One of the ways Missouri’s acclaimed defensive line coach, Craig Kuligowski, motivates his players is by charting the number of times they fail to hustle to the ball 100 percent.
These are called “loafs,” and defensive end Markus Golden despises the notion of even having his name associated with the word.
“Me counting them, I only had one on the year … and I debate that one,” Golden said with a laugh. “I take pride in not having loafs.”
Golden, a St. Louis native, does not remember much about one “loaf” that he only kinda-sorta cops to, other than the fact it came earlier in the year and Kuligowski said he slowed up when he could have kept going.
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“Coach Kul, we had a couple arguments about one that he gave me,” Golden said with laugh. “But he’s the coach, so I had to take that one.”
Golden’s relentlessness is a big reason for his success at Missouri. A team captain in 2014, Golden finished his final season as a Tiger with 78 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. Teammate and fellow defensive end Shane Ray had more tackles for loss (22 1/2) and sacks (14 1/2), but Golden had 13 more tackles and seven more quarterback hits.
On Tuesday, Golden was asked at the Senior Bowl if his competition with Ray helped motivate him this year. The answer was yes, but with a caveat.
“Not just Shane Ray,” Golden said. “Sheldon Richardson, Kony Ealy, all those guys (in the NFL). Michael Sam. It’s a competitive room. When you’re in the d-line room at Mizzou, you have to compete because if you’re not, you get left behind.”
One thing Golden isn’t afraid to do is compete, especially with millions of dollars potentially on the line. ESPN.com ranks Golden as the draft’s No. 95 player, while CBSSports.com ranks him 70th. That puts him squarely in the second-or third-round discussion for this year’s draft, with some room to fluctuate depending on how he tests at the Combine and performs against the draft’s other top seniors this week in Mobile.
“That’s what it’s about,” Golden said. “Just like guys say they can beat me, I feel like I can go up against anybody here. You’re not going to come to the Senior Bowl if you’re not a competitor. You see a lot of guys didn’t come. This a competitive environment, and I love it.”
But before Golden got to show his stuff on the field Tuesday, he measured in at 6 feet 2 and 255 pounds — a tad small for a traditional 4-3 defensive end.
“He measured in a little smaller than I was hoping for,” said CBSSports.com draft analyst Rob Rang, “so they’ve been playing him at linebacker a lot, and he’s a little stiff. But I think he’s an undersized defensive end and a pretty solid one, at that. I see him going in the second- or third-round range, and I think he’s a good player that can be very successful. But I just just don’t know if a he’s a fit in a 3-4.”
Golden, who said he played this season between 255 and 260 pounds, is adamant that he can play in a two-point stance as a 3-4 outside linebacker, if need be.
“I’ve been doing this my whole life — I stood up when I was in (junior college), so it’s football,” Golden aid. “I know no matter what, if I’m in a three-point stance or a two-point stance, I’m going to be able to get after the quarterback.”
And if a 4-3 team drafts him, he insists his weight won’t be an issue for them, either.
“That’s the thing about me — I can get up to 265 in two weeks,” Golden said. “I can gain weight fast, I can lose weight fast. So I see myself playing whatever the coaches want me to play — defensive end, stand-up linebacker, whatever they want me to do, I can do it.”
Golden, who had 16 1/2 sacks his last two years at Missouri, believes he has two traits that will transfer to the NFL level.
“My strength, in particular, is getting after the quarterback, of course,” Golden said. “And after that, it’s just playing hard. I play every play like it’s my last play … you aren’t going to make any plays standing around. So I just get out there and play fast and run around.”
Scouts have noticed that aspect of Golden’s game, too.
“You’d like it if he had prototypical dimensions, size-wise, but there could be a role for him — he can (develop),” NFL.com draft analyst Bucky Brooks said. “I like his effort, I like his energy. He plays hard. If he can be a guy that wants to make a contribution on special teams, he can buy time to give himself a chance to develop into a pro player.”
Golden wouldn’t have a problem doing that, for the record. He’s just honored to have a chance to live his dream of playing professional football, all so he can support his family.
“The reason football means a lot to me is because it helps me out in life,” Golden said. “I was able to get a college degree just from playing football. I was able to go to the college that I love. I was able to let my mom travel all around just to see me playing college football. It’s about me getting a degree and me, my mother and family being able to experience it with me.
“Plus, I’ve got to take care of my mother. This is the way I can make sure she’ll be comfortable.”
That’s why he took every snap personally, why he made it a mission to go a season without taking a play off.
With so much at stake — his future, his family’s future and yes, his personal pride — how could he not, (particularly this week)?
“I’ve got little brothers, little cousins back home watching me,” Golden said. “I can’t be out there playing slow and not playing hard if I’m telling them to play hard and play fast. I’m the kind of guy that leads by example.”