August in West Harrison, Indiana is not Death Valley, but it STILL is August and shoving on the gear of a gladiator and toiling in the summer sun can be a bit steamy. Especially, if you're senior John Goebel.
You see, unlike the many Bearcats who have cropped their hair or gone "Mohawk", Goebel looks like one of the characters you may have learned about it in Bible School (for those of you that went).
Much like Dustin Grutza and Connor Barwin did a few years back, Goebel's going with long, flowing locks this season. So, how's that working out for #22?
"Not very well," reported Goebel. "For the first week it was just so hot out there. I have a goal. (The) end in mind is January after our bowl game. My Mom doesn't like it, but it's alright, I've got an end in sight."
If everything works out, someone will shear the gritty Goebel in celebration of a bowl win in a little over four months.
Goebel will have earned it, having gutted out four seasons and a redshirt under three coaches at UC. In terms of Camp Higher Ground, he's spent more time there than some of the employees.
"This is number five," said Goebel. "I didn't know if I'd ever see number five because my freshman year I didn't redshirt. Being the fifth one, I'm like,'Wow!' During the team bonding thing it was making me reminisce, thinking of all the people I've seen come through here--Bradley Gladthaar, Brad Bury, Greg Moore, Butler Benton, Dustin Grutza. Now, I'm one of the older guys and I feel like I've got to be the leader for these guys and pass on some of the wisdom I've learned."
Goebel is a leader without question. Last season, due to injuries, he was limited to seven games and was relegated to advice and cheering for much of the season. For that, he was given the Jim Kelly Spirit award. For a guy that had gained 607 yards on the ground and 283 through the air the year before, being in a supporting role was not what he had planned.
"It was definitely a self-growth season for me last year," said Goebel. "(It was) difficult sitting back and basically watching my spot get taken. (Isaiah) Pead had a great season last year and Jake (Ramsey) had a great season. They deserved it 100 percent."
Now, Goebel is back alternating in and out with the number one offense. Pead is still the "go to guy" in the running game, with Darrin Williams also in the mix, but Goebel opens up some other dimensions.
"John's done a great job for us," said Coach Butch Jones. "He's got to kind of be a jack-of-all-trades, so to speak. From catching the ball, to pass protection, to our short yardage back, John's done a great job so far."
Armed with new perspective, Goebel's happy for any work he can get on the field. After playing special teams and some defense as a true freshman under Mark Dantonio, Goebel used his redshirt in his second year, then returned to the offensive backfield the last two seasons for Brian Kelly.
"It's been a great transition," said Goebel. "I ended up in the same spot, but took a little different path to get there. The team loves Coach Jones and loves what he's doing with the team. It's phenomenal. If you could see what we did out there--I've never seen anything like it in college football, never heard of it. It's just amazing team bonding and I think we're heading in the right direction."
That direction should begin shortly with John Goebel back on the playing field at Nippert Stadium. The 22-year-old Goebel is anxious to take that opening trot through the tunnel by the inflatable Bearcat again.
"I'm definitely excited!" said Goebel. "I remember my sophomore year when I got to play a lot at running back, the games are a lot more fun than practice. I'm really excited to play some different color helmets coming up soon."
In the meantime, he's biding his time at Camp Higher Ground surrounded by some open fields, some tall trees, a few mosquitoes and a mess hall that would make most military personnel salivate. As pleasant and peaceful as the wooded retreat can be, Goebel's ready to board that final bus, cross the bridge by the cornfields, head past Shelton's Fireworks and return to familiar urban surroundings.
"I don't know if I know what's past these woods!" said Goebel. "I literally have not gone past (the property). Mardy Gilyard used to go down and go fishing, him and Ricardo Mathews would go fishing. I usually just stay in here--the cafeteria's my spot."
Before John Goebel leaves the warmth (in more ways than one) of Higher Ground, I hope he takes time to sit in one of the rocking chairs outside of that cafeteria. There's something about a wooden rocker that makes one reflect and remember.
While he'll likely sit there wondering when he's ever going to get out of the grueling work of camp, he'll eventually sit somewhere in life wondering how he can get back.