Prison to redemption, Tennessee's 1998 championship bond survived the test
Editor’s note: Welcome to Tennessee Week. Our special series — “Undefeated. Unexpected. Unforgettable.” — celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Vols’ 1998 national championship season.
“My entire Vol family, they’ve always been there — even for me getting back to school and finishing up. Those guys were 110-percent supportive of my journey, the good and the bad, over the last 20 years.”
Dwayne Goodrich was determined to change his legacy. He just needed some help from his friends. Turns out, a friend needed the same.
The former Tennessee cornerback served six years in prison following a traffic accident in which he was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and failure to render aid in the deaths of two men. By his own choice, once in prison, Goodrich disappeared.
“It was tough because we tried to set up a thing to go see him and visit him and he said ‘no,’” former UT safety Fred White said. “I remember him saying ‘I don’t want you all to come see me because when you all leave I have to stay.’ He didn’t need that emotional situation.
“I’m not going to lie. That hurt. That’s a brother. You want to be there for your brother and we couldn’t. You know the person. You know the man he is.”
Goodrich had been convicted following a 2003 incident in Dallas in which two men he hit were killed while trying to rescue a man from a burning car. Even while accepting all blame, the burden was incredible to bear. However, Goodrich chose to do so on his own. Other than his closest family members, no one could contact Goodrich directly. All correspondence went through his mother.
“For me, I had to mature mentally and understand how to deal with that first before I had guys reach out to me,” Goodrich said. “I pushed a lot of people away, just until I understood what I was going through. I had to understand how to forgive myself first. … I was embarrassed. I didn’t really know how to deal with the negative attention.”
Goodrich was released from the Wallace Unit of the Texas Correctional System in Colorado City, Texas in 2011. He decided to reach out to his fellow defensive back. Willing to cover his back White helped out his former teammate.
“I was so happy to have him back,” White said. “It was amazing. My boys are my family. That was my brother. I got my brother back.”
-- Fred White
The two shared a one-bedroom apartment in Knoxville. Goodrich slept on the couch until they could find something more suitable. Goodrich came back to Knoxville with a purpose. He was determined to finish his degree. As he rearranged his life on White’s couch, Goodrich knew he had support.
“My entire Vol family, they’ve always been there — even for me getting back to school and finishing up,” Goodrich said. “Those guys were 110-percent supportive of my journey, the good and the bad, over the last 20 years.”
Goodrich wasn’t the only former Vol in that one-bedroom apartment who was thinking about the future. His determination rubbed off.
“If he had not come back to Knoxville, I don’t know if I would have gone back to school. I had given up on the notion of going back,” White said. “People say I helped Dwayne. I didn’t help Dwayne. We helped each other. He lit a fire under me and changed my thought process.”
Goodrich and White graduated from UT following the spring semester in 2014. The two were joined by former teammate Jermaine Copeland in the commencement.
“That right there was one of the best feelings ever,” White said. “I got a chance to walk across that stage 13 years from when I could have with two of my brothers.
“That was amazing.”
NEXT: Where are they now? Catching up with the 1998 Vols
Dwayne Goodrich cover photo courtesy of University of Tennessee Athletics.