LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It’s 5:15 a.m. when Kiyaunta Goodwin arrives at Aspirations Gym.
It’s dark outside. The silence of this industrial park has not yet been broken by anything other than the pitter-patter of size 18 shoes on the almost comically small-looking elliptical that the 6-foot-8, 305-pound high school junior uses to wake himself up every morning.
That cardio with a bit of Lil’ Boosie in his headphones gets him moving. It’s always the first thing he does when he gets to the gym.
Goodwin is still tired, and that’s understandable. It’s a Thursday morning, and he just left this building a little after 9 the night before. That’s what he does everyday, sun up to sun down, because that’s what he has to do if he wants to give back, someday, to the people who’ve given so much to him.
Kiyaunta Goodwin is the youngest of four children. His mother Kimberly Durham has never failed to go out of her way to provide anything that her baby boy needed. Most of the time that meant special-order clothing, an obviously oversized food budget and anything else that Goodwin cared about.
That’s why he isn’t afraid to call himself a Momma’s Boy, and he doesn’t wear that title as an insult of any kind. Rather, it’s the fuel that fires him. The reason he’s committed himself to life and lifestyle changes that have turned him into not just a national football prospect but a story that’s bigger than his enormous frame.
Kiyaunta Goodwin will do ‘anything for Mom’
Start with this transformation first: Kiyaunta Goodwin has dropped more than 100 pounds of weight since January of last year.
When the story of his remarkable weight-loss is mentioned, the 17-year-old is quick to tell people it was done not for him, but for his mother. It was a decision he knew he had to make if he wanted to give back to the woman who always went above and beyond for him.
“I just have always wanted to be able to take care of her,” Goodwin said. “My grandmother passed away in 2016, so now it’s just about my mom. Those two raised me, and I’ve learned a lot in my life from both of them. They always showed love through cooking and things like that, because that was the way they could.
“But for my mom, she was working two and three jobs at a time to make ends meet. She has sacrificed so much for me, and now it’s my time to sacrifice for her. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to be the best me I could be if I was walking around at 400-some pounds. I want her to be able to sit down one day and relax.”
That meant change for Goodwin — major changes to not just his diet and exercise routine, but his entire life.
In order to give his mom what she needed, the Momma’s Boy made the decision to uproot his life and decided, quite literally, to go live in the gym.
“It was a very short discussion,” Goodwin said. “I told her that I wanted to be able to take care of her and that the way for me to do that is move out and go live in the gym for a little while. It was hard because I don’t want to leave her, but that’s how I was going to be able to give myself the best shot.”
Trust critical for Kiyaunta Goodwin
There are some kids around the country who, speaking hyperbolically, suggest they live in the gym. Kiyaunta Goodwin moved to the gym.
Chris Vaughn, a Louisville staple who has trained dozens of Division I athletes and owns Aspirations, has known Durham and Goodwin for years. A former player at Notre Dame — where Ohio State’s Mickey Marotti was his strength coach — and Louisville, Vaughn’s commitment to bettering the young players who work with him meant there were no reservations from Durham about the unusual decision.
Vaughn had none, either. Goodwin had shown him over the previous few years that he was willing to work hard, this was just turning it up a notch.
“Even he was 400 some pounds, he was still the hardest working kid in the gym,” Vaughn told Lettermen Row. “It wasn’t like he wasn’t trying before — but at home, there are just other distractions. He’d be doing three, fours hours of cardio every single day and still show up four, five pounds heavier.
“He just said screw it and made the conscious decision to live here. But also he made the decisions that were going to benefit him outside of here. I am telling you, I’ve trained thousands of kids and I don’t know many, if any, [then] 16-year-olds who would decided to move out of their mom’s house to do something different to better his future.”
The hell of the last year has given solace to Goodwin because it’s afforded him a chance to make the best out of a bad situation.
“Covid has made last year hard for so many people,” Goodwin said. “And I hate that it’s stopped a lot of things, but in some ways, it’s been the best thing for me.”
In places like this, trust is far bigger than bloodlines. That’s why Durham had no qualms turning her son’s bright future to Vaughn, who is now Goodwin’s legal guardian.
“I take my hat off to her — as a mother, it’s got to be very difficult to let go and to basically give care of your child to someone else,” Vaughn said. “But she’s decided to let him fully chase his dreams, because she knew he was really passionate about it. In the last year, even if she had some early worries about the decision, Kiyaunta has turned her into a believer with the work he’s done. He promised her that if he did this, he was going to do well in everything, academically and athletically, and he’s done a 180-degree turn both with his commitment to his academics and his body. It’s been a holistic change for him.
“It’s been incredible to witness it, and it’s all about trust. She trusted him, he trusted me and now the results are obvious. Everything with Kiyaunta is about trust, him being able to look someone in the eyes and knowing that they have his best interest at heart. That’s how he’s always been.”
Kiyaunta Goodwin finding balance, giving back
Kiyaunta Goodwin now spends about 18 hours a day in the Aspirations Gym. He lives with Vaughn, and they don’t do much outside of the building. That doesn’t mean that Goodwin isn’t finding time to be a teenager, though. That is something Vaughn has tried to impress on him in recent months.
“What’s interesting to me is that he has almost turned the workouts and being here into his quiet time,” Vaughn said. “But he’s still finding the balance in life. He’s really excited about prom, prom is coming up, so he’ll be going to that, making sure he hangs out with his friends and stuff like that. Saturdays are usually the day he’s out socializing. But he also does that at the gym, because he’s become a staple here and we train hundreds of other kids that love working with him. He’s one of the older kids in here now, and the others look up to him.
“So, now its Kiyaunta mentoring a lot of those kids, you know? They’re playing video games, messing around and doing fun stuff. By 5 o’clock every day, he’s been here for 12 hours. But then this place lights up, and so does he cause he’s sitting here with a bunch of his friends and it’s taken on a different value. He’s giving back, he’s always wanting to give back.”
Being a 6-foot-7 and 300-plus pounds as a 13-year-old has more disadvantages than advantages believe it or not. Outside of the day-to-day amenities that are nearly impossible to find, even playing sports gets awkward when you’re afraid you may hurt everyone you’re playing alongside and against.
As a younger player, that fear of going to hard, too angry, would slow Goodwin down, even in the gym. Pulling the beast out of him was a challenge for Vaughn, but like the rest of his life, there came a day when Goodwin just decided it was time for a change.
This change was just precipitated by a bit of blood loss.
“A couple of our guys that are now playing at Kentucky, they’d be in here every day with Kiyaunta,” Vaughn said. “Every day they’d be killing him, and that shouldn’t have happened. Sure, they’re good athletes and stuff, but he was just so big and strong and still every day he’d be leaving with a bloody nose. We wouldn’t stop until he had a bloody nose. Those boys were trying to get the aggression out him, to beat it out of him, really.
“One day, after a few weeks of this, he just got tired of it and finally got the best of them. That was the day he realized he could actually do this, that he could be a great player if he wanted to be. He’s been that way ever since.”
Goodwin himself laughs off that period of time.
“Oh, I was just a little younger and shy and this was an aggressive place,” Goodwin said. “And I love it now, there’s a reason we make a lot of good players in this gym. It’s just different. It was hard for me to be aggressive before. It’s not anymore. Now I don’t even think about it. Being angry, being aggressive is what’s going to allow me to take care of my family, so I know that now and it’s just a different type of motor, now I think of that and it flips the switch.”
Next big decision can’t be made yet
Life can be complicated, and there’s no doubt Kiyaunta Goodwin knows that. The NCAA dead period has slowed down his recruitment, and he’s looking forward to the chance to make college visits so that he can really focus in on the programs that he’s interested in at the next level. It’s not a surprise to anyone that the top schools on his list are the places that he’s built the best early relationships with and the schools that will push him to be his best self.
There can’t be any letdowns, not for someone who has worked so hard to put himself in the position he’s in now. He’s not a kid who will make a college choice without due diligence, and he knows that he can’t get that until he’s allowed to spend time with coaches in person.
“I need to spend time with my position coach, in person,” Goodwin said. “I need to know the strength coach. I have to spend time with the guys on the team and in the recruiting class, because these are the people I’m going to be counting on for the next four years. I’ve heard from [Purdue receiver] Rondale [Moore] and [Kentucky wideout] Wandale [Robinson] that college is really about the people you’re around.
“I need to know if a school has the right kind of people around. I’m not a partier, I don’t like the idea of a bunch of people who just want to hang around athletes for clout and stuff like that. It doesn’t worry me, really, because I don’t party and all that, but it’s still good advice that I know I should take. How can I make a decision if I can’t shake people’s hands and look them in the eyes?”
‘One step closer to taking care of her’
After his first bit of cardio, Kiyaunta Goodwin and Chris Vaughn turn to positional drills and weight-lifting. Every weight he lifts and the manner its used directly corresponds to an offensive-line specific tactic. There’s nothing done without a reason.
Those workouts wrap up. Goodwin, without leaving the gym, dives into his schoolwork. He’ll do that online for three or four hours before getting some lunch and catching a quick nap before the afternoon rush of other kids. He’ll work out twice more throughout the early evening and mix in some dinner before leaving sometime shortly before 10 p.m.
Tomorrow, he’ll do it all again.
“I know people think it’s crazy,” he said. “But I love working like this, and I still make time to see my mom five or six times a week.
“I love what it’s doing to me and for me. Every day I am one step closer to taking care of her.”
He’s found a rhythm that most people couldn’t ever hear, nor would they want to. He’s given himself a chance to give back to the people he loves the most and it’s set him free.
It’s dark outside, again. But Kiyaunta Goodwin is lighter than ever.