Brooklyn Boro

Gary Gooden’s biggest challenge

September 11, 2023 Andy Furman
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Climbing Mt. Everest is a challenge. So is coaching football at Nazareth Regional High School.

Yet Gary Gooden, the man who played on a New York City championship team with the Kingsmen, is up for the challenge.

A year-ago, Nazareth dropped its football program. “It’s been a revolving door of coaches,” Gooden, told the Eagle the other day. “It’s my time now.”

Strong words from the kid who grew up in East Flatbush.

Gooden had his time on the playing field as a tailback and gaining more than 1,100 yards in 1984, also returning eight kickoffs for a 46.3 average, while wearing a Nazareth uniform.

He earned All-City, All-Conference and All-District honors as a senior.

Now, he says, “It’s about each and every kid. Yeah, I won a lot of championships in school and in college. It’s not about training four years to run 10-seconds.”

Gooden says he went through the interview process with the board, and feels comfortable handling the rebirth of football — a jayvee unit of 30 freshman and sophomores, only six of whom previously played football.

“Right now,” he said, “It’s all about bonding. There’s no humility today; perhaps thanks to social media. I’ve seen the changes over the years. Kids don’t listen to coaches like they did 30 years ago.”

The real challenge for Gary Gooden is to “raise good citizens, good gentlemen who will live cohesively with each other.”

Nazareth Regional High School has been a big part of Gooden’s life. As a 5-7, 112-pound freshman, he willed himself on the football team. Dom Laurendi, coach of Nazareth’s first football team (1981) told me, “There’s no substitute for speed.”

Gooden had that for sure. In fact, he’s been teaching and coaching track and field at Nazareth since 2009 and still holds several records at the school.

As a senior, he won the 100-meter dash in 10.5 seconds for his first record. He returned about an hour later and took the 200-meter dash in the CHSAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships at St. John’s University in a mark of 21.3 seconds.

Now at 6-foot-1-inch and weighing 170 pounds, he was voted the meet’s most valuable track performer, His time of 21.3 for the 200 was a personal best, but in the 100 he ran 10.39 seconds in winning the Junior Olympics at Cologne, Germany, later that summer.

The scholarship offers were piling up but he chose Indiana University, where he played football as a wide receiver and continued running track.

The man who thought he was too small and was written off most of his life was drafted in ninth round of the 1989 NFL draft by the Los Angeles Raiders.

“I got a call from Raiders’ (then) owner Al Davis,” Gooden said. “My dad (Lascelles) told me how proud of me he was. He said I made him the happiest man in the world.”

“But soon afterward, Dad said he had to bring me back to earth. And he said, ‘If you didn’t come back to Brooklyn — to Nazareth — and show those kids how you did it, you ain’t s—t.’”

Cardinal Hayes’ Elijah Jones breaks the 33 year-old CHSAA record in the 200-m, set in 1985 by current Nazareth coach (right) Gary Gooden. New record: 21.18, former record: 21.3. Photo courtesy of Nazareth High School

During Raiders’ training camp perhaps, Gooden received a message from above while running a route during a scrimmage. He severely injured his knee.

He took a year-off to rehab and in 1991 earned a tryout with the Miami Dolphins.

It was then he realized that Dad knew best.

Next stop, Brooklyn — make that Nazareth Regional. He coached football under his former coach Domenick Laurendi for several years.

He calls himself a football teacher rather than a coach these days., “I’m teaching kids how to run properly. How to have a proper diet. I text parents nightly and am on the phone with them.”

Football, he says, is not just a game, “It’s work. You gotta work at it to be good.”

Nazareth is working its way back, practicing daily at nearby Betsy Head Park in Brownsville near Dumont Avenue and Thomas S. Boyland Streeet, about a mile from the school.

About five or six scrimmages are planned this season, with a finale on Nov. 11, according to Gooden.

“The lessons learned now,” said the new coach, “Will bring championships later.”

He’s living proof.

Andy Furman is a Fox Sports Radio national talk show host. Previously, he was a scholastic sports columnist for the Brooklyn Eagle. He may be reached at: [email protected] Twitter: @AndyFurmanFSR.

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