Oct. 27, 2012
By Jon Cooper
Jamal Golden doesn’t remember Halloween, 1998 very well.
“Probably not, I was five years old,” he said with a laugh.
If he couldn’t recall how he’d dressed up that day he obviously wouldn’t have been expected to have any recollection of the second quarter of the game between Georgia Tech and Maryland played in Baltimore’s Camden Yards or of Dez White and his 100-yard run-back of a Brian Kopka kickoff for a touchdown.
That had been the last time a Yellow Jacket went the distance with a kickoff — 177 games ago.
Golden will have easier recollection of what he did with the kickoff from Brigham Young’s Justin Sorensen with 4:46 left in the second quarter on Saturday.
After catching the ball at his own three, he started right then pivoted and cut back left at the 10. He momentarily broke into the clear then, after tightroping the sideline at the BYU 40, followed a friendly escort the rest of the way into the North end zone.
The 97-yard return, one of the few bright spots in the 41-17 loss, tied for the fifth-longest in school history (with Drew Hill, on Oct. 21, 1978 at Auburn, and Eddie Lee Ivery on Nov. 5, 1977 at Notre Dame), and came 22 years to the day of Tech’s last kickoff return for a TD at Bobby Dodd Stadium against Duke (an 85-yard return by Kevin Tisdel).
Golden didn’t know about the history he’d made until his teammates told him.
“I would say they knew but I didn’t,” he said. “I was just trying to make a play. They told me after. It was pretty exciting in the moment, but with the loss, it’ll probably hit me in a couple of days. I wasn’t aware of it.”
It was Golden’s awareness of the Cougars’ coverage on the return that set up the history-making run.
“The return was designed to go right,” he said. “That’s what we went into the game with. I caught it on the three and I kind of glanced at the left side of their return and they were kind of closing really hard so I just stuck my foot in the ground and ran around them. Once I got around them I had to outrun the kicker. If I outrun the kicker then I have a shot at scoring. So that’s where I took it from there.”
But hitting pay dirt wasn’t so easy, even after getting around the first wave and the stubborn Sorensen, who nearly guided him to touch the sideline at the BYU 40 right in front of the Tech bench.
“Actually I wasn’t paying attention to the sideline. I was more focused on running past the kicker because he almost forced me out,” he said. “But once I got past him I realized how close I was. That’s why I tried to cut back to get off the sideline a little bit. So there wouldn’t be a question about whether I stepped out of bounds or not.”
Once clear of the kicker and the sideline, Golden still wasn’t in the clear. He counted on his teammates, to whom he gave credit, for getting him the rest of the way.
“When I first got outside the wave the kicker was right there,” he said. “But when I got past him, there was another guy from BYU in front of me. That’s when I noticed that my teammates, particularly Corey Dennis, made the TD-scoring block.”
Golden was golden… pretty much. All that was left was confirmation from the replay official. He didn’t sweat the video review.
“I wasn’t really sure but once I looked up at the replay, it was kind of obvious that I didn’t step out so I took it from there,” he said. “It was a touchdown. So let’s move on.”
Moving on from that play won’t be so easy, as people are very much aware of the historic nature of the play he made, the longest return by a Yellow Jacket in the Paul Johnson era (his 174 yards in kickoff returns also were the most by a Jacket since 1989).
People also are becoming aware of the presence of the sophomore defensive back/kick-returner, whose claim to fame prior to his dramatic return Saturday was being from the same hometown (Wetumpka, Alabama), and playing at the same high school (Wetumpka High School) as Tech’s starting quarterback Tevin Washington.
Of course, his teammates know all about Golden and about the lift he gives the team.
“Jamal is a good player,” said junior safety Isaiah Johnson whose first-quarter pick-six put the Yellow Jackets on the board and accounted for Tech’s only other touchdown on the day. “There are a lot of times he needs to pick it up but when he does pick it up, he affects the game in a big way.”
“Jamal is a great teammate,” said redshirt-freshman quarterback Vad Lee, who finished the game at quarterback after replacing Washington in the third quarter. “That kick return was pretty exciting. The offense was pressing a lot. That was just a great play. It looked like he was supposed to go right but he just made his mind up and just said, ‘I’m going to go left’ because everybody was pursuing. That was pretty exciting.”
Golden said that his going against the grain on the return was very much in going along with the teachings of first-year special teams coach Dave Walkoski.
“The way Coach ‘Walk’ constantly teaches kick return is he wants us to trust the return as designed but he’s not going to take anything away from us,” he said. “If we see an opening, me or Orwin [Smith] to take it and just trust the decision you decide to make.”
One of the few people who knew about Golden and his potential impact is Smith. He knew about Golden before he made history, even before he came to Georgia Tech.
“I watched Jamal play in high school, because I actually played against him in high school. Even then he was a great player,” said Smith, a Phenix City, Ala., native, who played at Central High School. “He’s grown up a lot since he’s been here. The kick-return was something special. He’s a heck of an athlete. He can make plays.”
Coincidentally, Wednesday is Halloween and next Saturday Georgia Tech plays at Maryland. It will be interesting to see how Golden plays trick-or-treat with the Terrapins.
Regardless, of whether he can make history repeat with another kick return for a score against the Terrapins, you can bet Golden will remember Halloween 2012.