PITTSBURGH – Sometimes it pays to have important friends.
At least that was the case for California University wide receiver Charaun (C.J.) Goodwin.
A Wheeling native and graduate of Linsly High School, Goodwin became acquainted with former Steelers star and Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount, whose sons attended Linsly, a small private school.
After Goodwin went unselected and unsigned by any NFL team following the draft, Blount made a phone call to the Steelers to get Goodwin, who has worked as a counselor at the Mel Blount Youth Home in Claysville, a tryout.
“Mel Blount called here and told them, ‘I’ve got this kid, you should take a look at him. He’s a good kid. I think he can play,’” Goodwin said Wednesday following his first official practice with the Steelers during their OTA workouts at the team facility on the South Side.
According to Goodwin, the workout didn’t go as well as he would have liked. He felt as if he had missed on his opportunity.
“I was surprised they called me and told me they were going to sign me for the OTAs,” said Goodwin. “It was unbelievable. My mom started crying.
“This is it, right here. There’s nothing bigger than this.”
And it’s a big step for a player who had just 11 receptions in his only season at California after transferring from Fairmont State, where he also played just one season of football.
Much like the unusual way he got his tryout with the Steelers, Goodwin’s start in college football was different as well.
The 24-year-old Goodwin spent two seasons at Bethany College as a basketball player before transferring to Fairmont State.
It was there that he caught the eye of then-head football coach Mike Lopez.
“I was just a regular student playing intramural basketball and football,” said Goodwin. “It was just intramural sports. The head coach of the football team was like, ‘Hey, you should come out and play.’ I wasn’t really sure about football. I played a little in high school. I went out and did pretty well.”
He finished his only season at Fairmont with 24 receptions for 440 yards and four touchdowns. Included in those totals were an 83-yard touchdown reception against West Liberty and a seven-catch, 141-yard game against Shepherd.
But Lopez was fired at Fairmont following that season and hired as the defensive coordinator at California.
“I went up there with him. They didn’t give me a lot of playing time there, which was kind of confusing,” Goodwin said. “But it’s fine. Now, I’m here. It’s amazing.”
Lest anyone think Goodwin’s only getting a shot because of his friendship with Blount, realize the 6-1, 178-pound receiver has some abilities that just can’t be coached.
First and foremost is his speed. Goodwin was timed as quickly as 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He showed further explosiveness with a 40-inch vertical jump.
He tested well enough at California’s pro day to get an invitation to the regional combine, which was held in Indianapolis in late March, after the regular NFL combine was completed. From there, he drew an invitation to the super regional combine in Detroit in April.
After failing to hear his name called on draft weekend, Goodwin thought he was going to sign as an undrafted rookie with Tampa Bay. But that didn’t work out.
“The Bucs called me and it seemed like they closed on me,” Goodwin said. “They called me one day and said they were going to bring me in. The next day they called and said never mind.”
Such is life for the undrafted in the NFL, a lesson driven home by his signing with the Steelers. To make room on the 90-man roster for Goodwin, Pittsburgh released fellow undrafted rookie receiver Jasper Collins.
Goodwin’s speed and connection to Blount might have helped him get his foot in the door with the Steelers. But, now, it’s completely up to him what he does with the opportunity.
“I’ve got kind of a stigma. I’ve got to beat that. This is Mel’s kid - at least just to me. Nobody else knows,” said Goodwin, speaking of his new teammates.
“It means the world to me. I call him all the time. Mel knows. It’s love. He knows I’m a good guy. For a Hall of Famer to reach out for somebody like me is unbelievable. I still can’t believe it. (But) when you get on the field, it’s football. Right now, I’m looking at this helmet and it’s like a surreal feeling.”