This column was originally published on May 31, 2009.
LIBERTY — Coaches always exhort players to put all their heart into every game. During this past football season, no one ever had to say that to Cobee Goode.
The Casey County High School senior literally put his heart — and his parents and coaches feared, his life — on the line just to play one season of football.
His trek to leave high school as a football player began when Cobee came into the world on Jan. 3, 1991, feeling a little blue.
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After David and Kathy Goode's only son was born, he was soon diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot (fuh-LOE). That is a condition that generally consists of four heart defects at one time. It afflicts roughly five out of every 10,000 babies (according to Mayo Clinic).
The practical effect is that oxygen-poor blood comes out of the heart and leaves the skin of sufferers' looking blue.
"He was what they call a Blue Baby," says Kathy Goode. "He'd turn really blue."
Heart surgery performed when Goode was 7 weeks old put an end to the blue skin and ensured Cobee more or less a normal childhood.
With one exception: No contact sports.
Which isn't a big deal when one is an infant.
But as Cobee Goode grew up, it became a humongous deal for him.
Above all physical activities, Goode loved football.
He was a 7-year-old when John Elway and Brett Favre squared off in Super Bowl XXXII. "I started watching it with the Super Bowl between the Broncos and Green Bay," Goode says. "I just always loved watching it on TV."
As he grew, Cobee became a follower of Da Bears. "He could tell you every player, every stat, he knew everything about the Chicago Bears," says David Goode of his son.
When his cousins played pick-up football, Cobee joined right in, heart issues or no.
"I probably did a lot of things I shouldn't have done," he says. "It was the only sport that really came natural to me. And I was fairly good at it."
By the time Cobee reached middle school, he started pestering his cardiologists in Louisville about giving him medical clearance to play football for his school team.
The good doctors looked at an eighth-grader who stood roughly 5-foot-2 and weighed "just over 100 pounds" — and who had a history of heart problems — and said let's wait on that.
"They said take a couple of years and see if I grow," Cobee says.
Even though he knew he wouldn't be able to play, Goode went through the off-season weight-lifting program with the Casey County football team.
In his freshman year of high school, Goode hit a growth spurt and went to a massive 5-7, 125.
He went back to Louisville and asked the doctors again about playing football.
"They put me through a stress test," Goode says. "And they started realizing a pulmonary valve they put in the first time they operated on me was leaking pretty bad."
Again, the docs said wait till next year.
So rather than playing high school football, Goode became a team manager, albeit one who lifted weights with the players. He mastered taping ankles, shooting and editing game video and even learned the team's plays.
"I at least got to feel like a part of the team," he said. "It was better than sitting in the stands. At least, I got to go to the practices."
Still, Cobee Goode wanted to play himself.
After sophomore year, Goode went back to the heart doctors.
Another stress test.
Same message. No football.
"They told me, in order to play, I'd have to have surgery to fix that valve," Goode says. "It was just leaking too much."
If it meant a chance to play high school football, Cobee decided he'd have the surgery as soon as possible.
After his parents were assured that he was probably going to have to have the valve replaced at some point anyway, so he might as well have the surgery while young and healthy, they signed on for the operation, too.
"I knew it wouldn't have me ready for my junior year," Goode said. "But I decided I would end my high school years playing football. I was determined."
So after another season spent as a football manager, Cobee had heart surgery in Louisville in December 2007.
"They sawed my breastbone open, they went through the same scar as before," Cobee said.
For six weeks after the surgery, Cobee was not allowed to drive. Every time he coughed or sneezed, it felt as if his chest was being ripped open all over again.
"Laughing really hurt, too," Goode says. "Sneezing was the worst."
All this to play one year of high school football.
From manager to player
Over the years, as their smallish son with the history of heart problems agitated for the chance to play high school football, David and Kathy Goode found themselves in a bit of a pickle.
One doesn't want to crush your child's dream.
You also don't want to be foolish with your child's life.
"All of us, the coach, too, we sort of relied on the doctors as a crutch to say no for us," says David Goode.
In the spring of Cobee's junior year, the doctors cleared him to participate — as a player — in Casey County's spring practice.
"I loved it," Cobee says, "to get to pad up, totally for the first time and not to have to worry about anything."
Suffice it to say, Cobee was the only one not worrying.
"I was pretty nervous about it," says Andy Stephens, the Casey coach. "I talked to his mom a couple of times, and she was nervous. That's a pretty serious situation, and football involves a lot of impact, impact on his chest. To be honest, I was nervous pretty much the whole time we used him. It took a while to get confident enough to use him on too much stuff."
Eventually, Stephens held his breath and put Cobee in as a linebacker for the drill Casey County coaches call "Oklahoma."
It's just a ball carrier, an offensive lineman, a defensive lineman and the backer. Which pretty much assures a one-on-one collision between back and linebacker.
"He got up after the hit and was fine," Stephens says of Goode. "I felt a little bit better from then on."
There is no Hollywood ending. A 5-10, 160-pound linebacker and tight end, Goode did not score the winning touchdown in Casey County's homecoming game.
He did not become a star and take Casey — a 2-8 team that was outscored 448-99 — to the playoffs. He was not even a regular starter.
But Cobee was on the bus when the Rebels opened their season against Trimble County. When he ran on the field with the kickoff-return team, he felt a powerful emotion.
"I was just ecstatic," he says.
Over the season, Cobee did log some meaningful minutes as an outside linebacker. He all but lights up when he tells about chasing down a Mercer County running back from behind in the open field to save a touchdown in the season's final game.
"We used him as an example to our other kids," Stephens says. "It was 'how can you take football for granted when you see a kid who went through all this just to play?' "
After literally putting his heart on the line, Cobee Goode was on the football field in pads for Casey County football's Senior Night.
So when he crosses the stage at Casey's graduation ceremony Tuesday night; when he uses a Governor's Scholars Program scholarship to enroll at the University of Kentucky this fall to study chemistry; and for the rest of his life ...
... Cobee Goode will be a former high school football player.