Captain Brandon Godsey of the Ohio National Guard has always had something to prove. As a football walk-on at Miami University, he worked harder than any other player to earn the respect of his coaches and teammates. After his first year on the team, he not only earned a starting job at cornerback, but also a scholarship. During his senior year, he led his team in tackles.
After graduating in 2001, Godsey attracted free-agent contracts from the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs, but he eventually left professional football to serve his country in the National Guard. In 2008 and 2009, he was a platoon leader in Iraq, where he earned the Bronze Star for leadership and responsibility.
We recently caught up with Captain Godsey to discuss his secrets to success on the field, keys to leadership and reasons for leaving football to join the National Guard.
STACK: You were a walk-on in college. How did not having a scholarship affect your approach to the game?
Godsey: Being a walk-on definitely teaches you a work ethic. You find that you don’t have to have the same talent as a scholarship player or first-round draft pick to have success. You start to find slivers of opportunity everywhere.
Where did you find your advantage?
Godsey: Coming early and staying late became standard for me. My guys just knew that I would be that last one out of the weight room or off the field. I put in all that work so my teammates would know that they could count on me on game day. Working hard gave me confidence, so when I took the field, I was looking for a play to come my way.
How has that work ethic served you in your current role as an officer in the National Guard?
Godsey: In the National Guard, if you don’t plan on being the first one in and last to leave, you don’t need to be a leader. You never leave before your soldiers.
Would you say a strong work ethic is the key to leadership?
Godsey: I think it’s very important for earning the respect of others. If you want to be a leader, you need to make a decision: Do I want to put in that much work? Do I want to live up to that standard all the time? It’s about doing all the little things right and making hard choices when they need to be made.
Speaking of hard choices, giving up professional football for the military seems like it would be a tough decision. What made you choose the National Guard?
Godsey: 9/11 happened, and I figured that I could do more good as a citizen-soldier than a football player. I was an able-bodied young man, and I don’t care too much for bullies. I really saw no reason that I shouldn’t be in the fight for freedom.
The National Guard preaches seven “Guard Values” (loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage) Which one do you think is most important for leaders?
Godsey: Definitely integrity. If you have integrity, you’ll have all the Guard Values. You’ll have a sense of duty, because you’re going to do what you say. You’ll be putting others ahead of yourself, so you’ll have selfless service. Honor, personal courage and loyalty will all fall into place.
Where did you learn integrity?
Godsey: For me, it goes all the way back to growing up with a dad who was in the Air Force and served in Vietnam. He preached old-school, middle-America values: always do what you say you’re going to do and be where you say you’re going to be. My dad was my peewee football coach, and as I moved on through high school, I saw those values lived out through my high school coaches too. I think integrity is something you build one brick at a time over a series of years.
What advice do you have for athletes who want to develop integrity so they can lead by example?
Godsey: If you want integrity, you first have to find out what right looks like. Devote yourself to studying someone who has the values you want in your life. For example, if you pick Coach K [Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski], follow him on social media and read his books. You should also ask someone to mentor you. Think about where you want to be 20 to 30 years down the road and get mentored by someone who’s already there.