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Tavares Gooden Stirs Teams Play

Posted Dec 7, 2012

Look up the definition of livewire and you might find a photo of San Francisco 49ers linebacker Tavares Gooden directly under the description.

No, that’s not hyperbole or an overstatement by any means. Talk to any coach or player associated with the 49ers and they’ll tell you all about how the linebacker brings his energy every day he comes to work.

So what’s it like to have Gooden as a teammate?

“It’s a pleasure,” long snapper and longest-tenured 49ers player Brian Jennings said. “I think he’s a perfect example of how a team is like a jigsaw puzzle. You need different pieces that all fit and he’s a great piece. He’s a special teams player who embraces it, loves it, brings energy to the locker room and to the field… It’s infectious. It’s definitely a joy and pleasure to play with him and be around him.”

Gooden, a fifth-year veteran, re-signed with San Francisco this offseason after a solid season on coordinator Brad Seely’s teams units.

It’s been the same way in 2012. Gooden leads the special teams with 12 tackles on the year, all while serving as one of San Francisco’s most inspirational players.

It might be hard to imagine Gooden more hyped for any regular season game than this week’s non-conference matchup with the Miami Dolphins. Gooden happens to be a native of Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. and a proud alum of both St. Thomas Aquinas High School as well as the University of Miami.

Sunday marks Gooden’s fourth all-time game against his hometown team, but first as a member of the 49ers.

It won’t be a distraction for the energetic linebacker. Gooden’s passion for Miami football is strictly with his college team. “I love the Hurricanes,” said the 49ers linebacker who’s posed for postgame photos with fellow alumni at various points of the season.

Gooden doesn’t have any ex-teammates to catch up with this Sunday, but he will have several friends and family members flying in to see the game.

“It’s going to be fun playing against those guys,” said Gooden with a smirk, “but in a sense, it’s not going to be that big of a deal to me because a lot of guys on their team aren’t really from Miami any way.”

Gooden’s days in Miami even remain in his thoughts while playing for the 49ers.

After this year’s team’s units struggled with a few big returns in the early stages of the season, Gooden channeled the teachings of his college coach, Larry Coker. Gooden said he takes copious notes and considers his brain to be a football sponge, filled with lessons from all the coaches he’s ever worked with.

“You have to have a F.I.D.O. attitude in the NFL and that’s forget it and drive on,” Gooden said when asked about the team responding to the big returns allowed in early weeks. “I really don’t even know what you’re talking about; I can’t think that far back.”

In reality, last year’s coverage units look much different than the ones seen from the 49ers this season. Gooden, however, has taken up a leadership role for the group.

Because of several young players being involved with the coverage units, Gooden figured it was a matter of time before the unit began to grow comfortable in the scheme and thrive in their roles.

“The last few weeks,” Gooden explained, “we’ve just been out there grinding one play after another. You just have to believe you can make every play and that’s what everybody has to do. The whole special teams group has that attitude, just believe everyone’s going to make that play and when you do that, you have 11 guys flying to the football.”

C.J. Spillman agrees. The NFC’s leading vote-getter on the 2013 Pro Bowl ballot for specialists believes Gooden is worthy of joining him in the league’s annual All-Star game. Spillman also is a firm believer in Gooden’s spirit rubbing off on teammates.

“It’s easy to get along with him,” Spillman said. “He’s care-free, goes out there and does his thing.”

And not only does Gooden display a fearless, tenacious approach to making plays on special teams, he finishes them with spontaneous celebrations.

On one such occasion on “Monday Night Football,” Gooden brought finished a kick-off tackle by putting his own spin on former 49ers defensive back Merton Hanks’ “Funky Chicken Dance.”

Teammates loved it.

“That’s what makes it fun,” Spillman detailed. “If you have guys who don’t enjoy what they do, it’s kind of stale out there. I’ve been privileged to play with guys who are energetic and excited about what they’re doing.”

Jennings echoes Spillman’s stance.

“That’s part of the joy he brings to the game,” the long snapper said. “It’s fun to play well and to bring an energy and an attitude. To embody that, he lifts us all up.”

The energy, according to Gooden, all goes back to his youth playing in Miami.

“Anybody that’s from my city, we go out there and we have fun with the game,” Gooden explained. “That’s what you’re supposed to do. If it wasn’t fun, I really believe that you should find another profession. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid, always excessive celebrating, always jumping around. I was watching Ray (Lewis) and those (Miami) guys back in the Cotton Bowl, when they used to win championships, and he used to pop-it, you know what I mean?

“That’s what you do, you compete. You dance-off. Not having that many chances to make a play on special teams, whenever you get those tackles it makes it that much more special. I think that’s why I really let loose. You don’t know when you’re going to make another play, you’re out there scrounging for tackles at that point.”

Gooden makes it look much more precise than scrounging.

Speed, toughness and intelligence make him one of the hardest players to defend in special teams. It also necessitates double-teams from nearly every oppoent the 49ers face.

“T-Good brings a lot, just a passion for the game of football,” Jim Harbaugh said. “He loves what he does, has great contact courage. I love seeing how fast he can from Point A to Point B and go hit somebody.

“He’s a great guy in the locker room, a team guy, and yeah, he is a joy to coach.”

It’s likely the brother of San Francisco’s head coach would say similar things. After all, Gooden’s previous head coach was in fact John Harbaugh during a three-year stint to start his career with the Baltimore Ravens.

Like Jim Harbaugh, Coker, or any of his football coaches, Gooden keeps the elder Harbaugh brother’s lessons close by.

The teaching comes in even more handy with this week’s opponent, Gooden’s hometown club.

“I learned this from John Harbaugh: Nameless, faceless objects every week,” Gooden said, downplaying the opponent and stressing the task at hand.

“It’s going to be the same person, the same guy, so I don’t really get into the specific player, but I know the overall scheme itself and how to defeat the scheme.”

Gooden also knows how to enjoy the moment.

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