Many across the country are surprised that a redshirt freshman has been able to lead Notre Dame to an undefeated season and place against Alabama in Monday’s Discover BCS National Championship game at Sun Life Stadium.
But those who saw Everett Golson sling a football at Myrtle Beach High School and got to know him enough to recognize the competitive spirit, work ethic and character that came along with his talent saw this coming.
“Part of accepting an opportunity like that is being good enough to be there and be in a position to take advantage of it,” Conway High coach Chuck Jordan said. “That’s not to say he was lucky. He’s the type of kid who is going to work hard enough that if the opportunity presents itself he’ll be ready to walk through the door. He was prepared to step through the door.”
Golson grew up with an appreciation of working for your goals. His mother, Cynthia, works at a day care and his father, Wayne, is a front desk clerk at an oceanfront hotel.
“He works hard to achieve what he wants to achieve,” Wayne Golson said. “His work ethic is super. If you tell him he can’t do something, he’s going to show you. When he puts his mind to it, he usually accomplishes what he tries to do.”
That has become evident on and off the field.
Because Golson graduated from Myrtle Beach High a semester early and enrolled at Notre Dame in January 2011, then redshirted as a freshman, he had a year and a half to become acclimated to the school, get his academics in order and learn the playbook.
“That year he sat out, it was a good time for him to sit out,” Cynthia Golson said. “It was a learning experience. We knew by the time he sat out and got the system under his belt a little bit, he’d be Everett. He’s not going to sit down there too long. Not if he’s got a say-so in it.”
Though she’s “not really” surprised at Everett’s success this year, Cynthia Golson still has to pinch herself when she thinks of her son being in a position to lead Notre Dame to a national title two years after he left home. “I don’t even think I’ve wrapped my mind around it yet,” she said. “It’s kind of a lot to comprehend.”
Same old Everett
Golson’s parents say he hasn’t changed in character, only in maturity at Notre Dame. “He’s growing up some more,” Wayne Golson said. “We see a little change in him, but basically he’s still the same.”
Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert and offensive linemen Mike Golic Jr. and Zack Martin said Saturday they have never heard Golson either curse or trash talk opponents, even though he is regularly razzed by opponents trying to get him off his game.
“I’m probably out there laughing or joking with them. That’s just kind of who I am, out there having fun,” Golson said. “I don’t want to say that I don’t take it too serious, because I think there is a serious aspect to it. But at the end of the day you have to have fun with what you do.
“There are different ways you can turn it when someone’s trash talking you. I kind of joke with them a little bit and show a little love, and they maybe feel a little awkward about saying what they said to me.”
Typical Everett, those who know him would attest.
Golson has managed to maintain his musical interests despite the time demands of big-time college football and Notre Dame’s academic challenges for a business major.
He used to make time for piano just about every day during football and basketball seasons at Myrtle Beach High. He also composed music on his computerized keyboard and had musical sessions at home and school with either piano/keyboards, guitar, drums or upright bass.
He played piano and drums with his father in the band at Mount Olive AME Church, unless he was instead recruited by brother Edwin to play at True Light Sounds of Praise Church. Edwin records and performs gospel music, and Everett has filled in on his band when needed.
Golson played piano at the Champs Sports Bowl luncheon and talent show following the 2011-12 season, and made a music video that reached YouTube with a classmate for a class project. His pregame preparation often includes some singing in the locker room.
“I think music is like my outlet,” Golson said. “It’s very accessible for me at Notre Dame because I actually have a keyboard in my room. There’s many times where I come from practice or come from class, and I’ll just sit down and play. It’s more so my outlet, kind of lets me get away from what’s actually going on.”
Golson has only been home a few times since enrolling at Notre Dame, but his parents talk to him or text him regularly, and send him a message before every game, which Golson said he anticipates.
They are generally words of encouragement, but Wayne Golson sometimes includes some offensive strategy he gleaned from watching that week’s opponent on TV. “Sometimes I think [my father] thinks he’s the offensive coordinator,” Golson joked.
Notre Dame’s national contract with NBC has allowed Golson’s parents to see every Irish game for the past two years on TV – if they haven’t attended the game in person, as they did on Sept. 22 when the Irish beat Michigan 13-6 at home in South Bend, Ind.
Wherever they are, they watch every offensive play nervously, pending the outcome on both the game and their son’s health. He suffered a concussion against Stanford on Oct. 13 and was unable to return, missing the next game against BYU, and has been dinged a few other times this year.
Golson’s mother called his phone immediately after the Stanford game to check on his condition. “I said, ‘Boy, you must have had a phone on that field,’” Cynthia Golson said. “He called me back so quick and I was grateful for that. I would have been frantic.”
A rising star
Golson’s rise to fame nationally has brought even more notoriety to his family. Guests at the hotel where Wayne Golson works often come to the front desk just to meet him and chat Notre Dame football. “I’m not Wayne Golson anymore, I’m just Everett Golson’s dad,” he said. “I lost my name. But I’m fine with that. That doesn’t bother me at all.”
It’s not like Golson has sought the media attention. He’s a shy and somewhat reticent personality, but his play and circumstances have forced him into the limelight. “I’ve never really been the type to have all the cameras around me,” Golson said. “I’m trying to get used to it a little bit.”
Golson doesn’t live his celebrity off the field. As a teenager, he not only was absent from parties, he seldom went to the mall.
“He’s a homebody,” Myrtle Beach High coach Mickey Wilson said. “He’s not going to go out to the parties and whatnot. He’s going to stay away and show up when it’s time to show up. He’s well grounded with his faith and well grounded with his family, and I don’t think that’s going to change.”
Golson’s fame began on a local level at Myrtle Beach High, where he was 45-5 as a starting quarterback, threw for 11,717 yards and 151 touchdowns with 26 interceptions, won two Class AAA state titles and played in a third title game.
“He just has that complete package you want in a quarterback,” Wilson said. “A lot of people call it the ‘it’ factor and sometimes it’s hard to describe what the ‘it’ factor is. But he has it. He’s got that quarterback gene and ‘it’ factor.”
The poise and seeming ease with which he compiled the gaudy high school statistics were just as impressive as the numbers themselves.
“They played on a different level with Everett,” Jordan said. “Everett was not real flashy. That’s always a compliment to someone’s athleticism. He didn’t do a lot of wow things he just consistently made plays. Most of the really good ones don’t make things look that difficult. They just get it done without having all those wow moments.”
More of those moments came in his youth, when Golson was always far and away the most talented player in his age group.
“Everett stood out. He was a complete natural,” said Billy McGonigal, a youth football coach in the Myrtle Beach Recreation Dept. who coached Golson on all-star teams at ages 9 and 10. ”I had friends come when he was 10 years old and I told them, ’You have to come see this kid.’"
People like McGonigal who have been part of Golson’s life still root for him, and many plan to attend Monday night’s game. Among them are his parents, both of his older brothers – Edwin and Tori Watts – a cousin who lives in Chicago, a host of his former coaches including Wilson and Seahawks assistant Reggie Alston, former Seahawks coach Scott Earley, and recreation coaches McGonigal and Steve Lane.
Friend and fellow Myrtle Beach High grad Ramon Sessions has an off day on the schedule of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats and may attend the game with some friends, as well.
“I feel he’s been successful whether they win the game or not,” Wayne Golson said. “The game would add the icing to it, but he’s achieved a lot in one or two years. We’ve very proud of him and the kid he is.”
For all of Golson’s success this year, those who know him believe the best of Golson is yet to come. “Wait till next year when he really gets comfortable,” Wayne Golson said. “I don’t think he’s going to go downhill. The only thing I see is up from here for him, because he’s a student of the game of what he wants to do. I think he’s only going to get better.”
That wouldn’t be a surprise to many on the Grand Strand, either.