“We’re going to build a wall around the state” is a line used by every college football coach at his introductory press conference. Ensuring the most talented players from the state play for the home team is vital to a program’s success. Kentucky has done just that over the last three years.
In 2020 defensive lineman Octavious Oxendine became the first from North Hardin High School to join the Wildcats’ football program. This spring a pair of talented Trojans, running back La’Vell Wright and safety Jordan Lovett, joined Ox at UK.
Closer to home, Frederick Douglass High School has become the place for elite athletes in the city of Lexington. Vince Marrow got his foot in the door by securing a commitment from wide receiver Dekel Crowdus, followed shortly after by offensive lineman Jager Burton. Wide receivers Dane Key and Ty Bryant are currently on the Cats’ radar.
UK cracked into the third Kentucky talent hotbed by picking up a commitment from outside of the state. Cornerback Carrington Valentine is from Cincinnati Moeller High School, but during the offseason he drove to Louisville three days a week to work out at Aspirations Gym. On Saturday Goodwin became the third Aspirations athlete to join the Big Blue Nation.
Valentine, who’s now competing to be a starting cornerback for the Cats this fall, credited much of his development to his days working alongside Wan’Dale Robinson in the Louisville gym.
“I’ve done one-on-one reps with him (Wan’Dale) before. Even then he was the man,” Valentine told KSR. “He got me to where I am now because I’ve only been playing corner for two or three years. Going against him when I was younger, he helped me develop and learn new things.”
Like Valentine, Robinson traveled more than an hour from Frankfort to work out at the facility that’s produced dozens of Division I athletes, like Rondale Moore (Purdue) and Nate Hobbs (Illinois) who will be in NFL training camps this fall.
“I’ve always tried to use this place as an area where kids can come who have similar goals,” said Chris Vaughn, the gym’s founder and Goodwin’s guardian. “That’s why I named this place Aspirations. For kids who want to play at a higher level, we’ve been fortunate enough to get a lot of the kids from around the state and surrounding areas who really want to play at a high level. They push each other to be good. I believe that iron sharpens iron. I think those guys are able to trade off and Wan’Dale at the time was obviously a lot larger ahead then Carrington was, so that made Carrington see that he needed to raise his game to another level. He was another kid that had the athletic ability, but he had’t developed it yet.”
The competition has made players better. It’s also helped them throughout the recruiting process. Goodwin considers himself a little brother to his predecessors. When it came time to make a decision, Wan’Dale encouraged Goodwin to make the best decision for himself and to do as much research as possible before reaching a conclusion.
“They’ve helped a lot, being able to talk to them,” said Goodwin. “When I was in middle school, they were in high school. When I was in high school, they were in college. When I’m in college, they’re going to be in the NFL. Being able to talk to them and understand what they went though. If I have a problem, they already went through it so I’m able to handle it a lot easier.”
Goodwin is the highest-ranked football player to train at Aspirations. There will certainly be many more talented players that will follow. Mark Stoops and Vince Marrow have their foot in the door at the gym, ensuring Kentucky has a presence in all of the most talented areas of the state.