ATHENS, Ga. - Before coaches were allowed to see Georgia's freshmen this summer, varsity players already were passing along the word on Kedric Golston.
"Kedric jumps out with his hard work ethic,'' senior linebacker Tony Gilbert said in July. "He's willing to learn. He wants to be like the older guys. He wants to work hard.'' Golston quickly won over defensive line coach Rodney Garner with that attitude, and the freshman already has moved past Ken Veal as Georgia's starting nose tackle.
Garner doesn't like the idea of a true freshman lining up as a starter for No. 8 Georgia in the Aug. 31 season opener against Clemson. Then again, even the cautious Garner admits Golston is not a typical first-year player. "I think he will handle (starting) the right way,'' Garner said. "He is more mature than the average freshman.''
That maturity is the hard-earned result of Golston surviving a serious car accident that shortened his 2001 senior season at Sandy Creek High School and left him hospitalized for almost a full month. Golston suffered a broken femur and then had to be placed on a ventilator when fat tore off of the bone and went into his lungs. Through the use of the ventilator, Golston then developed a staph infection. When he first woke up at Atlanta Medical Center and couldn't move his right leg and then found he couldn't breathe without the assistance of a machine, the last thought on Golston's mind was the possibility that less than a year later he would be preparing to start in his first college game.
"I had my down points,'' Golston said. "I remember when I first woke up and I couldn't even move my leg. I was saying there was no way I could be out there (playing) when I couldn't even move my leg right now. I just went to rehab every day and prayed about it.'' At the time, there were no guarantees about Golston's future as a player. Even so, in a phone call Coach Mark Richt assured Golston that he would have a home at Georgia.
"I told him even if he couldn't play, come to Georgia and if we had to give him a medical (scholarship) his whole career, he could be a manager or something,'' Richt said. "We figured sooner or later, from what we heard from the doctors, he would be able to play again. This quickly, no I wouldn't have figured that.''
Now, says Golston of the accident: "I tell people it was a blessing in disguise.'' Said Golston: "All I think about is it made me a better person, a better player. I had to train so hard to get back to where I am now that right now I am leaner than I have ever been because of all the running and rehab I had to do with my legs.''
Added Garner: "I think that wreck made him become even more focused. One thing about it, he is going to work. He won't ever complain about anything. He always comes to work.''
Golston, 6-foot-4 and 275 pounds - down from the 288 measurement before two-a-day practices - looks like a slightly smaller version of former Georgia standout Richard Seymour. Like the taller Seymour, Golston is cut more like a defensive end than the typical beefy nose tackle. Golston takes special pride in being compared to another former Georgia starter on the defensive front, David Jacobs. It was about the same time that Golston was going through his extended hospital stay that Jacobs - then Georgia's starting nose tackle - suffered a career-ending stroke. Like Golston, Jacobs has made a dramatic recovery and this summer began working with the Clarke Middle School and Clarke Central High School football teams. Jacobs also spends time on the practice fields as a student assistant coach with the Georgia defensive line.
"When (Jacobs) comes out there and works with us, it makes me want to work that much harder because me and him were (hospitalized) at about the same time and I just look at how blessed I am to still be playing football,'' Golston said. "When I look at him, I know that he would give anything in the world to be back out there playing, so I kind of feed off of him. When I do something good he looks at me and he's excited like he's back out there doing it.''
If not for the stroke, Jacobs would have been a senior leader on the defensive line this year. Instead, Golston is drawing comparisons to Jacobs. "Kedric reminds me of DJ,'' Garner said. "DJ has the heart of a warrior. Kedric has the same characteristics. I know he wants to be good. He wants this program to be good. If he goes like he's going now, he will probably be like David Jacobs.''
Now Golston wants the comparison to continue on the field. "DJ worked hard every play and never took anything for granted,'' he said. "I just want to be a player that works hard. Everybody has ability. I just want to work hard every day.''
NOTES: Georgia will have its last preseason scrimmage tonight at Sanford Stadium. Richt said it was possible starting or backup jobs still could be won or lost in the scrimmage. It was after the last scrimmage that Golston and redshirt freshman rover Thomas Davis were promoted to starting roles. "I wouldn't have predicted any changes after the last one,'' Richt said. "That's why you go full speed.'' Of Georgia's injured offensive linemen, starting center Ian Knight and backup guard Josh Brock are expected back for the scrimmage. Starting tackle Kareem Marshall, still out with a sprained neck, may participate in a lighter practice Saturday and then return to contact action next week in hopes of starting against Clemson.
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