She’ll be sitting in the stands at Memorial Stadium watching her son Markus fly around the field making plays. She knows what he went through just to get to this point, to be able to slip on that anthracite Mizzou No. 33 jersey and make his mark with the Tigers.
Sometimes, it’s just overwhelming for her.
“I know this is what he wants to do, and each time he steps out there it’s a goal reached,” Golden says. “Each time, regardless of what kind of night he has or what he does, I know each time Markus steps on that field he’s completing one of his goals.”
It took Markus longer than he’d hoped to get to this point.
Golden established himself as one of the state’s top two-way players at Affton High School, on the border of the St. Louis City limits, garnering St. Louis Post-Dispatch first-team All-Metro honors as a linebacker when he was a junior and then as a running back when he was a senior.
But Golden didn’t qualify academically to go straight from Affton to Missouri, so he had to take a two-year detour through Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College before arriving in Columbia last fall.
“My mom, she just always asked me to remember why you do stuff,” he says. “So I just kept my goals in mind and Mizzou has always been a goal for me, basically being able to bring my family up here and be able to walk on the stage one day and have a degree. That’s what I did. I just stayed focused and just thought about my family when times got hard.”
When he was growing up, Rhonda reminded her son often about the importance of setting goals and working hard to achieve them, lessons he obviously took to heart.
“I always wanted Markus to remember what you’re doing it for,” she says. “You’re not doing it to get to this point and say it’s too hard. That’s not your goal. That’s not what you’re working for. His goal was to get to Mizzou. Whenever something came up, it was always that focus on what you want, what you’re trying to get done.”
There are plenty of cautionary tales of talented high school prospects who never made it out of junior college, guys who could make plays on the field but weren’t able to do what they needed to in the classroom.
Golden was determined not to be one of them.
His older brother, Sherman, was one. Sherman Golden was a 280-pound fullback and defensive tackle at Affton High School who committed to the Tigers during his senior season in 2006.
The plan was for Sherman to go to Joliet (Ill.) Junior College, play one season and redshirt another before moving on to Mizzou in the spring of 2009. But Sherman never made it to Columbia.
“I don’t know what happened and why he came home and Markus didn’t,” Affton football coach Dan Oliver says. “They are two different kids. I think things maybe came a little bit easier for Sherman because he was a bigger, thicker kid and had a different build than Markus did. Maybe just being the little brother he had to work harder to try to keep up with his older brother. It’s hard to say what drives kids and what does or doesn’t motivate them.
“Sherman was a great player for us. I know they are very close and they talk a lot. I don’t know why it worked for one and not the other. Obviously, I wish both of them could have experienced what Markus is going through right now, but that’s just the way it is.”
Sherman recently celebrated his 25th birthday. He’s working in the St. Louis area and Rhonda says he’s doing well for himself. Like the rest of the Golden family, he has watched Markus emerge as one of the key playmakers on the Mizzou defense.
“He’s as happy as he can be,” Rhonda says. “Of course, he hasn’t said it to me, but I just know there’s some regret with himself. But, however, seeing Markus doing this well and being able to be a part of Markus’ life at Mizzou, he’s been very, very excited.”
There’s plenty to be excited about.
After playing linebacker and contributing on special teams a year ago, the 6-foot-3, 260-pounder has blossomed in his redshirt junior season after moving to defensive end.
Golden returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown against Toledo and was named the Southeastern Conference Defensive Line Player of the Week.
For the season, he has 30 tackles, including seven for losses, five quarterback hurries, 2 1/2 sacks, two fumble recoveries and one interception. He had eight tackles and a fumble recovery in the double-overtime loss to South Carolina.
“I’m not going to lie,” Golden says. “This is what I expect from myself. It’s not a surprise at all. This is what I came to Mizzou to do. I’m the type of person, every time I do something, I focus on trying to do something better and getting better and trying to help my team win.”
He’s made his mark along a defensive line that includes fellow disruptive ends in Michael Sam, Kony Ealy and Shane Ray. They’re all pushing each other to get better, which has helped the Tigers climb the national rankings during their impressive 7-1 start.
“He’s done a great job,” Ray says. “He transferred from JUCO and came in as a linebacker and switched positions to defensive end and he’s just taken ahold of it naturally. The guy’s got a motor, he’s big, he’s strong and he’s doing a damned good job, as clearly as anybody can see.”
Golden was one of the few players who met with the media late Saturday night following the heartbreaking loss to the Gamecocks. He spoke about the disappointment and how the Tigers were determined not to let that loss define their season.
Much like he was determined not to let academic troubles keep him from achieving his goal of playing at Mizzou.
“He took the long way, but he made it,” Oliver says. “Once he decided that’s what he was going to do, his path and his vision was very clear, he really maintained that goal. He’s got great drive. That kid’s the hardest worker. You just love to see good things happen to good people. He’s grown up. He’s a man now. Just to see him reach one of his goals, it is outstanding.”
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter at @natelatsch or email him at email@example.com.