After a combat tour with the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan left him with post-traumatic stress disorder, Hank Goff turned to football as a means for positive change. As a 28-year-old senior defensive lineman for Concordia (St. Paul) this season, Goff did just that. He was presented with the Disney Sports Spirit Award on Thursday at the Home Depot College Football Awards. In advance of that, he discussed his journey with the Star Tribune's Michael Rand:
Q What does it mean to win this award?
A When I found out I won, I was pretty shocked. It's a pretty cool award to win. I'm able to bring to light just how hard it can be for veterans and show people what happens. Hopefully I can inspire some other veterans.
Q You originally played at South Dakota State. What happened there that led you to leave school and eventually join the Marines?
A I was starting as a true freshman and thought I was bigger than life and didn't have to go to class. I did not handle things that well, especially the school side. And when you do that, you're done. … I was asked to leave South Dakota State, and I needed to get my life together. Instead, I partied. Finally, I went out and signed up for the Marine Corps.
Q You saw several fellow Marines die in Afghanistan. When you got back home, others who had served with you killed themselves. It's hard to even ask within that context, but what was the low point for you in all of this?
A People talk about PTSD, but one of the hardest things for a vet returning to civilian life is they can't figure out their purpose. There is anxiety about all sorts of other things on top of that. One month, I lost four friends to suicide. A week after that, my mom was diagnosed with Parkinson's. That was the low point, but it was also the point where I picked myself up. I realized that I needed to go back to school and play football — to do something and figure out my purpose.
Q You had a lot of success at Concordia, but I'm curious what it was like playing with a bunch of guys who are mostly five to 10 years younger than you?
A It's like I have 100 little brothers. I loved every second of it. They welcomed me with open arms.
Q It sounds like football provided you with an outlet, stability, focus, so many things. With your college football career over, what is filling that void?
A With all the publicity lately, I've been trying to help veterans. I've talked to numerous veterans, and I want to use all this attention for good. I want to help veterans find their way. Plus, I have finals right now. I graduate this spring. I'm probably going to do an internship with the football team because they can't get rid of me. I might see if I like coaching. If not, then it would be on to a big boy job.
Q You graduated from Minnetonka High School in 2005. When you look back on the past decade and all that's happened, what do you think about?
A The last 10 years, I've done more in my life than most people will ever do. I don't regret it. It made me who I am, and joining the Marines was the best thing I've ever done for myself. You live and you learn.