COLUMBIA — Former Missouri linebacker Zaviar Gooden still had something to prove.
He stepped up to the line and readied himself underneath the flags for the vertical leap at Missouri’s pro day Thursday inside Daniel J. Devine Pavilion. At the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Gooden managed a 34-inch vertical jump at 234 pounds. The disappointment from that number was still fresh in his head. More than 20 scouts from 17 NFL teams huddled around, all eyes glued to the athletic linebacker.
He exploded off the turf, smacking a flag at his highest point. The crowd of players and fans in attendance, which had been quiet to that point, let out a cheer. The linebacker had improved his mark to 38 inches. Then Gooden put up 38.5 inches in his second attempt, inspiring an equal reaction from the crowd.
That’s when Ray Gooden, Zaviar Gooden’s father, got on the phone. He was talking with the Gooden family advisor, giving him a play-by-play of the event with the help of his wife Tonia Gooden. Both were wearing jerseys with the No. 25 and Gooden printed on the back. The smiles never left their faces.
“He’s his biggest groupie,” Tonia Gooden said of Ray Gooden. “And I’m number two. I can’t even be number one, because he won’t let me.”
Zaviar Gooden wasn’t finished with his workout, though. Despite running a 4.47 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, which was the fastest time amongst linebackers, he felt the need to run through position drills and show off his short-area quickness.
“I didn’t want to just get out here, do a vertical and leave, man,” Zaviar Gooden said. “I enjoy working out. Any opportunity you’ve got to show what you’ve got, why not? If you’re a good player, get out there and work out.”
During the positional drills, Ray Gooden, who had been on the phone and socializing with some of the other Missouri players in attendance throughout the day, was silent. He stood on the bleachers by himself with his hands folded and phone tucked away as he watched his son.
Zaviar Gooden continued to impress. While running through coverage drills, he looked more like one of the defensive backs than a 234-pound linebacker. With each pass he caught, the crowd took notice. His father couldn’t help but crack a smile.
“My dad’s like my biggest fan,” Zaviar Gooden said, laughing. “He’s always telling me new stuff that’s out on me that I don’t even know about. That’s my pops.”
The pre-draft process has been as exciting for Zaviar Gooden’s family as it has been for him. Ray Gooden spends time scouring the internet for the latest news and analysis about his son on a regular basis.
“I read a lot of stuff," Ray Gooden said with a reluctant smile. “Sometimes you see something you don’t like, and you get upset by it. But you keep reading, and they say something positive about him.”
Ray Gooden’s excitement Thursday paled in comparison to what he felt when his son was running through drills at the NFL Combine last month. He took the day off of work to make sure he could watch the workouts live. Recording the event just wasn’t going to cut it.
“I told them I was going to stay home to watch,” Ray Gooden said. “They said ‘Can’t you record it, and watch it when you get home?’ I said 'No sir. It’s not every day your son is working out at the combine, so I’m going to watch it live.'”
Zaviar Gooden’s combine performance was worth missing work for. In addition to running the fastest 40-yard dash among linebackers, he recorded the best times at his position in the three-cone drill, the 20-yard shuttle and the 60-yard shuttle. He had to resist the urge to try and improve his times on Thursday.
“Honestly, I kind of wanted to get out there and run,” Gooden said. “But when you have the fastest time, it’s not smart to do. You never know what can happen. I felt like if I did run, I could have done better.”
None of the numbers surprised his family members. His cousin, former Missouri cornerback Kip Edwards, who also worked out for scouts on Thursday, knew exactly what his roommate was capable of.
“It was fun, especially with Zaviar,” Edwards said. “He’s a high energy guy when it comes to football. I got to compete against Zavier, I’ve been waiting to do that for 90 days now.”
Edwards hasn’t been garnering as much attention as Zaviar Gooden in the pre-draft process. The defensive back didn’t get an invite to the NFL Combine, but he took advantage of his opportunity in front of NFL scouts on Thursday, running in the 4.5-second range in the 40-yard dash and showing well in the positional drills. Edwards said performing alongside his teammates and family helped him handle the pressure.
“It made me settled down,” Edwards said. “It was fun to see some smiles and guys pushing you with their words, calling your name.”
Now, the waiting game begins. With over a month until the NFL Draft, Edwards and Zaviar Gooden will meet with teams but won’t know their fate until draft weekend. Zaviar Gooden has a chance to hear his name called on the draft’s second night, but he’s trying not to think about it.
“I just have my head down pushing,” Zaviar Gooden said. “Wherever I go, I go.”
As for Edwards, he’s just hoping to get drafted come April.
“So far, they tell me I look good,” Edwards said. “Hopefully somebody will take me to prom.”