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By DAVE MORRISON
COAL CITY- It was late September, when the kids really should have been back at school, but COVID-19 was starting to take its toll on schedules and rosters around the state.
Independence was no different.
As an unseasonable warm rolled into southern West Virginia, and games were postponed, Patriots veteran coach John H. Lilly was looking forward to getting in some extra conditioning.
But first, he thought he’d have some fun with standout running back Atticus Goodson who had played around with some kicking.
So he told the team if Goodson could make a field goal, he would postpone the conditioning drills.
“Turns out it ended up being a 43 yarder,” Lilly said, shaking his head. “I never thought he would make it or I wouldn’t have said it.”
Full disclosure, Goodson had done some kicking, and still does on kickoffs, but he was coming in cold on the warm evening.
“And he made it by a good five yards,” Lilly said.
It was a good day to be Atticus Goodson.
Of course, that can be just about any day for the easy-going star.
Turns out he has the rare fortune to be not only an elite athlete but a free spirit as well.
Lilly says not much on or off the field seems to bother Goodson.
“I love him but aggravates me sometimes,” Lilly said, laughing. “I’m more of a serious guy out there. Back during the (baseball) playoffs he’d in the back and I’d hear him say, ‘Who won that game last night?’ after his Dodgers beat my Braves.”
Word is, during sprints one day, he ran by the coach, stopped, flexed, and said “Dodgers!” before continuing on with practice. Typical Atticus that his coaches and teammates have come to expect, and they often laughed as he tried to be serious during interviews after games.
“The great thing about Atticus is the way he handles all the publicity,” Lilly said. “It doesn’t seem to phase him. He is just a kid who likes to have a good time and everybody likes him. I have never heard anyone say a bad word about him. Even opponents, coaches and players, want to talk to him after games. You can tell he was raised right. He’s just a really good kid.”
An illustration of what kind of kid he is came after Independence’s 56-8 victory against rival Shady Spring.
He was getting ready for an interview when he asked, “Has anyone seen Valentine?”
He was asking about injured Shady Spring star Isaiah Valentine, who suffered an injury and only played in the opener this season. Turns out Goodson had wanted to offer the Tigers running back encouragement and well wishes.
It’s the way he is wired.
He is also one of the best running backs in the state.
This season, in just seven games, Goodson has rushed for 1,506 yards on 133 carries with 24 rushing TDs. He is averaging 215.1 yards per game, 11.3 yards per carry and touchdown every 5.5 carries.
This season Goodson had a career-high 311 yards in a victory over Shady Spring, when he scored six touchdowns. He also has three other games with over 200 yards (267 against PikeView, 264 against Nicholas County and 239 against Lincoln County).
“He’s one of the best I’ve had,” Lilly said. “We’ve had backs who were big, strong kids. We’ve had backs who were fast. But he is both. And the great thing is he is only a junior. In double-A he is one of the top two backs in the state for sure.”
The other is Poca’s Ethan Payne, who won the Kennedy Award last fall.
Consider too, he is also an outstanding baseball player with elite potential there. The morning after that Shady Spring game, in which he ran for 311 and those six touchdowns, he was in Ohio at a professional baseball showcase.
He went 6 for 6 at the plate, and struck out every hitter he faced during a stint on the mound.
No. 14 Independence (5-2) will now face No. 6 Fairmont Sr. (8-2) in the second round of the playoffs.
It will match two of the top offensive players in Class AA in Goodson and Fairmont’s standout dual-threat quarterback Gage Michael. All the Polar Bear senior did last week was account for seven touchdowns in a 60-34 victory against Braxton County. He easily has passed (1,877 yards and 26 touchdowns) and rushed (1,311 yards and 15 touchdowns) for over 1,000 yards this season.
“I’ve done this a long time and I’m hard-pressed to find a better one (dual threat quarterback),” Lilly said. “He’s played in (two) state championships, he’s won big games and he’s got a lot of talent. He’s a handful to game plan for and he has a of talent around him.”
The game, at East-West Stadium in Fairmont, is scheduled to kick at 7:30 p.m.