Diamond In The Rough: KJ Gooden

Measuring in at 6’5” and 180 lbs., Kenneth Gooden Jr., or well-known as KJ Gooden, is a varsity quarterback a part of the 2021 class at Deridder High School in Deridder, Louisiana. Being a first team all-district athlete, KJ displays versatility and leadership on and off the field. Gooden has a 3.6 GPA with a 4.5 second 40 meter dash, 4.2 second shuttle run, and a 32” vertical jump. KJ possesses a powerful throwing arm and can quickly read everything going on the field as he determines the best approach to extend the play. With the mindset of always improving himself and uplifting his team along with consistently working hard, KJ Gooden is a stand-out, mobile quarterback looking to accomplish a lot of goals and break several records this upcoming season. 

What did you start playing football? 

I started playing football when I was five years old. I started off playing flag football in a youth football league we had in Deridder. I played with that youth football league until I was about twelve years old. My dad was the one who got me into playing football – he introduced me to the sport, and I have been in love with it ever since. 

Have you always played quarterback when you started contact football or did you started off in another position and transitioned into quarterback?

I have played quarterback my whole life. It was only my sophomore year that I played wide receiver. 

How would you describe your playing style on the field? 

My playing style: a little shifty. When I’m on the field, I’m not overly hype, I’m even-keel. My ability to run the ball at a high level and extend plays like when a bad play could be going on the field, I can use my legs to extend that play. I’m very good at ad-libbing and extending plays. So, I would describe my playing style as dual-threat style – I can run the ball if need be and I can pass.  

Being a quarterback, helping your team extend plays, and eventually scoring touchdowns and winning the games – how would describe your leadership style? 

I’m not a very vocal person in general. I lead by example. When I do see something going on, I will approach the player about it and let him know “hey you need to do this rep better or improve running this drill.” I will be vocal about the things you need to be vocal about, but overall, I lead by example. I’ve always been that way – quiet, humble, and wanting to get better. Like I said, those certain things in practice – the drills and the reps; if I know that person can give it their all and do better, I will call them out on it. 

Yeah; I feel like in some situations in sports, it’s better to take a more action approach than vocal because, at times, seeing it in play makes more sense than solely talking terminology. It’s still important to know your terminology, but knowing how to play it out on the field when the coaches call it out is equally important. Your performance during your junior season led you to being First Team All-District Athlete. What were some contributing key factors that guided you to this accomplishment?

The motivation from my teammates – them pushing me and vice versa. My dad and I will talk about it. I wanted to have an outstanding season, especially with my junior year being my first year playing as starting quarterback. I worked hard every day to get better because I knew I was going to have to make a name for myself. Nobody knew who I really was at the time. I felt like I had to go out there, prove a point, and show people my capabilities at that position. So, all of that really motivated me and my teammates pushed me to get better. I knew what I could do; I had to go out there and make it happen. The people around motivated me and helped me achieve that goal. 

Right and you did exactly that: you showed up, worked hard, and now you are seeing the start of your goals being achieved. Speaking of consistently bettering yourself, what have you doing during the coronavirus pandemic to improve your athletic ability? 

So, I’ve been doing a lot of individual workouts. I will get up early in the morning to go to the field, throw some routes with some of the receivers. There’s only a couple of us out there; not a big group of us because of everything going on. I make it minimum – only like four people at a time. We’ll go out there and throw some routes. If they’re not available, coach gave me a net as well. So, I’ll go out in my backyard, work on footwork drills and throw to the net – work on my accuracy and timing; working on different parts of my game. I’d go to the track at my school and work on my speed development. I do a lot of leg workouts as well to get my jump higher. Altogether, getting physically stronger, become faster, and mentally prepared for my senior season. 

Do you have a favorite kind of workout or are you more of a well-rounded person? 

I’m well-rounded. Whatever I can do to get every muscle in my body stronger, I’m willing to do any type of workout. It doesn’t really bother me. Sometimes, I’ll go workout with my mom or my aunt. They’ll go to bootcamp and they do all kinds of different workouts. I do it to the best of my abilities because I know it’s going to pay off in the long run. 

Going into your senior season, what are some goals that you have? They can individual goals, team goals, or both. 

My number one goal is to compete in the dome for a state championship. I want to get past the second round. We lost to a really good team last year – Neville High. I want to win the district championship because last year, we did come up short against Tioga High. We lost to them by a touchdown in the fourth quarter. That lost was hard. I couldn’t sleep that night because I wanted to win that district title. Individually, I want to break over 1,000 rushing yards and at minimum 2,000 passing yards. 

Let’s digress from football for a couple questions – to get to know you better off the field. What would your teachers say about you as a student? 

As a student, I’m that kid that doesn’t really say much, but he does his work and does what he is supposed to do. He’s a respectful kid and is willing to do whatever he can to get that A or B. The ultimate goal to get an A. My teachers would say I’m a quiet, humble kid and does his work along with trying to get good grades. 

What is your academic GPA? 

Currently, I have a 3.6 GPA. 

What would your coaches say about you as teammate and a player a part of their football program?  

They would say similar things to what my teachers would say. He’s more on the quiet side, but he works hard each and every day – willing to do everything to help the team out. He leads by example. 

Okay, I want to ask you this next question because I think you’ll have an interesting perspective on it. Do you consider football to be harder mentally, physically, or both? Why?

As a quarterback, to me, it is harder mentally. Physically, it’s a little bit hard, but I embrace that aspect with no problem. I’m cool with the physicality, but it’s the mental part. Being the quarterback, you have to remember every spot on the field. You have to know basic coverages on defense. You have to know what the receivers are doing, what your linemen are doing, what your running backs are doing – you have to know everything on the field, and it can get you mentally. Now, I’m always up for a challenge and that’s why play football because football is one of the hardest sports to play. Now, football can get you physically too – from all of the tackles and similar hits. That’s where taking care of your body comes into play; eating right, getting enough sleep, and staying hydrated. It’s the little things that can definitely affect the way you perform on the field. It’s definitely some of the things you need to take care of as a football player. 

Do you have any hobbies? What do you like to do off the field?

Off the field, I like to hang out with friends. We’ll go out to eat and chill. I like to be on phone a lot whenever I’m not doing anything football-related. I’m laying down on my phone and playing games on my phone. I play a lot of video games too. 

I saw that you are a dual-athlete. What other sports do you play? 

I play for the varsity basketball team since sophomore year. I play starter small forward, shin guard, and power forward. 

Very nice. Tell me more about your gameday routine. How do you hype yourself and focus in?

Before the games, I’ll eat a good meal, take a little nap in the locker room, and I’ll listen to a lot of hip-hop/rap music – helps me get pumped up before the game. I listen to a lot of rappers that will get you hype. Sometimes, I’ll listen to heavy metal every now and then because my dad got me into that. He said that was his pregame music because it was loud and amped up.

I could see how heavy metal music could hype someone’s spirit and boost their energy. Do you have a life motto that you live by? 

I have this quote on my wall and I look at it every day before I leave the house because it means a lot to me. Kevin Durant said, “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.” I’ve been living by that motto ever since I’ve heard it. 

Personally, where do you see yourself playing football at on a collegiate level? 

I feel like, in this era, a lot of college coaches are starting to look into mobile quarterbacks – escaping the pockets when need be and similar abilities like that. I see myself playing in division one. That’s the goal: I want to be able to play college football at the highest level. If I get those D-2 and D-3 offers that guarantees me a starting spot in the quarterback position, I’ll be open to playing there as well. A lot of division two and three guys go into the NFL draft as well. Wherever I know that I will have guarantee playing time and starting spot, that’s where I’m going to go play at. 

What has football taught you as a person and as a player?

Helping others, teamwork, and loyalty. They taught me a lot about loyalty. At the end of the day – win, lose, or draw – your guys are going to have your back. Loyalty is the biggest thing football has taught me; being with your brothers, day in and day out, seeing them around school, and knowing you all are fighting and working together to reach the same goal.

Going into your senior season, you are a great leader, and I have a good feeling the readers and I will get to watch you play collegiate ball no matter what division you go into. What advice do you have for the younger players who aspire to play collegiate ball in their future? 

Don’t give up and always keep working because someone is going to see the work you are putting in every day. Keep staying motivated and stay dedicated. Don’t stop the grind because it will pay off in the long run. I’ve been there before in that low point and the people that believed me when I didn’t think I was helped me stay motivated and working hard. Now, I have a lot of programs interested in me and talking to me. That shows if you believe and never give up on your dreams, then anything is possible.   

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