Indianapolis — While he certainly wasn’t the first Central Michigan player selected in the NFL Draft, Joe Staley still managed to blaze a trail as the first first-round pick in school history. Now, 15 years later, he’s offering a helping hand to a pair of Chippewa prospects closely following in his footsteps.
A high school standout for western Michigan powerhouse Rockford, Staley accepted a scholarship from Central Michigan, where he began as a tight end, before bulking up and shifting to offensive line as a sophomore. There he blossomed into one of the nation’s top prospects and was taken by the San Francisco 49ers with the No. 28 pick in 2007 draft.
Staley went on to have a stellar professional career, playing 13 seasons with the 49ers and earning Pro Bowl honors six times and being named a first-team All-Pro on three occasions. And in 2020, he was named to the Central Michigan Hall of Fame.
He returned to Mount Pleasant last October to serve as the grand marshal of the school’s homecoming weekend. It was there he had the opportunity to have lunch with the school’s up-and-coming offensive tackle tandem Luke Goedeke and Bernhard Raimann. The rise of each player remarkably paralleled each other.
Goedeke’s route to CMU hadn’t been as cut-and-dry as Staley’s recruitment. The way Goedeke tells it, he was a negative-two-star recruit coming out of high school after missing much of his senior year due to a shoulder injury.
Unwilling to give up his dream of playing football, he signed to play at D-III University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point while pursuing his studies as part of the school’s chemical engineering and paper science program.
“At that point, it’s for the love of the game,” Goedeke said. “It’s kind of like you’re paying to play football at that point, and that’s what it was. Football has been my life, it’s been my dream, ever since I can remember.”
His ambitious plan was to spend two years at the school and perform well enough on the field to transfer to a D-I program.
It ended up taking half as long.
Goedeke had long aspired to playing for the University of Wisconsin, and aggressively pursued a walk-on opportunity at the school, but an unexpected scholarship offer from former Central Michigan coach John Bonamego was enough to get Goedeke to walk away from that dream.
Like Staley, Goedeke was a high school tight end who continued to play that position at Stevens Point. He thought he’d stick there at Central, but the team had other plans, which they not-so-subtly conveyed when he arrived on campus.
“Funny story, I got to Central and they’re like, ‘All right, you’ll get your shot at tight end,'” Goedeke said. “I go to the equipment room and, of course, they tell me the only cleats they have are these offensive line cleats. So I was out in fall camp the first week, week and a half running routes in these offensive line cleats, just slipping and sliding all over the place. I eventually sat down with our tight ends coach (Tavita Thompson) who used to play offensive tackle for Oregon State and just asked him, ‘What can I do to get on the field here and help this team win?’ He just talked about transitioning to the offensive line.”
Goedeke wound up redshirting his first year before starting all 14 games at right tackle in 2019. He would miss the 2020 season due to another injury, but solidified his standing as a legitimate NFL prospect with a strong 2021 campaign.
That injury in 2020 played in role in Raimann’s evolution into an NFL prospect, as well. Following a now well-established path for the Chippewas, the team moved the Austrian-born blocking tight end to offensive tackle, where he quickly adapted and is now on the cusp of potentially becoming the third CMU offensive lineman to be selected in the first round, following Staley and Eric Fisher, who was the No. 1 overall pick in 2013.
Despite far different backgrounds, their similarities have led to Goedeke and Raimann to forging a strong bond. They even signed on with the same agent ahead of the draft, one that gave them an opportunity to train with Staley and longtime NFL offensive line coach Paul Alexander.
“That’s one of the main reason I actually chose the agency I decided to go with,” Goedeke said. “I like the way Joe goes about the game, his mentality. He played 13 years, an incredible career with the San Francisco 49ers. It’s just a testament of the tale, just the hard work he’s endured. Listening to his life story, I kind of felt a lot of myself in that. I see a lot of myself in his story. So I though that was really intriguing, as well, to work with him.”