The former St. John's Prep football standout has firmly cemented himself in the middle of the Commodores' defense over the past three seasons, and the payoff has come in the form of numerous preseason accolades.
The two-year Vanderbilt captain was named preseason First Team All-Southeastern Conference, as well as appearing on the Bronko Nagurski and Bednarik Award watch lists. The Nagurski and Bednarik Awards - named after former defensive greats Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik - are given yearly to college football's best defensive player. Goff is also expected to be in consideration for the Butkus Award, named after one of the game's all-time great linebackers, Dick Butkus, which is awarded to college football's best linebacker.
Such high praise from the so-called college football experts would give some people inflated egos, but not Goff.
The 21-year-old mechanical engineering major is a lunch-pail player, the type who never expects anything to be given to him.
"It's definitely an honor to be recognized like that. It feels good that they think of me as that kind of player," Goff said. "But at the same time, you still have to perform on Saturdays. You can be on a certain watch list or named a preseason all-conference player, but that doesn't mean they're giving you stats. You still have to earn it."
From the moment Goff stepped onto the Nashville, Tenn., campus in 2003 as a redshirt player, he has worked hard to not only find his spot on the field, but also make his mark on the SEC and all of college football.
Goff quickly found out that game day performance is based on preparation more than anything.
"Jonathan is a hard working student of the game as far as football is concerned," Vanderbilt linebacker coach Warren Belin said. "He studies a lot of film. He's always in looking at our opponents, trying to find ways to get better as an individual and to help us win."
Early playing time is often a selling point for big-time college recruits. But no matter how much Goff wanted to be on the field as a true freshman, in hindsight he's glad he got the opportunity to break the ice with a year spent behind the scenes as a redshirt.
"If I could do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing," Goff said. "Being a redshirt freshman gave me a year to figure out how to balance football and academics, and I was able to get in the weight room and become faster and stronger. It also gave me a chance to get acclimated with college football and college classes."
Goff broke into the Vanderbilt starting lineup late in his freshman year - and has continued to improve every season.
He began receiving preseason hype two years ago after making 63 tackles (47 solo). He did nothing to disappoint in his junior year when he made 67 solo stops and 93 tackles overall. He had six tackles for loss and recorded 21/2 sacks.
The Vanderbilt coaching staff loves Goff - who has started 27 straight games - for his work ethic and his natural defensive instincts. He is also well thought of because of his tackling ability.
Barring a major injury, it seems Goff is on a collision course with the National Football League.
"Coming out of high school, I never imagined I would be able to have an opportunity like this," Goff admitted. "I love football and want to play as long as I can. It's definitely exciting that I'm going to have an opportunity, but at the same time I still have my main focus, and my priority is what we have for this season. That is a bigger opportunity, I believe."
Goff had an opportunity to leave school after his junior year, and he tested the waters in the offseason. Ultimately, he chose to come back to school to finish his degree and try to help the Commodores register their first winning season since 1982.
Dangling his name out on the NFL draft market at the end of last season was nothing more than a measuring stick for Goff.
"It got to be a little more than it actually was," Goff said about his postseason activity. "From the start, I intended to finish my degree and play out my (college) eligibility. What happened was (head) coach (Bobby) Johnson thought it would be good for me to see where I stood. It was a little bit overwhelming, but not really. I wasn't looking to get too much out of it and wasn't expecting a lot."
Goff and his teammates are expecting a lot out of this season, however.
"We want to go to a bowl game and are working hard to get prepared both mentally and physically," Goff said. "We're not just striving to get to a bowl game; we want to go to the best bowl game possible. We're confident that we'll be able to accomplish that."
It would be easy for Goff to start dreaming of a big payday and fulfilling his childhood dream, but he remains much more focused than that.
Achieving their goal of a bowl game will be difficult for the Commodores, who play a schedule that includes home games against Alabama and Georgia and road contests against Auburn, South Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee.
Still, Goff would trade all the individual preseason hype to simply play a role in putting Vanderbilt - not himself - on the college football watch list.
"It seems like it's all gone by so fast. Just the other day, when I was first setting foot on campus I didn't know a thing about this defense - now I know the defense inside and out," Goff said.
"I just have one more season here at Vanderbilt and along with all my teammates and coaches. We'd like to take advantage of this great opportunity we have to do something special for this program."
Goff and Running
Vanderbilt senior linebacker Jonathan Goff, a former St. John's Prep standout, has gradually built himself into one of the best defensive players in Division 1 college football. Three seasons of solid stats and hard work have Goff listed as a preseason first-team All-SEC selection, as well as being on the watch lists for both the Bronko Nagurski and Bednarik Award. Here are his three-season stats:
Year Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks Interceptions Forced Fumbles/Fumble Recoveries
2004 27-11-38 0 0 0 1-0
2005 47-16-63 3 1 0 0-0
2006 67-26-93 6 2.5 1 2-0