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Posted Dec 14, 2011

It may be hard to picture now, but imagine a young Jonathan Goodwin with big, framed glasses and a hi-top fade haircut.

That’s how his brother remembers him.

Five years Jonathan’s senior, Harold Goodwin has also carved out a football life of his own since those humble days in South Carolina.

It’s the middle of the season now, so contact between the two brothers isn’t as frequent. But when the 49ers host the Pittsburgh Steelers Monday night at Candlestick Park, there will certainly be a pre-game embrace between the brothers Goodwin.

Nowadays, Harold Goodwin spends his Sundays up in the coaches’ box, peering down onto the field as an offensive assistant coach for the Steelers. Jonathan Goodwin, on the other hand, is on the field as a 10-year veteran with one Super Bowl ring and trip to the Pro Bowl under his belt.

But it likely wouldn’t have been possible without his older brother, who will gladly tell you all about it.

“He won’t admit to it, but I got the athletic genes,” Harold Goodwin said with a laugh. “Athleticism comes from me; you can tell him I said that.”

Kidding aside, Harold Goodwin was something of an inspiration for his kid brother growing up. And his kid brother wasn’t always called Jonathan, either. Certain days when he got mad, Jonathan Goodwin turned so red that his family started calling him the “Red Lobster.”

The “Red Lobster” has since cooled down in his 33 years. You’d be hard-pressed to ever find Jonathan Goodwin flustered these days.

He’s been described by coordinator Greg Roman as the “cool-hand Luke” of the 49ers offensive line, made an instant impact since signing a free-agent deal this offseason and commanded the respect of his teammates inside the locker room.

And he hasn’t had to say much to do it.

“He is a steady ‘Rock of Gibraltar’ type guy,” Roman said. “He doesn’t say a whole lot, in terms of being vocal all the time, but you want to talk about a smart guy; he’s kind of like E.F. Hutton in a sense that when he talks, people listen.”

It only makes sense that Jonathan Goodwin landed with the 49ers, following five successful seasons with the New Orleans Saints. He had a choice to make: stay with the franchise that helped shape his career or leave for new pastures. Despite flip-flopping twice on the day he signed his contract, Jonathan Goodwin was ultimately lured to the left coast by the 49ers.

“Matter of fact, (49ers General Manager) Trent (Baalke) recently gave me some grief about how hard I made him work,” Jonathan Goodwin said.

Through 13 games this season, it’s clear Baalke did his homework. Jonathan Goodwin has become a pillar of the 49ers offensive line, paving the way for the league’s 7th ranked rushing attack.

In a symbolic display, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith literally leans on Jonathan Goodwin in the offensive huddles during games.

As a player who spends most of his afternoon getting in and out of a crouched stance, Jonathan Goodwin just wants to stand up sometimes. But being 6-foot-3, 318 pounds, he makes a better door than a window.

Just ask running backs Kendall Hunter or Frank Gore, neither of whom are taller than 5-foot-9.

“But every now and then, you’ll see me sneak to the side and stand up,” Jonathan Goodwin said.

The subtle sense of humor and reserved deposition have been a staple of Jonathan Goodwin’s demeanor his whole life. Son to a pair of athletic parents, he also spent many balmy South Carolina nights watching softball tournaments as a kid. Looking back, these nights by the baseball diamond are what cultivated the Goodwins’ competitive nature.

Not until Harold Goodwin reached high school did the pigskin come into the picture. Growing up, he was convinced he would be a Division I basketball player. But the bigger Harold Goodwin got, the more his high school football coach wanted him to switch sports.

By his junior year, Harold Goodwin finally gave in. And it’s a good thing he did.

Not only did Harold Goodwin lay the foundation for his life’s path, he set the table for the “Red Lobster.”

When he graduated from Lower Richland High, Harold Goodwin was a heralded lineman, showered with All-State honors and worthy of a scholarship at the University of Michigan. So by the time Jonathan Goodwin got to Lower Richland, there was no doubt he was bound to play football.

Future NFL players are rare at the prep level, but Jonathan Goodwin wasn’t even the most sought after college recruit on his team. Fellow 1997 Lower Richland High alum Richard Seymour, who now plays with the Oakland Raiders, was the player that college coaches were looking at.

But whenever Jonathan Goodwin and Seymour went one-on-one during practice, it seemed like everyone else stopped to watch.

To this day, the two Goodwins and Seymour love their high school. Take a look at Jonathan Goodwin’s Twitter account and you’ll see “Lower Richland high alumni” is the first thing listed in his bio.

When one school can lay claim to three Super Bowl champs, the pride is understandable.

“There was a sense of tradition, of pride, just the legacy that came before us,” Seymour said. “Most of our family members played, his brother played, my dad, my uncles, and everybody played and we played at the same high school. So we knew the stories and just wanted to carry that tradition and that legacy on.”

Even at that young age, Goodwin exhibited the qualities that make him the consummate professional he is today.

“Not only was he a great athlete, but he was a great team player,” Seymour said.  “A leader and he did everything to benefit the team. You can never have enough Jonathan Goodwins on your team.”

Such compliments have been the norm since Jonathan Goodwin has blazed his football trail. Overlooked, likely because of Seymour, Jonathan Goodwin signed with Ohio University, where he started as a freshman.

He knew he was good enough for bigger stage so he set his sights on The Big House, home the University of Michigan Wolverines. Luckily, Harold Goodwin was a graduate assistant for Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, so he popped in some tape of his younger brother. Carr bit, and the two Goodwins shared an apartment as Jonathan transferred to Michigan and Harold took a coaching job at Eastern Michigan University.

A couple years down the road, Harold Goodwin moved to Central Michigan University to become the offensive line coach. While there, he had a chance to work with current 49ers tackle Joe Staley, who enrolled at the school in 2003.

Staley was merely a pass-catching tight end at the time, but Harold Goodwin saw some offensive line potential. About the first thing he told Staley was to gain some weight.

Though Harold Goodwin claims to be reserved like his brother, the coach in him brings out a different side.

Staley knows all too well.

Worried more about his receiving yards than a quality block, Staley recalled a contest when he missed blocking assignments on back-to-back plays. As he came over to the sideline, he soon found out Harold Goodwin was watching.

“He yells, ‘Are you ever going to block anyone, ever? Ever?’ I felt like that big,” said Staley, holding his fingers a few inches apart. “He was a yeller, but he was a funny yeller. He would make fun of you almost.  (He and Jonathan) have very contrasting personalities.”

During his time as a Michigan man, Jonathan Goodwin was something of a catch-all. At some point throughout his college career, he played at each of the five offensive line positions in a game.

Predictably, Jonathan Goodwin just kept his mouth shut and did his job. He earned first-team All Big 10 honors as a senior, when current 49ers receiver Braylon Edwards was his freshman teammate.

“Goody was that silent leader,” Edwards said. “He’s not a vocal guy. He’s not the rah-rah speech type of guy. He always did things the right way – he was at meetings on time, he practiced hard, he went to class. … He played it all and he never complained.”

The New York Jets selected Jonathan Goodwin in the fifth round of the 2002 Draft, in a fateful move that would unite him with a pivotal coach in his career.  At that point, Goodwin was locked in as a reserve guard on the offensive line, spending his first couple years primarily as a special teams player.

But in 2004, the same year he made his first career NFL start against the 49ers, Jonathan Goodwin was switched to center by offensive line coach Doug Marrone. Now the head coach at Syracuse University, Marrone played a fundamental role in the late bloom of Jonathan Goodwin’s career.

 “I was able to graduate from college, but I still wonder what I’d be doing if I hadn’t have made it,” Jonathan Goodwin said. “That position change was key for my career and I think it prolonged my career. It turned me into a better player.”

Following the 2005 season, Goodwin followed Marrone to New Orleans, which was still recovering from the damage of Hurricane Katrina. But as the city experienced a rebirth, so did Jonathan Goodwin’s career.

By 2008, he had become the Saints starting center, snapping the ball to Drew Brees and helping direct one of the most explosive offenses in NFL history. Then came Jonathan Goodwin’s banner year in 2009, when the Saints won the Super Bowl and he made his first Pro Bowl trip to Hawaii.

Once Jonathan Goodwin signed with the 49ers, he kept his championship ring inside a safe at his locker at team headquarters. His new teammates asked him for stories and took turns looking at it.

“It’s extremely tough to do, but it’s probably one of the most rewarding feelings you’ll ever have,” Jonathan Goodwin said of winning the Super Bowl. “It’s one of my most cherished moments and hopefully we can experience that here.”

The allure of bringing San Francisco its sixth world championship factored heavily into Jonathan Goodwin’s decision to come play for the 49ers. With a new coaching staff coming in, he saw it as a great opportunity for a fresh start.

It certainly didn’t hurt that first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh was a fellow Michigan man.

“I got the ‘Go Blue’ right away,” Jonathan Goodwin said, referring to his school’s rallying cry.

And that wasn’t the only Michigan tradition to follow him to San Francisco. During the first week of training camp, Harbaugh made both he and Edwards stand up in a team meeting and sing, “The Victors,” Michigan’s fight song.

“That was the first time I sang since I was a rookie,” Jonathan Goodwin said.

After inking the dotted line for a three-year deal, Jonathan Goodwin wasn’t handed the starting job. He competed with Adam Snyder throughout training camp before earning his keep.

The months since have been marked by consistent play at the center position. Running back Frank Gore has posted his fifth career 1,000-yard season and Smith has enjoyed a career year, tossing 15 touchdowns against five interceptions.

Jonathan Goodwin nearly hauled in a 32-yard touchdown reception on a fake field goal last week, but the play was wiped out by a timely red challenge flag thrown by Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt. Still, Jonathan Goodwin exhibited grace rarely seen from an offensive lineman, making an over-the-shoulder catch in stride and bolting down the right sideline.

Though it’s all about the getting his hands on a second ring, Jonathan Goodwin conceded there’s extra satisfaction when Gore achieves milestones, like becoming the all-time leading rusher in franchise history earlier this year.

It’s not just the first-stringers who are impacted by Jonathan Goodwin. As far as mentors go, 49ers scout team center Chase Beeler has one heck of an example to follow.

 The undrafted rookie from Stanford often directs his questions towards Jonathan Goodwin during practice and is never turned away. But Beeler said he can learn even more by just watching the seasoned vet go about his daily routine.

“It’s not something I can articulate easily,” Beeler said. “I guess it’s an ethos to lead.”

Leave it to the Stanford grad to describe it best.

A couple hours before Monday night’s showdown at Candlestick, you will likely find Jonathan Goodwin by his lonesome on the 49ers team bench, his ears wrapped in headphones, his mind wrapped in thoughts. It’s his time for reflection, time to relax with some tunes; he’s been doing it since he made it to the league.

Soon after, he’ll probably meet a big fellow in Steelers gear on the hallowed ground between the lines, for a far less-publicized meet and greet between brothers (ahem, Harbaughs).  As Harold Goodwin will boast, he holds a 2-1 edge in the lifetime series since they both joined the NFL.

But they’re brothers first, enemies second.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Harold Goodwin said. “Not very many people have this opportunity we have.”

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