Three days per week, Le’Dontrae Gooden wakes up at 4:30 in the morning, hours before many college students begin hitting the snooze buttons on their alarms. The native of Sacramento, Calif., often blazes a trail between Seward and Lincoln while fulfilling the many responsibilities he’s tasked himself with.
Part student. Part football player. Part military serviceman. Part caretaker. Gooden wears many hats.
“It’s a lot. It’s a hectic schedule,” Gooden says. “It’s my ambition. I want to get it done. I want to show a good example for my little brother. He lives with me. I’m a huge role model to him.”
A pre-medicine major, Gooden first became active in military service as a student-athlete at Southern Oregon University, a school he attended for three years. The 5-foot-10 senior then continued those endeavors upon his arrival in Seward. Gooden, who first enlisted on Oct. 11, 2013, is in an officer’s program at the University of Nebraska that meets Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
He soon expects to serve the medical unit at the air force base in Lincoln. “Not the type of guy who wants to shoot guns,” Gooden’s aspirations are to become a physician’s assistant able to treat soldiers on the frontlines. In some ways, Gooden’s military service goes hand in hand with football. He likes how both push him to be a better leader and both promote an atmosphere of togetherness.
“The army is teaching me how to lead,” Gooden said. “I take a lot of pride in (serving the country). When you first join a team it means a lot to you, but you don’t understand the full scope of things until you actually get into it and see the things that people are sacrificing. Now I take a lot of pride in the army core values. It was instilled in me growing up, but to see it from a broader perspective makes me have pride in what I do.”
Those strong emotions make the juggling act worth it for Gooden, who has the unique responsibility of not just being a student, a football player and a serviceman to the country, he’s the most influential person on a day-to-day basis in the life of his 17-year-old brother Josh, who moved from the Sacramento area and enrolled at Seward High School.
“My mom and dad thought it was a better fit for him to come here and get on the right path,” Gooden said. “I want to be a role model. He was struggling a little grades-wise. That’s another reason he came out here. He’s an athlete. I think he can be better than me in the next couple of years. He’s on the right rack now, and I want him to come here.”
Le’Dontrae and Josh are two of 10 total siblings that grew up in the Gooden household. Le’Dontrae was eighth in the line, the baby of the family until a sister and then Josh were born. Le’Dontrae says it can be hard at times having Josh under the same roof while still meeting all of his other demands. But he appreciates the way Josh’s attitude has grown in a positive fashion.
Clearly Le’Dontrae believes he’s in a place where both he and Josh can succeed. Seward is home now, but one may have wondered why Le’Dontrae wanted to leave Ashland, Ore. It’s where Gooden made 45 tackles for the 2014 Southern Oregon team that captured the NAIA national championship. After his first year of basic training in the military, Gooden came back and was amazed at how many of his friends had left the school. But everything came together in 2014 for a special season.
“We all meshed together real well and we won that championship,” Gooden said. “And after that a lot of people left again. My dad was like, ‘It’s time for a new start.’ I think I emailed Coach (Patrick) Daberkow. I was literally signing my papers to go to MidAmerica Nazarene University and Coach Daberkow called. He was like, ‘Are you still looking for a school to go to?’
Ready to sign with another school, why did Gooden suddenly pull a complete 180? He says he was struck by the way that Daberkow talked to him. Said Gooden, “I never met someone so friendly over the phone like that. You could tell he was honest and genuine.”
Furthermore, Le’Dontrae, son of a pastor, liked the Christian aspect of Concordia. It just felt right. Daberkow helped get everything in order for Gooden to sign on the dotted line. Without ever having even stepped foot on campus, the California native had made up his mind that he would finish his college career at Concordia.
He's been rewarded for his “leap of faith.” The first players he met when he got to campus in the spring of 2015 were Bryce Collins, Michael Hedlund and Tait Sibbel. “These were good guys,” Le’Dontrae said. “The people here are good, honest people. You don’t get to see that a lot now days. That was a big deal for me.”
Le’Dontrae struggles to come up with any negatives in regards to his transfer to Concordia. He says the medical unit in Lincoln, Nebraska, is superior to the one he was part of in Oregon. Plus, Seward has provided a calm and peaceful place for his brother Josh to get away from distractions and become a better young man himself.
Considering all that Le’Dontrae takes on while still being one of the team’s highest performers in the classroom, it’s safe to say that Josh has the right role model. For Le’Dontrae, the early mornings are just a small price to pay for all that is right in his life. Says Gooden, “Everything happens for a reason. It all just fell into place.”
Military Appreciation Day: Service personnel who present a military ID at the entrance gates will be admitted free of charge as part of Military Appreciation Day on Saturday (Oct. 22). Four current Concordia football players are active in military service. They include junior Sebastian Garces (Boerne, Texas), sophomore Kalen Garrett (Doniphan, Neb.) and freshman Dylan Olmsted (York, Neb.) in addition to Gooden. All four will be acknowledged for their service during the game, which will kick off at 1 p.m. CT vs. No. 22 Midland.