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Two-sport Star: Bills WR Marquise Goodwin's Leap from Track to the NFL

Marquise Goodwin in action during the Men's Long Jump final at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. Photo: Simon Bruty/SI

Marquise Goodwin in action during the Men's Long Jump final at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon.

Here’s a tough choice for a young man to make: Go to the Olympics or play professional football? It’s a wild hypothetical, and one that 99.99 percent of two-sport athletes will never have to face. For Marquise Goodwin, though, it’s a real-life decision.

The 2012 Olympian was picked by the Buffalo Bills as a wide receiver in the third round of the 2013 draft, only eight months after he finished 10th in the long jump at the Summer Games in London. At the pre-draft combine, Goodwin logged a year’s-best time of 4.27 seconds in the 40-yard dash—not surprising given that the former University of Texas footballer is also an accomplished sprinter. During his Longhorn career, Goodwin won two NCAA championships in the long jump as well as the 2011 U.S. outdoor title against a stacked pro field. While trying to outrun cornerbacks on the Austin gridiron, Goodwin was also trying to outpace athletes at such major track meets as the IAAF World Championships and the World University Games. The same year Goodwin was named the most valuable offensive player at the Alamo Bowl, he won the U.S. Olympic Trials, earning him a spot in London.

After he left UT, any major running company would have been lucky to sign the seven-time All-America. So why did Goodwin go with football? “I always knew I was going to choose football—just statistically, the things I wanted to do for my family financially, I knew I could do them with football,” says the 23-year-old Texas native. “But that’s not the only reason I chose football. I also wanted to be around my family and not traveling out of the county as a track athlete.”

For these reasons, Goodwin signed a four-year contract with Buffalo last year, which means he’ll be playing for the Bills when the 2016 Summer Games take place in Rio de Janeiro. “Right now, I’m just focusing on football,” he says, “but if I have the opportunity to go in 2016 [to the Olympics], I’d like to do it if the Bills allow it. If not—if it’s an issue at all or if there’s any question whether I like football or not—I won’t, because football is what I chose at the end of the day, and I want to be a football player.”

Photo: George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Kick returner Marquise Goodwin runs with the ball during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on November 10, 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

And a football player Goodwin is certainly proving to be. In his first season with the Bills, he had 17 receptions for 283 receiving yards and three touchdowns—not bad stats for a rookie, a fact Goodwin attributes in part to his track-and-field training. “I’m definitely doing stuff no other wide receiver does—unless they were jumpers and believe in [the training], too,” says Goodwin, adding that he does track plyometrics and sprinting and jumping drills throughout the year. “I definitely feel sprinting and jumping correlate to football training, as well. Guys who have never competed in track or never ran will never understand it, but you can’t coach speed.”

Despite his sprinting chops and Olympic accolades, Goodwin’s track career has earned him a modicum of flak among those in the league who claim the wide receiver’s deep roots in a second sport detract from his focus as a football player. “A lot of people look down on it—they think I’m just a track guy,” Goodwin says. “But that’s cool because I’m looking to prove them wrong. They say, ‘There’s that track guy,’ and try to downplay the fact I’m an Olympian and that it’s just something anyone can do. But it’s tough to be a dual-sport athlete, especially on the pro level. I think a lot of people don’t respect it because they never had to go through it.”

Indeed, very few people in history can make an NFL and Olympic team. Only 1.7 percent of college football athletes ever play pro ball, while only one in 8, 778 young men will make the Olympics in track and field. Combine these odds, and Goodwin’s accomplishments are statistically (and athletically) freakish.

Certainly, the best way for Goodwin to prove the critics wrong would be to continue to make impressive gains in football while undertaking a successful bid for a 2016 Olympic berth. But does he believe that, after several seasons of intense football training, he will still be able to trounce single-sport athletes who have been focused solely on sprinting and jumping for the last four years?

“If I had to go compete [in track] in three weeks, I’d win,” he says. “I think [both sports] go hand in hand, and they both help each other. I get a lot of things out of football I don’t get in track, and I get a lot of things out of track I don’t get in football.”

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