Article and Photography by ALICE MARY HERDEN
On Saturday, July 31, Central Alumni Tyrone Goodson, now residing in Ocala, traveled back to his childhood home turf in Brooksville. He and his close friends and family members took over Ernie Wever Youth Park to give back to the community he feels brought him success by offering a free youth football camp.
It all started in Brooksville, “I played in the Hernando Youth League for five years, and Ernie Wever used to be our practice field. I was fast. I didn’t get hit much. I didn’t let no one catch me,” Goodson laughs.
Goodson strongly believes that while attending Central High school, the coaches and teachers significantly impacted his life as a student-athlete. They helped him prepare for many challenges as he pursued his dream of having an athletic career in sports.“They gave me the chance to put me on the right platform and showcase my athletic abilities. If it weren’t for that coaching staff, I wouldn't have gotten recruited as I did, and they were always giving. I would have run through a brick wall for that coaching staff at Central High School, and I believed in the system they had set up there for me,” Goodson said.
Goodson adds that his football coach Charles C. Gannon played a vital role in his teenage years until he graduated from Central High School in 1993.
“He took me to my first real college game at Florida (University of Florida) to see Ernie Mills play. I was a freshman in high school, and from what I saw at the game, I knew I belonged at that level. When I saw Ernie Mills wearing (jersey) number 14, I laughed because at Central, I wanted (jersey) number 7, but Coach Gannon gave me (jersey) number 14. If Central High would ever retire my football number 14, I would like Coach Gannon and his wife would be present.”
Goodson also wrote that throughout the years at Auburn and his time in the NFL he aimed to be both physically and mentally tough. He was not shy to injury during his career. He broke his jaw in the 1996 Independence Bowl at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, Louisiana, between the Army Cadets and the Auburn Tigers. In 1997 against Mississippi State, he left in the second quarter with a second-degree shoulder separation but not after completing four passes that gained his team 112 yards.
“Coach Gannon is the coach that gave me that mental toughness and taught me how to conduct myself on and off the field. I want to tell him, ‘thank you, and I love you,’” Goodson shared.
He also wants to thank Coach Gannon’s wife, who happened to be Goodson’s math teacher. Without her help in geometry, Goodson would not have been able to attend Auburn. Goodson’s involvement in mentoring young kids in the community inspired him to form his own non-profit organization called Tyrone Goodson Youth and Sports Programs, Inc. With the help of his wife, Kristy, and his family, this organization has been going strong since 2013.
Kristy Goodson organized the camp, provided the vision for the t-shirts, and made all of them one by one. And Antoniette Lawson Napier, a graduate of FAMU University and owner of Slip-n-Slush, provided free Slushies for all the campers.
For Goodson, giving back is not the only reason to organize these camps. His son Tyrone Goodson Jr. is also a big part of building this organization. Goodson states that his son is eager to know about the sport’s history and started at an early age in that football environment. “He goes to Auburn every year since he was six months old. I had him on the sideline before the game started, and the look in him was amazing,” Goodson stated.
One of the biggest supporters of Goodson’s is Fabian Burnett and Donte Mason, who Goodson states are pillars in the community. “I hope one day they could get a bigger platform for them to showcase their coaching ability and their vision for Hernando County,” Goodson said.
The communication between Fabian Burnett and Goodson keeps the ideas in motion to develop and create avenues for them to build a solid foundation and, in turn, put it back into their community. “We talk about it (camps) all the time. We are on the phone for hours talking about the kids and the development of building a good foundation. Having a camp like this even through the pandemic is just good for the families in the area and the surrounding areas,” Burnett said.
“We grew up in the same neighborhood in the ’80s. Back in our days, playing sports was the thing to do; baseball in Kennedy park, playing football with the Hernando Youth League. Tyrone was one of the bigger, more popular, more athletic kids... We knew he would get a scholarship, go to college and play professional sports,” Burnett said.
Camp Experience: “Just cool fun.”
The campers pushed every ounce of fuel they had on the field at Ernie Wever Youth Park, inspired by familiar coaches from HYL, those formerly part of a professional football organization, and some currently on a college and arena football roster. The kids were eager to learn and display their passion for being part of the sport.
Donte Mason and Coach Maner are part of the Hernando Youth League, and campers that participated in this event got an extra day of drills before the official HYL practice set for Sunday, August 1st. “This is like the kick-off for the HYL season. We are excited for this season and ready to go,” Donte Mason said.
During this camp, the kids were surrounded by many generations of talent. After all, they were once in their shoes. Now it’s their turn to remember how it was back then and give the best advice to these kids from their own personal challenges and successes.
Dontae Roberts and his son Sterling, who is currently a freshman at Troy University, also had a family connection with Goodson. “Tyrone is my big cousin. I really wanted to do what they (my family) were doing and follow in their footsteps. I was looking up to my big cousins when I was little just like them; now I’d like to share it back,” Sterling Roberts said.
Troy Grant, currently a wide receiver for the Orlando Predators arena football team, knows this field exceptionally well. “I was born and raised here. I literally grew up on this field. This generation, you have to pay attention and listen. Listening goes a long way,” Grant said.
A friend of Goodson and former teammate at Auburn and opponent in the NFL, Robert Baker, was also part of the camp.
“He asked me to come out and be a special guest and help these kids learn and continue their process in learning football. The good thing about it is, these types of camps help kids learn commentary, learn how to socialize with other kids,” Baker said. “It definitely gets them exposed to listening to somebody else, paying attention to the direction, paying attention to stuff that is going to help them once they get to high school. When a coach says to do something, they have to know how to do it, get it done. This type of situation helps kids learn how to pay attention,” Baker added.
Goodson’s Camp Standouts
The campers who participated in this event worked hard, and some that caught the eye of Goodson were Dontae Mason Jr. and Alex Lawson, and Kendyl Freites. According to Goodson, Kendyl had the best performance and was the only girl participant. “She had an amazing athletic ability and was mentally strong to compete against the boys. Tae Tae Williams was the fastest in my last two football camps, so I see a great future with his athletic ability and hard work. His determination towards a college career in football or track is around the corner,” Goodson wrote.
Goodson also told his campers that even if you don’t get padded up to play on an NFL football field, you can still pursue other avenues within the NFL. “You can end up being a coach, working in the personnel department, an NFL referee. It’s a terrific game if you use it the right way,” Goodson said.