COLUMBUS, Ohio — A normal college life turned out to be too boring for aspiring pharmacist Elijaah Goins.
It turns out, even the responsibilities of Ohio State football player Elijaah Goins apparently left too many hours in the day for the relentless, go-getting special-teams ace.
So even with a scholarship now in hand, a few more classes to finish up as a senior, and sometimes a little bit of lingering soreness from the last game, Goins heads out early twice each week to a suburban CVS. At the back of the store in the pharmacy, his scarlet-and-gray uniform is swapped out for blue scrubs. He punches the clock at 9 a.m., fills prescriptions, answers questions — and then jets back across town for an afternoon filled with meetings and practice.
“A lot of guys don’t even know I work during the season,” Goins said. “Whenever I come in on Mondays to see the coaches and go over film from the previous game, I’m always in my scrubs. I’m coming in right after work. They’re like, ‘What are you, a nurse, a doctor?’
“Getting a scholarship during camp worked out pretty well, but I’d still rather work. I don’t necessarily need the money, but it’s still just great experience for the field that I want to pursue in the future.”
The medical field has always been the plan for Goins, a blueprint he first started sketching as a junior in high school when he was a standout track sprinter and an all-conference defensive back. Now, though, he’s leaving a mark on a different kind of field with his whiplash speed, covering kicks for a unit that is one of the pet projects of one of the most famous coaches in America.
And Goins has more than enough energy to chase down both a challenging degree and elusive returners at the same time.
A resume-building opportunity
A desire to build up a resume as a candidate for pharmacy school combined with Ohio State’s run to the national championship in 2014 to spark an idea.
Goins was missing being an athlete more than he expected after passing on some offers to run track coming out of high school, but the speed was still there and he did boast some previous experience as a defensive back. So, he gave himself a couple weeks to train, then decided to give it a shot with the Buckeyes as a walk-on.
“I wanted to enjoy college life,” Goins said. “But I watched all those games and was I like, ‘Wow, I really miss playing football.’ In my head, I figured that I was athletic enough to do it, and I figured it would be something to add to my resume. ‘Hey, OK, I’m an applicant for pharmacy school and I’m working and playing football.’
“As the years progressed, I realized I could compete with D-I athletes as well. It turned into something greater than I can explain.”
Eventually it produced far more than the Buckeyes could have ever anticipated when he showed up just looking for a way to get the competitive juices flowing again.
And it turned out that for the most part, it wasn’t going to distract from his main reason for coming to Ohio State in the first place — or keep him from logging hours at CVS.
Doing part-time work as a pharmacy technician isn’t necessarily a requirement for his application to continue his studies as a graduate. But it certainly doesn’t hurt, and also allowed for him to check and make sure that following the path of his mother, a nurse in Dallas, into the medical field was really the right decision for him.
“That’s my baby,” Nancy Goins-Turner said. “I have always told him that there will always be a job in the health-care field. Regardless of what you do, people are always going to need you.
“And he’s always been a go-getter. When he was in seventh grade, he got a progress report and it had an unsatisfactory because he turned in a project late. So he was upset, and the first thing he said was, ‘Now I won’t be able to get into a good college.’ I wanted to really laugh. I said, ‘Tell me what you have to do?’ He said he would just have to work harder. We never had a problem after that.”
‘Hey, I work with him’
In the morning, it’s Kevin Rider who relies on the hard-working Goins.
There are electronic prescriptions to fill, customers to assist, questions to answer and pills to count.
Perhaps nobody knows the value of attention to detail better than a player being evaluated in front of 107,000 people on Saturdays. And there might not be anybody who appreciates that sort of work ethic more than the resident pharmacist who spends the weekend cheering for the Buckeyes.
“I had to work on Saturday and was just listening to the game on the radio while I’m here,” Rider said. “And then I hear, ‘Elijaah Goins with the tackle.’ I was like, ‘Hey, I work with him.’ It’s pretty cool.
“He’s really a hard worker. To be doing what he’s doing, going through the undergrad pharmacy program, playing football and still coming to work is to be commended. It’s really got to be hard. There are only so many hours in a day, and only so much energy to put into those hours.”
A lighter load of classes this semester with most of his major requirements out of the way helps save some of that energy, particularly since he’s been able to take them online.
That doesn’t mean he’s free from homework in the evening, and there’s also film to study in the afternoon when he’s not practicing. But his hours at CVS were never just about the money or the scholarship he earned before the season.
“I’ve seen him leave here in his scrubs or whatever you call those things,” cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs said. “I’ll say, ‘Where are you going?’ When we put him on scholarship, I think people felt like, ‘Well, what do you have to go to work for? You’re on scholarship now.’ But that’s his career, and he understands that.
“I think he’s one of the unique players on the team because of his work ethic. Academically, I mean, he’s going to be a pharmacist. That’s really why you go to college. I know we’re training a lot of NFL players, but you also go to college to work on a career, and that’s what he’s doing. What a remarkable kid, in addition to that, he’s a darn good football player.”
Give Ohio State a ‘5’
So, what are the job requirements in the afternoon and on game day?
After spending a couple years helping on the scout team with stints both as a defensive back and wide receiver, Goins found a steady role and place to unleash his best physical asset as a “5” on the kickoff coverage unit.
“He’s a field guy on kickoff, which means he’s going to run down and set the edge of the defense because he’s going to be one of the fastest guys down the field,” Coombs said. “He’s one of the top-five fastest guys on the team, and that’s why we initially selected him for that job. In addition to that, you’ve got to be able to tackle, you’ve got to be able to get off blocks and you’ve got to be a tough guy.”
Goins showed all of those traits at once during a coming-out party earlier this season against UNLV, flying down the field to make three big hits inside the 20-yard line. That only added more responsibilities to his plate, with chances to contribute as a gunner for a punt-coverage unit that hasn’t allowed a single yard this season and a role on the kickoff unit following as well.
His standout performance against UNLV also earned him Special Teams Player of the Week honors from Meyer, continuing a remarkable rise that wasn’t part of the plan for Goins and never could have been anticipated inside the program.
“He’s extremely gifted as far as speed — he’s almost 23 miles per hour running down the field,” Meyer said. “And if you saw him [against UNLV], it was just dominant. That’s a position that Tyvis Powell started, then Gareon Conley, Denzel Ward, that’s a guy that cuts off [the field] — you have to be fast as you-know-what to be able to get down the field and do what he does.
“I love those kind of guys. Universities often invest in things, when we offered him a scholarship and he took it, that’s a great investment for Ohio State. What he’s done, he’s going to continue to do, too.”
At a minimum, Goins will keep doing it for the rest of the season with the Buckeyes on the field.
Could his raw speed again tempt a team at a higher level to keep him involved athletically? He has tried to walk away from football once before, after all, and his athleticism wouldn’t allow it.
Realistically, the odds are against it. But signing up as a walk-on at Ohio State was originally conceived as a resume-builder, and he never quit his day job in the first place.
“If I could go back in the past, I would never expect to be where I’m at with a scholarship and playing for the team, actually being on the field for Coach Meyer,” Goins said. “Going back to that moment back in the summer when he announced my name and said I was on scholarship, I lost my breath for half a second.
“It’s still surreal. And I’m still in awe of getting that scholarship check every two weeks.”
That one is addressed from Ohio State to a special-teams star. There’s also still another coming from CVS to a pharmacist-in-training.
Both are clearly getting their money’s worth from Elijaah Goins.