A woman sat outside the football field, intently watching the team get paced through an early season practice. When the workout concluded, she waited for an opportune time to approach the coach.

She proceeded to hand him a letter. All she asked was for him to read what she had written.

That is how Marquise Goodwin landed a spot on Richard McCroan’s seventh-grade football team at Coyle Middle School in Rowlett, Texas. And that was the beginning of a student-coach relationship that has greatly enriched both individuals.

“I grew up with no father, unfortunately,” Goodwin said. “But I’ve been fortunate to have men like coach McCroan in my life that cared so much about me and wanted to see me succeed. Having him around was awesome. Whether I needed to talk to him about guy stuff or school or sports or anything, he would always make sure I was taken care of.”

Goodwin chose to honor McCroan for the Fifth Annual Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards, in which some of the top Bay Area professional athletes celebrate the influence coaches had on their lives and their communities.

“Coach McCroan helped change my life. He helped save my life,” Goodwin said. “That’s why I’m honoring him.”

McCroan vividly recalls the circumstances surrounding his 2002 introduction to Goodwin, whose mother, Tamina, went to great lengths to help her son get involved in sports and get acclimated to a school in which he had no friends.

“It was a little bit of a quandary because we had already started practice, we’d already concluded our cuts," McCroan said. "We’d already gotten into the program and it was not usual to add a kid that late into the season.

 

“After I read the letter Marquise’s mother gave me, I knew they had been in some sort of duress and they had to move there for some bad reasons. And my first thought was, it wasn’t his fault. I found him and said, ‘Anybody whose mother loves you as much as she does, I’m going to let you play.’ ”

Goodwin is now a six-year NFL veteran who just concluded his second season as a wide receiver with the 49ers. He also won the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in the long jump and competed in the London Olympics.

The road to dual-sport success has not been easy. Goodwin was raised by a single mom, and his sister, Deja, has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. As Goodwin was growing up in Texas, the family moved repeatedly as part of the section 8 housing program. Last offseason, Goodwin bought a house for his mother and sister.

McCroan said he could immediately tell Goodwin was a unique individual -- both in his physical skills and the way he approached athletics. After one season with Goodwin at the middle school, McCroan took a job at Rowlett High School. He would coach Goodwin for all four years of high school.

“You definitely knew coach McCroan was in charge,” Goodwin said. “He’s not a yeller. He’s not going to come down hard on anybody. But he’s straight-forward. He tells you what you need to know, and you know exactly where he stands coming out of every situation.

“He’s meant a lot to me. He definitely opened up a lot of doors.”

When Goodwin earned a scholarship to the University of Texas, McCroan helped him move his belongings to Austin. In college, Goodwin thrived in football and track. The Buffalo Bills selected him in the third round of the 2013 draft.

“Marquise as an athlete has never been much on my mind,” McCroan said. “Marquise as a young man with class and character and dignity and handling himself right and having a vision for how he wanted to conduct himself, that’s what he and I have always been about.

“Marquise needs no validation as an athlete. Marquise needs validation as a young man. So that’s where I felt I could serve him best.”

Goodwin said McCroan instilled a work ethic to never take anything for granted.

“We were realistic,” he said. “He didn't gas me up and say, ‘Hey, son, you’re going to be in the NFL one day’ or ‘You’re going to be in the Olympics one day.’ He said, 'You have great potential to continue your career in football or track or whatever you decide. And you can be successful in anything you do.' ”

 

McCroan is proud of what that young man has overcome to become the person he is today.

Said McCroan, "Marquise is empathic to people. He nurtures people around him. He lifts people up around him. And that’s pretty tough for a guy to do who doesn’t have that same type of background as a youth."

The Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards presented by Levi’s will air Sunday, Jan. 13, at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area.