Cowboys' Valley Ranch practice facility one day last month, everything looked just about the same as it did nearly 10 years ago.

The team meeting room was tucked just inside the players' entrance. The equipment room was off to the left. The training room was around the corner. The locker room still had the curtains at the entrances.

Hanging photos of recent players were foreign to him. Some older photos looked familiar.

When Goodrich was selected by the Cowboys in the second round of the 2000 NFL draft, he had immediate visions of winning Super Bowls, going to Pro Bowls and living the life he always dreamed of having while growing up outside Chicago.

That never happened.

Instead, the cornerback became an example of all that was wrong with the Cowboys of the early 2000s on and off the field.

He never fulfilled expectations. He missed his second season because of a torn Achilles tendon. He returned in 2002 and started his only game in three seasons. When the team's poor drafts are mentioned, Goodrich's name is almost always near the top of the list.

"The most frustrating thing with Goody was this kid was a smart kid," former Cowboys safety Darren Woodson said. "I'm not going to say he was the best player. I didn't think athletically he was that gifted, but he was a smart kid, man. I never thought he took full advantage of the situation. He and I had some arguments because of it.

"It is what it is now, but at that time it was so damn frustrating because I felt like I could not reach this kid."

Early in the morning on Jan. 14, 2003, everything changed.

Goodrich's grey BMW struck three men attempting to free an unconscious man from a burning car involved in another accident on Interstate 35 in Dallas. Two of them died. One suffered a broken leg. Goodrich was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison. Five more years for failure to stop and render aid were tacked on to the prison time.

He was released on parole from the Huntsville Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in October 2011.

Goodrich, who turned 34 last week, was at Valley Ranch to talk to Cowboys rookies who hold the same aspirations he did in 2000.

His message was a simple one: Look at me.

"Every choice you make has consequences, whether it's good or bad," Goodrich said during a 30-minute interview before meeting with the players. "And just seize the moment. That's really what I'm on. Whether you're Morris Claiborne, the sixth overall pick, or Isaac Madison, an undrafted free agent … you seize the moment. There's no reason why you can't be the next [Tony] Romo or no reason you can't be the next Miles Austin and make a few Pro Bowls as an undrafted rookie.

"So, that's really what I want the guys to experience and just take them through my ups and downs of my life, whether it's being a national champion at Tennessee to MVP of the national championship game, to the first pick of the Cowboys to going to prison. I want to take them on that roller-coaster ride, so hopefully they understand that every choice you make has a consequence. And when you wear that star on your helmet and you have that NFL logo, it's a privilege to be here, not a right."

'A selfish decision'

Goodrich had always been identified as a star athlete. Now he is identified by the loss of life from an accident he can never forget, a night he doesn't want to forget.

"It's definitely hard when you know you took the lives of two people," Goodrich said. "I don't think it will ever get easy to talk about. It's something, I can't explain it. It's something I don't enjoy talking about but I know people need to hear it. I want people to hear my story and I want people to be able to go out there and not make those silly mistakes."

Jan. 13, 2003, was a typical offseason night. Goodrich and some friends were at his house playing video games. They decided to go to an Olive Garden for dinner, then visited two strip clubs.

"I had about two drinks that night," Goodrich said. "At about midnight, I decided to stop drinking because I knew I had to go home. So about 2:30, I'm heading up I-35 and another accident took place in front of me. And I was following behind an SUV and when she swerved to the right, I slammed on my brakes and that's when I finally first saw the car that was stalled in the road. And I couldn't go to the right because there was an 18-wheeler still coming by so I went to the left. It was Lane 4 and 5 and the car was tilted sideways in Lane 4 and 5. And then when I went there, that's where the three gentlemen -- Demont Matthews, Joseph Wood and Shuki Josef -- [were]. And Shuki Josef actually had his leg leaning out the car. And I struck all three of them. Demont Matthews died instantly. Joseph Wood [died] on the way to the hospital and Shuki Josef broke a leg. … And I just left the scene. Leaving the scene, I just panicked.

"Obviously, I made a selfish decision. I saw everything that I had worked for just flash in my face. I had all these thoughts in my head about 'just get to a safe place' and just not knowing how to handle the situation."

Goodrich, who went to his home, convinced himself he struck debris as he attempted to evade the wreck.

"I think that at the time I didn't want to realize what had happened," Goodrich said. "I don't want to say downplay what happened but in my mind I couldn't just bring my mind to say I knew that I actually hit somebody."

Setting an example

Goodrich went to prison in October 2005 and was released six years later on parole. His son, Dylan, was born two weeks after he was incarcerated. His daughter Jillian, now 9, learned to read while he was in prison.

"I think she read the sign when she came to visit one day, 'Texas Department of Criminal Justice,' so she knew what the word criminal meant I guess from school," Goodrich said. "At this point she was like, 'Daddy, you're a criminal,' so that was really tough."

He worked as a janitor in the prison chapel, where he had time to be alone. He was a model inmate, never getting in trouble. Fellow prisoners knew he was a former Cowboys player and knew he blew a chance few people receive.

"When I was in prison and I looked at a lot of guys they obviously looked up to me because I played football, but then they watched how I carried myself around there," Goodrich said. "At this time I'm 27, 28 years old and when I see an officer I'm like, 'Yes, sir. No, sir.' And you've got guys from south Dallas, Oak Cliff, they're looking at me like, 'Whoa, here goes this guy who's made a few million dollars and here he is respecting people.' So they watched how I carried myself and I think I earned a lot of respect by that. I mean, I got up and went to work every day and … I didn't go in there, 'I'm some athlete so you've got to treat me different.' I put on my shoes and my clothes the same way everybody else did and I did my time the way everybody else does."

In prison, Goodrich was able to join a group that talked to area schools. The first time he told his story, he cried for 20 minutes.

"And the story never gets easy to tell," said Goodrich, whose parole conditions state that he's not allowed to contact the surviving victim or the families of the deceased. "Obviously when I talk about the accident and failing as a man, of course, that's hard to talk about. But I know how important it is for other people to actually hear that."

Spreading the message

Standing in the team meeting room where a decade earlier he listened to then head coach Dave Campo, Goodrich spoke to the Cowboys' rookies for 45 minutes. His athletic pedigree gave him immediate credibility. He was coached at Tennessee by John Chavis, who coached the Cowboys' first pick this year, Claiborne, at LSU.

"He told us every part of it, from what he was doing the night before to what happened after," Claiborne said. "He didn't shy away or hide anything. You could tell the guys were on the edge of their seats. Everybody was pretty focused and listening to him."

Goodrich remembers hearing Cris Carter speak once while he was at Tennessee. Carter spoke of his cocaine addiction and how it nearly ruined his career.

"That literally went in one ear and out the other because at that time, I didn't have any addictions," Goodrich said. "I didn't do cocaine. I'm thinking, 'This doesn't apply to me. It's completely over my head.' When Cris talked, I thought it was cool, 'You're a Pro Bowl player now,' but it just went over my head. That was a fond memory I had when I heard people talk. I couldn't necessarily apply what they're telling me to my life, at the time."

Laura Wood, the mother of one of the victims, told The Dallas Morning News in October that her hope was "… that he tried to do the right thing in the future. Maybe he can turn it around and help kids do the right thing."

Since his release, Goodrich has talked at a few local churches. He has started a nonprofit foundation with hopes of doing more speaking and running football camps. He hopes to get involved with the NFL's rookie symposium one day. He is working with kids on strength and conditioning training in The Colony with his cousin Roy Sessions.

"I just want to get this message to not only just athletes," Goodrich said. "For me, the athletic part is just something I'm passionate about and it's a little easier to get in front of athletes because they can identify with 40 times, bench presses, what you're rated and we have coaches in common. But I want to get this message across not only to athletes but get it across to young kids because there's a lot of young kids I saw in the prison system that all they needed was just a little bit of guidance."

Goodrich contacted Woodson the week after he got out of prison. He apologized for not listening to Woodson when they were teammates and promised to do better.

"He can change a whole lot of lives," Woodson said. "He is an example of just a mistake of being on the streets and knowing at some point it's going to catch you. He gets it now. It took a long time but our lives are like that. I think he's totally sincere about where he is right now and wants to better his way of life. And others'."