Regardless of what rankings may have been attached to his name as a prospect in high school, there is little doubt Trimane Goddard is a five-star performer in the eyes of the North Carolina coaching staff.
Goddard is one of the finest, if not the best, playmakers on the Tar Heels' defense. He is also the only kid in the secondary with any experience. He is the cornerstone on the backend of the 2007 defense.
Ask defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Chuck Pagano what Goddard means to this team, and Pagano does not hesitate.
"A lot, a lot, a lot," Pagano said. "He's huge. Everyone on defense, everyone in that locker room, offense and defense, every coach, every administrator, every person in [the Kenan Football Center] would tell you the same thing. He means a ton to this defense."
Pagano coached defensive backs for the Cleveland Browns under Butch Davis, now the head coach at UNC. Later, Pagano coached defensive backs for the Oakland Raiders. He knows the qualities an elite defensive back possesses, and he says Goddard has them.
"He reminds me of a guy I coached two years ago at the Raiders, Renaldo Hill," Pagano said. "He played at Michigan State, and he's now with the Miami Dolphins. They are very similar in size [5 foot 11, 190 pounds compared to 5-11, 195], just extremely, extremely bright, instinctive, understands football.
"Everything is slow to Trimane out there," Pagano said. "There is never any panic. There is always a certain calmness to him. He's not a real vocal guy, but he knows football and he has great instincts. He reminds me so much of Renaldo Hill. He's playing strong safety, so he's playing in the box. We look for guys who can play in traffic. There is a lot going on down in there with blocking schemes, pulling guards, option, this, that and the other.
"Guys like Trimane just kind of know where the ball is going," Pagano said. "They never get locked on any blocks. They just kind of shift through the traffic and end up making a ton of plays."
Goddard was set to build on an excellent sophomore season a year ago, but he fractured a bone in a foot for the second time in months during summer camp. It happened in a non-contact situation. His absence is one reason the defense came unglued, and Carolina went 3-9.
In a scrimmage on Saturday, he did what he does so well. He made a big play. Goddard intercepted a pass in the end zone to stop a potential scoring threat. His sophomore season, he had three interceptions, two and a half tackles for losses, and he just seemed to get better every week.
Much has changed in his time at UNC. Goddard used to be the youngster in the secondary. Now, everywhere he turns, he sees an inexperienced player. Red-shirt freshman Deunta Williams will start next to him at the other safety position. Senior Kendric Williams, who has never started on defense, will be at one cornerback spot, while red-shirt freshman Kendric Burney will start at the other corner.
The coaching staff hopes that Goddard's cool, efficient style will provide an example for his inexperienced teammates. Goddard said feels good with the progress the new guys have made, and he is not anxious about having to be the leader in addition to being a key playmaker.
"It's not been that bad because they all put in a lot of effort and time to learn the system," Goddard said. "It's not like me teaching them a lot, just guiding them a little bit. They are all really smart players. They have made tons of strides.
"I'm real comfortable how our progression is going," Goddard said. "The players are not panicking when there is a lot of motion. They've been out there so long now they have gotten used to it. I think our progression is on track where it should be."
Goddard was actually one of the top-ranked players in North Carolina coming out of high school. His athletic ability and football instincts made him appear to be a sure-fire player, and his performance has met the expectations.
Aside from the injury to his foot, the biggest adjustment for him came briefly during spring practice following his freshman year when he moved from cornerback to safety.
"It's just always come to me," Goddard said of football instincts. "There was an adjustment when I first came to safety. I froze out there in spring ball [the first time]. But once I get out there playing, it just comes kind of natural to you. It came natural to me."
Goddard is one of the few Carolina defenders to force the action and create turnovers in recent years. He says playmakers are created during the week, not on game day.
"I think it's more preparing for the team you are playing against and watching their tendencies and habits," Goddard said. "Once you are out there, it's kind of like it's second nature. It's very instinctive. You just go and make plays."
With so many inexperienced players on defense, Carolina fans have learned the true strength of this unit will not be known until the games begin.
For his part, Goddard said that he believes the Tar Heels are headed in the proper direction.
"I'm comfortable with where the defense is right now," Goddard said. "I'm not complacent. We still have long way to go, but where we started in the spring to where we are right now, it's night and day. The team is starting to play together as a whole.
"Everyone is starting to trust everyone on the field. Everybody is doing their job."