For many athletes, the road to the NFL looks identical: four or five-star recruit out of high school, a Division I program, then the pros. Others must take the path less traveled. Luke Goedeke, the Bucs' second-round selection falls into the latter category. Through courage of conviction, he was able to defy the odds.
During a chat with Goedeke in the dim light of the AdventHealth Training Facility following Day One of rookie mini-camp, the phrase "self-made" swirled in my mind. This is his story.
Raised by his mother Vicki and stepdad, Jim Wesolowski, Goedeke grew up in Whitelaw, Wisconsin, about 40 miles south of Green Bay. Despite what his geographical location would seem to dictate – surrounded by diehard cheeseheads in the frozen tundra – Goedeke grew up a New England Patriots fan because of Tom Brady. His fate was foreshadowed.
"Growing up, I've always been a fierce competitor," Goedeke explained. "Nothing more that I love than winning. I hate losing, so growing up throughout my childhood, I watched NFL football and the Patriots were winning all the time. They had Tom Brady and I was always a big fan. I played a little bit of quarterback back when I was in grade school so that was the reason, I gravitated towards him. He is a big X-factor."
While attending Valders High, Goedeke played on both sides of the line of scrimmage at tight end and on the defensive line. In 2016, he earned first-team all-conference honors on offense and second-team all-conference recognition on defense. He received a few tryouts out of high school but as a no-star recruit drew little interest from Division I programs. After weighing his future options, he enrolled at Division III UW-Stevens Point solely for academic purposes.
However, the desire to return to the gridiron remained and he walked on the football team in August of 2017. Over the final month of the season, he became the starting tight end and posted 12 receptions for 132 yards. At the conclusion of that season, he decided to take a courageous leap.
Goedeke bet on himself. With no Hudl highlight reel to speak of or any showcase of his achievement on the field, he took matters into his own hands. Through Google and trial and error, Goedeke made one himself in the hope of propelling his career forward. He sent his tape to both Wisconsin and Central Michigan.
"I always had aspirations of playing in the NFL," Goedeke recalled. "I thought I had to go to a Division I school in order to obtain that, but I didn't have the opportunity out of high school, so I had to find a way. That was going to Stevens Point. I went and studied chemical engineering there and played football. I busted my tail and ended up starting the first year every game and it was always in the back of my mind, 'How am I going to make a D-I school?' That was my first goal aside from the NFL, even. After I had my true freshman season, I thought, 'Maybe I can transfer after this year.' Initially, I thought it would take two years, but I gave it a try.
"I made cutups of myself on a software. I went through each and every game to make a little cut-up. Sent it to Central Michigan coaches – found their contact information online as well as Wisconsin's – asked for a walk-on opportunity. I wanted an opportunity to prove to myself that I belonged. I wanted to challenge myself."
CMU gave him a full scholarship and a few weeks after enrolling, Goedeke transitioned to the offensive line where he started two seasons (missing 2020 due to a knee injury) at right tackle for the Chippewas in Jim McElwain's zone-blocking scheme. Not only did Goedeke have to undergo a physical transformation – gaining 95 pounds as he moved from tight end to right tackle – he underwent a mental evolution as he began to learn the intricacies of the position in the trenches. He attacked the move head on, much like his approach at the line of scrimmage in facing a defender. McElwain provided perspective:
"I still remember the first individual meeting and he walked in, and he said, 'Coach, what do you want me to play?' I looked at him and I said, 'We don't have any linemen, so you are an offensive lineman.' He didn't even blink. That just tells you the makeup he has. He just continued to work. He's an unbelievable worker in the weight room and got with our strength staff and just built himself into this really good player."
For many days in the grueling process of striving to gain weight, Goedeke drank a full gallon of milk a day for the protein benefits, prioritizing health over comfort. If it came back up, he would have to begin the process of calorie intake over again, an unfortunate reality he faced several times. Goedeke carried that same willingness to remake his frame into his study of the Xs and Os. Despite being a natural at center/guard, with his power, superb center of gravity and ability to anchor inside in pass protection, Goedeke played at right tackle after the transition because that was the team's vacancy.
The position switch is a process Goedeke remembers all too well.
"The hardest part was pass-setting," he said. "You're going backwards as fast as you can while the best athlete on the football field is running full speed at you and you have to be able to change direction, be able to stop their bull rush, power, and everything. That was very difficult and my first year, I was going against Mike Danna, who now plays for the Chiefs. It was me versus him every day. A lot of eye-opening experiences. I got humbled quick. I never backed down. I am not that kind of guy. I am always sticking my head in there and trying to get better."
With experience playing tackle, the versatility only presented an upside on his résumé during the pre-draft process. Both General Manager Jason Licht and Head Coach Todd Bowles confirmed Goedeke will battle for the left guard spot. The competition is wide open and will also include Aaron Stinnie and possibly Robert Hainsey and Nick Leverett. At Central Michigan, Goedeke primarily played in a zone-blocking scheme but he also has experience in a myriad of assignments up front, including duo play (a staple in Tampa), pin and pull and gap schemes. He may have predominately played at right tackle, but he went through drills during practices at guard to become multi-faceted.
"Once he gets locked on, he has a great low center of gravity that he can play low to high," McElwain stated. "His ability to bend, which I think goes back to him being a tight end and a skill guy, it probably helped him. He's got really strong hands and he can move his feet."
On the gridiron, Goedeke has something to prove and with every snap of the ball, he plays with that vigor, aiming to dominate his opponent. The Wisconsin native finishes through the whistle on every play. Goedeke generates power from his lower body and possesses the athleticism in pursuit at the second level to clear lanes for rushers. He stays centered in blocks and has tremendous play strength, creating a lethal punch. "Be proud of what you put on film" was a continuous phrase being murmured at Central Michigan and one Goedeke took to heart. Now, the process begins of learning the Buccaneers' system, as reality settles in at rookie mini-camp.
Since his selection by the Bucs on Day Two of the 2022 NFL Draft and hearing his name called in Las Vegas, Goedeke has had one goal in mind: mental preparation. He believes in mental fortitude materializing into on-field success. Each night since arriving in Tampa, Goedeke has pored over his notes in a hotel near the facility to accelerate the learning and absorption process of the Buccaneers' playbook. Additionally, Goedeke reached out to legendary Pro Bowl guard, Ali Marpet, a former Bucs' standout who recently retired. Shortly after being drafted, Goedeke texted Marpet to pick his brain on "what he did to become as successful as he was." Gleaning advice from one of the league's elite is a tremendous way to begin a career as a rookie, as he strives to uphold the standard of the Bucs' esteemed offensive line.
During our conversation, as Goedeke's large frame filled a small metal chair, he often referenced his mindset. His approach in the trenches is what Goedeke deems to be his greatest trait and what the Bucs' coaching staff covets: tenacity. The little boy who tackled his peers on a concrete floor has made his way to the NFL's doorstep and will be a complementary addition to Ryan Jensen's feisty demeanor in red and pewter.
"Really the way I go about playing the game on the football field, I am looking to destroy guys out there," said Goedeke. "I just get in this mode… I will do whatever it takes to help the Bucs win another championship."