Entering his senior year at California University of Pennsylvania, C.J. Goodwin made a deal with Steelers legend Mel Blount: Play well this season and Blount would call the Steelers on his behalf.
The season came and went. Goodwin appeared in every game, but almost all his playing time came on special teams. At receiver, his main position, he made only 11 catches for 131 yards and one touchdown.
NFL dreams were fading fast.
That's when a call came from Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert. Goodwin would be brought in for a tryout based on Blount's recommendation.
"I didn't know if he was going to do that after the season, because I didn't have a good season," Goodwin said. "I guess he made the call for me. I just talked to him the other day to tell him how much I thank him."
Born in Wheeling, W.Va., Goodwin did not grow up with aspirations of playing in the NFL. In fact, he played basketball at The Linsly School in Wheeling.
It was at prep school that Goodwin, then 15, got to know Blount, who visited Linsly to watch his son, Akil, at basketball tournaments.
Two years later, a few of Goodwin's family members began working at the Mel Blount Youth Home, which supports young males who face child abuse and neglect. Blount offered Goodwin a job cutting grass.
"I just kind of took him under my wing and started mentoring him," Blount said. "I just saw something in him that would make anyone want to help a young person who is trying to achieve like he is."
Goodwin attended Bethany College and played basketball for two seasons. He then transferred to Fairmont State.
It was at Fairmont, after an intramural basketball game, that then-coach Mike Lopez asked Goodwin to come out for the football team.
"We had an intramural squad, our staff did, and so we actually played against his team," Lopez said. "C.J. is running on the right side of the court and I'm running back on defense. He gets a pass, basically does a little crossover and jumps from the dotted line area, goes over my head and crams it.
"After that game, obviously I called him over -- and I had met him a couple of times before that -- and I said, 'Hey, are you serious about this football thing?' "
Goodwin saw some success in his only season at Fairmont, hauling in 24 receptions for 440 yards and four touchdowns.
All the while he never lost touch with Blount. Goodwin continued to work at the youth home as a counselor and mentor for the boys, something he still does today.
"When he would come home on holidays, Christmas and Thanksgiving, he would come out [to the youth home] and ask if he could work," Blount said.
Lopez was fired before the 2013 season and took the defensive coordinator job at California. Goodwin decided to follow his coach, and in the fall Blount made his promise.
Even after Goodwin did not see much playing time, Blount kept it.
"When I called Kevin Colbert, I said, 'This kid, you need to take a look at him,' " Blount said. "I've never called the Steelers and said, 'Here's somebody you all should take a look at,' because that's not what I do.
"But this kid, I'm willing to put my name and reputation out there because he's an athlete, he can play and he's a good kid. It's more than just your ability to play and your talent. It's also about your character."
Just getting through the front door did not guarantee Goodwin a spot on the squad. But at the workout, the Steelers were able to see the raw athletic ability that caught the eye of Blount and Lopez.
Goodwin, listed at 6 feet 3, 190 pounds, possesses all the measurables of an NFL receiver. He recorded a 4.41 40-yard dash and a 40-inch vertical jump at the Detroit Lions combine before the draft. According to Lopez, the coaches at California have timed him as fast as 4.28 in the 40.
After the workout, the Steelers released Jasper Collins to make room for Goodwin on the 90-man roster.
"It is a blessing, that's really the only way I can describe it," Goodwin said. "It was unexpected at first, but once I really started to put my all into working out and put it into my head that I wanted to be an NFL player, I'm glad that it happened this way."
Goodwin still has a long way to go to make the practice squad and further to make the 53-man roster. Blount, who admits that he does not have the insight of the player personnel staff, thinks Goodwin has a shot.
"I think that C.J. has a great opportunity, a great chance to make the team. But that's just me from the outside looking in," Blount said. "The main thing is that he's in the door."
As for Goodwin's driving force to make the team, it's the same factor that helped him grow and succeed in school the past few years: his daughter Caidyn, 2.
"That's another motivation that I have to use because I have to be a father first. I have to make sure that she's taken care of first before anything else," he said.
The past few weeks have been a whirlwind for Goodwin and they only will get crazier in the future. But he is not looking too far ahead. He is just trying to live in the present and enjoy the opportunity in front of him.
"It's a blessing," Goodwin said. "I have a lot of reasons to smile now these days."
Alex Nieves: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @alexdnieves5.