As a Recruit
Jamal Golden was a three-star prospect coming out of Wetumpka High School in Wetumpka, AL. At the time, he was the single best prospect to come out of the school in recent history, and he remains one of the very best to this day. He was the 15th commitment out of 23 players in that class, committing exactly five years ago from this past Tuesday. He was primarily recruited by then-secondary coach Charles Kelly (with help from former high school teammate Tevin Washington) and committed over offers from Illinois, Memphis, and Southern Miss, while also drawing interest from Auburn, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and others.
Golden was (and continues to be) the true embodiment of an "athlete". Not only did he play in the secondary and return kicks, but he was named Mr. Football in the state of Alabama his senior year when he passed for over 2,300 yards and ran for over 1,100 with 37 total touchdowns as a quarterback. Additionally, he was an excellent baseball player, leading the team in hits and batting average, stealing 40 bases, and setting the school's career record in triples.
Perhaps most importantly, Golden was (and continues to be) a leader among his teammates. He was a three-time team captain in high school and aimed to continue that pattern of leadership in his time on the Flats. (A goal which he unquestionably accomplished.)
On the Field
Golden was a bit of a rarity among many Georgia Tech players, coming in and playing right away as a true freshman. He played in 11 games as a true freshman, recording 8 tackles (6 solo) and 1 pass break-up.
In 2012, Golden's sophomore year, he began to truly shine as a playmaker on the Flats as he played in all 14 games and started the team's first 5. He took over the duties as the team's primary kickoff and punt returner, and finished third in the ACC in both kickoff and punt return averages. He added a pair of kickoff return touchdowns, breaking a streak of nearly 14 years since a Georgia Tech player had returned a kickoff for a touchdown when he took one to the house in the Homecoming game against BYU. Just two weeks later, he followed it up with another kickoff returned for a touchdown to start the second half against North Carolina. On defense, Golden added 24 tackles (13 solo), 3 passes broken up, a forced fumble against Virginia Tech, and a trio of interceptions that he returned for 52 yards. Those 3 interceptions were good for second on the team, behind only the 4 interceptions by Jemea Thomas.
The 2013 season started off well for Golden, who recorded 8 tackles (4 solo) and a forced fumble in the first two games of the season. He added another 4 tackles (all solo) in the team's third game against North Carolina, before he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Thankfully, the injury occurred early enough in the season that Golden was able to count the year as a medical redshirt season, enabling him to return for a fifth season of eligibility in 2015. He finished the season with a strong 27.8 yard average on kickoff returns.
Golden returned to the field in full health in 2014, playing in the team's all 14 games and starting in 12. He finished the season with 61 tackles, including 43 solo -- both good for sixth on the team. Of those, he had a season-high 8 tackles and 7 solo tackles in the Orange Bowl win over Mississippi State, including a forced fumble on one of the greatest form tackles I've ever seen. That was one of three fumbles that Golden forced on the season, including a crucial game-saving (and season-saving) play against Georgia Southern. He also broke up 3 passes to go with his team-leading 4 interceptions, including a huge 85-yard pick-six against Clemson that really showed off his hard work in the film room. (Those interceptions were also good for second-most in the ACC.) He remained the Jackets' primary kickoff returner, racking up a solid 23.67 yards per return (good for sixth in the ACC).
Golden played his final season on the Flats in 2015 as a fifth-year senior, starting every one of the team's 12 games. He managed only a single interception but registered four pass breakups, not to mention a career-high 64 tackles with 45 solo tackles. Golden was repeatedly found stepping up and making tackles in run support, as well as helping to line up some of his less-experienced teammates before plays. (I recall him specifically doing this prior to the play where he was responsible for Everett Golson's first interception of the season.) He remained Georgia Tech's primary kickoff returner, although he shared the duties with true freshman Marcus Marshall. He finished with 18 returns for 359 yards, good for an average of just under 20 yards per return.
Golden's career ends after a total of 54 games, including 32 starts in the defensive backfield. He registered 169 tackles (70 solo), 8 interceptions, 11 passes broken up, 5 fumbles forced, 76 kickoff returns for 1,860 yards (24.47 yards per return), and two memorable kickoff returns for touchdowns. He accomplished his high school goal of being a leader for his teammates, showing hard work and dedication both on and off the field, and helping his teammates however he could. He was truly one of the team's biggest playmakers and impact players over the past five seasons.
Off the Field
Amidst all of Golden's on-field accomplishments, he's very accomplished off the field as well. He completed his undergraduate degree in May 2015, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. This fall, he began work towards a master's degree while finishing his on-field career. Additionally, at the end of the season, Golden and his girlfriend became engaged!
Moving forward, Golden will aim to showcase his talents to pro scouts with the goal of being picked in the NFL Draft in May. We thank him for all of the blood, sweat, and tears that went in to making his career a great one on the Flats, and we wish him the very best moving forward. Congratulations on a phenomenal career, Jamal, and we look forward to seeing your accomplishments down the road!