An intimidator on the field, Dashon Goldson reflects his mother’s influence in everyday life
By Jeff Louderback
Photographer: Jared Raskind

On the field, hard-hitting Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Dashon Goldson wants wide receivers to feel fear when they roam across the middle. It’s why he was a two-time Pro Bowler in six seasons with the San Francisco 49ers before the Bucs signed him to a five-year, $41.25 million deal last offseason, making him one of the game’s highest paid defensive backs.

Opinions vary about the niche Goldson has carved as an on-field intimidator. Though the hits that have drawn fines have appeared legal, some opposing players on the receiving end have expressed displeasure while teammates and even rivals (like New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady) rave about his penchant for old school football. Those who know Goldson off the field tell of a gentle soul who wears dreadlocks and is fashion-conscious, passionate about helping at-risk children and can never get enough of his Jamaican mother’s cooking.

Now 29, Goldson could have easily taken a path that led far from the fortune of playing in the NFL. His route could have ended in prison or even death, like many of the kids he grew up with in the often tumultuous streets of Los Angeles.

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Goldson’s mother, Desrene, moved to the United States from Jamaica three decades ago and eventually arrived in LA. One of six children – he is the oldest boy and is the second oldest of the bunch – Goldson barely knew his father, who was incarcerated when he (Goldson) was a toddler. Desrene eventually remarried and Goldson’s stepfather, Kevin Irons, served as a role model.

“Growing up, my mother and my stepfather gradually moved us to better areas, and drove all of us to school and activities,” Goldson said. “They did a good job of making sure we were not on the streets and getting into trouble.”

The neighborhoods he was raised in were still occupied by drugs, gangs and bad elements, Goldson explained. “Football became my escape,” he said. “It wasn’t just a sport. It was a way to focus all of my energy on something productive that pointed me in a positive direction.”
It is Desrene who taught her son discipline, a dedicated work ethic and the importance of always having a strong love for his family. Even amid all the temptations in rough neighborhoods, Goldson managed to stay out of trouble.

“No teacher ever had to call me,” Desrene said. “No fights. Nothing.”

Though Goldson’s mother and stepfather encouraged him to play sports, football was not on the approved list. Desrene wanted him to play soccer while Kevin envisioned him excelling at basketball.

In the summer after his fifth grade year, Goldson tasted the exhilaration of delivering a hit on the football field for the first time.

“Across the street from our house there was a park where Pop Warner league games were played,” Goldson recalled. “One day I saw a group of kids playing what you would likely compare to rugby. One kid would get the ball and everyone else would try to tackle him.

“One day, some kids asked me to play, and I started laying cats out,” Goldson said with a smile.

At the park that day was a coach in the Pop Warner league who saw Goldson and asked if he had ever played football.

“No,” Goldson said.

“Do you want to?” the coach responded.

“Yes, but my mom and dad would never let me,” Goldson said.

Goldson learned that the entry fee was $100. Knowing that his parents would never sign the permission form, he signed their names and used his birthday money to make his organized football debut.

“I played the rest of that season and would hide my uniform and pads until I got to the park,” Goldson said. “Eventually, my sister told my parents, but they let me finish the season.”

If Desrene and Kevin had their way, Goldson would have never returned to the gridiron. It was his youth league coach, former UCLA cornerback Bobby Hosea, who taught Goldson how to correctly tackle and who convinced Goldson’s parents to let him pursue football.

“He visited my stepfather and told him, ‘Dashon will not eventually buy you a house playing basketball, but he will playing football,’” Goldson recalled with a laugh.

Hosea later coached Goldson in high school, knocked on his door in Redondo Beach during college break to run with him and still remains an encouraging influence, helping with Goldson’s summer football camps.

Bobby Hosea and Darian Walker – who was a few years older, lived in the neighborhood and starred on the high school football team and showed an interest in keeping Goldson on a safe path – were two of Dashon’s most important influences growing up.

Goldson was a standout at Narbonne High School, which also produced Nnamdi Asomugha, who ironically now plays for Goldson’s former team, the 49ers. In 2002, Goldson was among nine players in his class who earned Division I scholarships, but he didn’t earn a qualifying SAT score. Schools like USC, UCLA and Wisconsin backed off. TheUniversity of Washington kept its interest in Goldson and recommended that he head to Coffeyville Community College in Kansas.

Accustomed to the urban streets of LA, Goldson found himself away from his family for the first time and in the remote wheat fields of Coffeyville, Kansas. The population? Around 10,000.

“I didn’t know what homesick was all about until my mom and dad left me in Coffeyville,” Goldson said. “I wasn’t sure I would stay there, but eventually I settled in.”

In junior college, Goldson was teammates with Houston Texans defensive back Johnathan Joseph and New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs among other NFL players. He was an All-American and reached his original objective of playing at the University of Washington, where he developed into an NFL prospect and earned a degree in American Ethnic Studies.

A fourth round pick of the 49ers in 2007, Goldson was moved to start the Highest Point Foundation in 2009. The foundation provides outlets for at-risk youth through sports programs to help them stay off the streets and in formidable activities. Through the Highest Point Foundation, Goldson also strives to help individuals who have been incarcerated better adapt to life after getting their freedom back.

“Lots of people go back to crime because they have trouble finding work and a place to live, and they just don’t know how to readjust to everyday life,” Goldson said. “My foundation is all about helping people who regain their freedom successfully transition into productive lives, and it is also about guiding at-risk youth to make the right choices in life so they don’t end up incarcerated.”

Goldson was actively involved with the Highest Point Foundation in San Francisco. Now that he is getting acclimated in the Tampa Bay area, he is making plans to help at-risk youth and individuals who are released from jail or prison in his new home region.

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A two-time Pro Bowler, Goldson still talks to his mother on a regular basis and is quick to say that he is craving her homemade meals.

“Curried chicken, especially. Beans and rice, too,” Goldson. “There is no cooking quite as good as my mom’s cooking.”

In the midst of a first season in Tampa Bay that has seen the Buccaneers struggle under Greg Schiano, Goldson has publicly stepped up to defend the embattled second-year head coach, reflecting the loyalty that he learned from his mother as a child. He remains an on-field intimidator who delivers hits the “correct way” that was taught to him by Hosea. Off the field, Goldson is a self-described family man who likes simple pleasures.

“I could have joined a gang and fallen into drugs, but I knew that was the wrong direction. I had friends who went that route, and that is not what I wanted. I focused on football,” Goldson said. “Just because I have reached the level I have in the NFL, though, that hasn’t changed who I am and who I was taught to be. I believe in playing hard on the field and living right off the field.”