GT return man Golden one of nation's best

An amazing stat for you: Last year, Georgia Tech sophomore Jamal Golden racked up 952 all-purpose yards -- and he didn’t play one single snap on offense.

The versatile defensive back made a name for himself in the Jackets’ return game, as he was the only player in college football to rank in the top 10 nationally in punt returns (6th, 14.59) and kickoff returns (10th, 28.35).

What could he possibly do for an encore in 2013? Anything that helps add up to points.

Golden is a humble player who is quick to give credit to his teammates and special teams coach, and his only goal for 2013 is to either score more himself, or help put the offense in better position to do the same.

“It’s just about the schemes and the other 10 guys on the field wanting to help me do it,” he said. “Once they do their job, they make my job easy. They do the dirty work, and I try to reward the team with some points.

“There’s no point in being back there returning if you don’t want to score,” he said. “I was looking to score pretty much every time I caught a kick or a punt. I just want to thank coach [Dave] Walkosky.”

There’s no question Walkosky made a difference last season as the first special teams-only coach that Paul Johnson has hired during his tenure in Atlanta. Prior to 2012, Georgia Tech had not returned a kickoff for a touchdown since Oct. 31, 1998. Last year, in Walkosky’s first season, Golden did it twice. On Oct. 27 against BYU, he returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown and finished with 174 yards total off five kickoff returns. He topped that performance two weeks later at North Carolina when he returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown and finished with 261 all-purpose yards.

Golden’s electric returns overshadowed the fact that he was second on the team with three interceptions and returned them a team-high 52 yards.

“It’s no big deal to me,” he said of being recognized more in the return game than in the secondary. “I don’t care about praise, I just care about getting the 'W.'"

It should come as no surprise that Golden likes to have the ball in his hands. He was a talented dual-threat quarterback at Wetumpka (Ala.) High School -- the same school of former quarterback Tevin Washington. He also loves baseball (it’s actually his favorite sport), and briefly joined Georgia Tech’s team as a centerfielder in 2012.

This spring has been the first time he has focused on only one sport -- and he said he’s made a difference.

“It was kind of a shock to me, but it gave me time to do the work in the weight room that I needed,” he said. “It gives me time to focus on my classes, I can watch film when needed, I can stay in the weight room consistently instead of having to leave early to go to another practice or something like that. It’s benefited me, but I do miss it.”

Golden knows it’s going to be hard to duplicate last season’s numbers, because he’s not a secret anymore, but that certainly won’t stop him from trying.

“Anytime you make a play at any position, not just kick returner, people are going to notice you and probably scheme against you,” he said. “I expect it to be kicked away from me or kicked around me. I just have to play it by ear and take it as it comes.”