There were a lot of things about Denzel Goolsby that Aubrey Logsdon didn’t understand at first.
But from the moment he walked into her freshman English class at Bishop Carroll three years ago, she could see he was different.
“I could see that he was very focused, very hard-working, very determined early on,” Logsdon said. “But it was always, ‘I’m gonna do my own thing and I’m not going to let anybody in,’ and there was this wall up. You could see the anger there.”
It went on and on like this, every day. She prayed a lot about it. Then she prayed some more.
One day, she told him to come in after school. Enough was enough.
“I told him we couldn’t go on like this,” Logsdon said. “I’m the kind of person, I see that wall up, I want to knock it down. That day, he opened up to me.”
What he came back with blindsided her.
“He had to grow up so fast,” Logsdon said. “What I thought was cockiness wasn’t that at all. It was a self-mechanism. It was how he protected himself.”
He told her about how his parents had just split up. How it had happened on his 15th birthday. About how he was determined to not let it slow him down. Yeah, it still hurt, but so what?
“If I seem angry,” he said, “it’s because I probably am. But I’ve got an outlet for it. If I seem numb to everything, it’s only because people who feel sorry for themselves and get emotional usually accomplish nothing.”
And Denzel Goolsby had things to do.
• • •
In his first 19 seasons as Carroll’s coach, Alan Schuckman has had two freshmen take the field for his varsity — Goolsby is one. The other was a kicker.
“He is special,” Schuckman said. “But it’s not just for what he does on the football field, let me be clear about that. He’s great out there, though. Not a lot he can’t do.”
What he can do on a football field is special. From the first moment he touched the ball, it’s been that way. When he was called up to the varsity in 2011 early in the season, he was given No. 26. His first carry was for 26 yards.
“That’s pretty funny, isn’t it?” Goolsby said. “I changed my number after that year, though.”
It’s tough to categorize the 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior — he’s worn No. 1 since his sophomore year — as playing one position. He catches the ball. He runs the ball. He returns punts.
He racked up more than 1,000 all-purpose yards and scored 12 touchdowns last season, but those numbers can be deceiving. Carroll won eight games by more than 30 points last season, meaning a lot of the time Goolsby didn’t see the field much in the second half.
He committed to Kansas State in June, picking the Wildcats over Kansas, Iowa State, Northern Illinois and Illinois State. It keeps up a family tradition of playing big-time football dating back to his uncle, Ernie Goolsby (Vanderbilt), cousins Jarard Milo (K-State), Brian Goolsby (K-State) and DeAndre Goolsby (Florida), who led Derby to the Class 6A title last season. Denzel won a 5A title with Carroll in 2012.
His older half-brother, L.J. Goolsby, played basketball at Mississippi and Wichita State.
“The thing I liked the most about K-State was the family aspect of it,” Denzel said. “Family, family, family ... that’s what Coach (Bill) Snyder is always talking about. That means a lot to me. My heart is in Manhattan.”
And because he won’t sign until February, other schools have kept calling him.
“They just don’t know Denzel,” Schuckman said. “Most loyal kid I’ve ever been around. If he says he’s going to K-State, he’s going to K-State. End of story.”
• • •
After their talk, things began to get better between Logsdon and Goolsby. Wasn’t an easy fix, but the biggest step had already been taken.
“The thing was, he wasn’t a troublemaker of anything like that, he always did well in the classwork,” Logsdon said. “And I started thinking, toward the end of the year, that I needed him for Leadership Team.”
At Carroll, one male and one female from the sophomore through senior class is assigned to Leadership Team.
“I didn’t want it to be him, necessarily,” Logsdon said, laughing. “Because it meant I was going to have to ask Denzel for something. But it was obvious it should be him. You could tell he was, among his peers, the leader. He was the one people looked to.”
Leadership Team members are asked to do what their title implies — lead. Classmates come to them with problems. Teachers come to them with problems. Goolsby, the last two years, has been one of the best.
“He has so much integrity, more than most adults I know,” Logsdon said. “He has this ability to find solutions, the right solutions, even when tough problems arise. I’m very proud of him.”
His mother and father, Dinah and Les, were naturally worried about how their split would affect Goolsby and his big sister, Banner, a sophomore at Fort Hays State. Dinah’s relief, and praise of Denzel, is palpable.
Les is more of a hard case, but he’s softening up.
“Things happen to families and kids can go right or wrong, right or left, you know?” Dinah said. “You wonder how it’s going to impact your kids, but Denzel was just bound and determined. He’s been the strong one in the family and it’s made me stronger. I do worry about him, but he’s taken care of me, in a lot of ways.”
• • •
From the beginning, Goolsby’s football life had one, focused goal: be the best.
Les admits he pushed hard. But he also put Goolsby in contact with people he thought could help him achieve his goal — the aforementioned family of athletes, of course, and men such as Josh Hulsey, Goolsby’s youth coach with the Wolverines, and Potential Players founder Brian Butler.
“I pushed him to the point where a couple of times he was like, ‘Dad, really? This is what you want?’ ” Les said. “And I’d tell him if he wanted to be really good, that’s what you did. God’s gift to him was that he made him determined. He never lets up.”
That’s high praise, but it’s also tempered. Les follows it up with something, maybe a ploy, maybe just obtuseness, that almost erases what he just said.
“Two months ago, we were out to eat, and I told my son to look at DeAndre and what he’s doing out there, look at how hard he’s working,” Les said. “Don‘t be surprised when he makes it to the next level, you hear me? There were a couple of plays he made in the state championship game, not necessarily catches, that showed me that. He’s got all the right instincts.
“You’re right there, son. Live out that dream your senior year.”
Goolsby bristles at the thought of any advice from his dad right now. The divorce still bothers him, and he’s defensive when it comes to anything to do with his mother
“I’m my own man,” Denzel said. “I kind of feel like, more than anything, I was this football project for my dad as a kid. I wanted a little more, I guess. It can’t just be about playing football or doing good at football. We have to be able to relate on some other type of level, too.”
The strain between father and son is a real thing.
“I hope Denzel misses his dad,” Les said. “I’m a phone call away, and I pray for him every day. He’s in good hands with Coach Schuckman. He’s in good hands with Coach Snyder. I love him dearly, but it’s a tough thing to get past. I know that.”
• • •
Goolsby wore a bowtie to the first day of school.
“Gotta look good on the first day,” he joked.
Someone got on the intercom and announced the birth of a teacher’s baby, adding the finishing touch of “ ... and the parents would like to add that he has a full head of red hair.”
“They announce it whenever a teacher has a baby,” he said, smiling.
He says a prayer with all of the other students before the final bell.
He walks through the halls, down to the locker room and then out to run with his teammates. It’s all conditioning in the days before the first practice.
The first game is at Northwest on Sept. 5.
“Most schools, a team like this wouldn’t have to win a state championship to say they went out on a good note,” Denzel said. “But that’s the standard we hold ourselves to. We have potential, but that’s it right now. It’s a matter of going out and proving it. You can’t do anything with potential, really.
“You have to act on it.”