Plenty of draft picks come into the NFL motivated by money and fame. But for Buffalo Bills rookie receiver Marquise Goodwin, every game is an opportunity to bring a smile to the face of his lifelong inspiration: his sister Deja.
Physically, Marquise and Deja Goodwin are siblings on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Marquise is an elite athlete who played football and ran track at the University of Texas, participated in the 2012 Summer Olympics and was the Bills' third-round pick in April.
Deja has cerebral palsy, a muscle and brain disability. She has virtually no control over her muscles and spends most of the day confined to a chair. Deja cannot do the routine things in life on her own, such as eat or bathe, all things that most people take for granted. She can see but is considered legally blind.
“How I look at it, every time I wake up in the morning, a lot of people complain about the situations that they’re in,” Marquise told ESPN.com's AFC East blog. “We have practice this morning or we have weights [to lift]. How I look at it is what a good opportunity I have, because my sister, she hasn’t been able to walk or do anything physically for herself, really.
“So for me to have an opportunity to come out here and do sports and be able to just wake up and go look at myself in the mirror every morning, I realize that I’ve been blessed in my life and that I’m blessed with an opportunity to be able to do things for myself. She lives through me, because she’s never been able to do anything like that. We live vicariously through each other.”
Deja, who was born three months premature and underdeveloped, spent 38 straight days in the hospital post-birth. Marquise, who is 10 months older, said he was too young at the time to fully understand the situation.
Doctors told their mother, Tamina, that Deja would not live beyond 6 months. The Goodwin family spent more than a month hoping to see dramatic improvement in Deja, and they did to the point where she was finally able to leave the hospital.
“To go through that was stressful. That’s all I can really say,” Tamina said. “It was real devastating to us. But we went up to the hospital and I stayed in the hospital most of the days, and we got through.”
Deja continues to overcome the odds. On Sept. 17, she will celebrate her 22nd birthday.
“It’s very inspirational to me,” Marquise said. “To me, no doctor can determine when it’s your time to go. God really knows, and He's the only one who can really give you the day. You just have to keep the faith and live the best you can each day.”
Marquise said he realized his sister had special needs early on as a child. Thanks to that realization, he spent even more time with his sister, and their bond grew even stronger.
Deja and Marquise quickly became inseparable. Marquise said he was one of the first in the family to understand all of Deja’s words because they spent so much time together. Marquise often refused to go outside and play with the other kids in the neighborhood, because he’d rather keep Deja company inside the house.
“How would I explain it? My relationship with my sister is closer than white on rice,” Marquise said.
“The love he has for her is unconditional,” Tamina added. “I’m speechless. It's words you can’t describe.”
Tamina was a good athlete in high school who played basketball and ran track and cross country. She said one regret was that she didn’t start organized sports earlier. Tamina made it a point to get Marquise involved at a younger age. He played baseball and basketball growing up but excelled most in track and football.
“One of his goals is he always said he would go to the Olympics; another one is he was always going to play professional football,” Tamina said.
Marquise was one of the top track athletes in Texas by his senior year. But his size (5-foot-8, 183 pounds) prevented him from generating much interest in football. Marquise joined the University of Texas on a track scholarship with plans of walking on for football.
Marquise made the football team right away and caught 30 receptions as a freshman. Four years later, Goodwin became a third-round pick of the Bills. He also was very accomplished in track, and in the Olympics last summer, he finished 10th in the long jump.
Tamina explained draft night as the “best feeling ever.” Based on feedback and media reports, Tamina said, she expected Marquise to get drafted in the fourth round. So it was a pleasant surprise when Marquise's name was called one round earlier.
The entire family had gathered at a friend’s house in Dallas when the Bills called. Everyone celebrated, including Deja, who got a big jolt of energy when she learned her brother was officially an NFL player.
“We have her in the chair, and she kept sliding out the chair,” Tamina explained of the moment. “She said, ‘My brother! My brother! He did it! He did it!’ Oh, man.”
Marquise potentially could be the deep threat Buffalo is looking for. He ran a 4.27 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, and is already one of the fastest players on the Bills, along with tailback C.J. Spiller and receiver T.J. Graham.
Marquise certainly will get an opportunity to produce in Buffalo. The Bills desperately need other receivers to step up opposite veteran Steve Johnson. Buffalo also drafted former USC receiver Robert Woods in the second round. The Bills hope both players can immediately fill roles in first-year head coach Doug Marrone's up-tempo offense.
“Getting Goodwin where they did in the draft was a bargain,” said ESPN.com NFL analyst Matt Williamson. “I think we will see a lot of three- and four-wide receiver sets now. Goodwin is a speed player but also is more refined at the position than last year’s speed guy, Graham.”
When you watch Marquise play for the Bills this fall, know that he’s not just playing for himself and his team. Marquise will also carry Deja’s inspiration with him into every game.
Marquise told the AFC East blog this week that he's dedicating his NFL career to his sister, who overcame the odds.
“She inspires me to do everything. So, yes, I dedicate it to her,” Marquise said. “If Deja wasn’t my sister, I feel like I would still be motivated but not in the way that I am today. Having a disabled sister, that’s a lot more motivation, especially when she tells you growing up that she wishes she can be out there with the kids playing and she wishes she can be out there running around.
"It kind of brings tears to your eyes."