Markus Golden always wanted to play for Missouri, and despite a detour through junior college, he never doubted that one day he would wearing the black and gold on Saturdays.
“Of course, it’s like a dream I’ve had my whole life,” he said. “But at the same time, I knew it was going to happen. Let’s win now that I’m here. I want to help as much as I can.”
He has made himself quite useful at defensive end. After 10 games, the junior has had 4.5 sacks, 10 tackles-for-a-loss and the longest interception return of the season. Yet, despite his breakout season, Golden keeps his focus on football, blocking out the ongoing discussion of playing-for-pay.
“I don’t care about it because I have been playing football my whole life,” he said. “It’s just a game I love to play and I love to win. I don’t really let the money get between me and something that I love to do.”
The debate over paying student-athletes came to MU when coach Gary Pinkel announced his support for paying football and men’s basketball players in September.
Pinkel proposed giving those student-athletes, 146 in total, a living stipend that will make their college lives easier. Pinkel said it was a matter of fairness.
"Our players do get tuition and books, which is fine," he said. "Their education is important. But I also think we can give them additional money per semester to help them and paying them back for their sacrifices."
Golden said he has expenses just like every other student, after all that’s what he is: a student-athlete. He has to pay for gas, food, housing and anything else that comes up. Golden could receive a job to offset his personal expenses, but Golden has a job. He is a Missouri Tiger.
“Me, myself, I am here to play football,” he said. “Way before I was worried about getting paid or people were thinking about this, I was still playing football. I was back in St. Louis as a kid playing football.”
Getting his start
Golden grew up in a family that loves football. His brothers and cousins played, and his whole family is knowledgeable about the game. All in all, football has played an important role in his life. After all, it helped him get to college. Affton High School varsity coach Dan Oliver credits football will helping Golden stay focused.
“Academics were not his top priority, but he became a much better student,” Oliver said. “He made sure he got the classes and grades to qualify. He realized there was something at the end.”
Golden refocused in the summer between his sophomore and junior years, becoming the two-way star for the Cougars. Oliver said the difference was like night and day. Sometime during that summer, Oliver said Golden made a conscious choice that he wanted to play football and he wanted to play for Missouri.
Golden set his sights on the Tigers after watching his older brother get recruited. He also became familiar with the campus when his high school football team held camp at the campus.
Golden had some obstacles in his way to make his dream a reality, one being his grades. During the transformative summer, Oliver said he matured and really focused on his school work to make sure he was eligible to play.
“He is a great kid who worked his rear-end off,” Oliver said. “He has tremendous work ethic and a desire to be great.”
Despite all his hard work, Golden still fell short and had to make a detour through Kansas, where Missouri recruiters set him up at Hutchinson Community College until he was eligible to play Division I football.
He put up big numbers at Hutchinson and stayed focused on the end goal. He ultimately honored to his commitment to Missouri. Oliver said he stayed with the Tigers because they stuck with him.
“Those were the guys who stayed with him and he trusted them,” Oliver said.
The Balance between student and athlete
Being a student-athlete is a full-time job, Missouri’s safeties coach Alex Grinch acknowledged.
Golden gets one day off in a seven-day week. On Tuesday, he starts his morning with a 7 a.m. positions meeting, goes to class and then heads to afternoon practice, which lasts anywhere from 2 to 2.5 hours. Wednesdays and Thursdays are the same, minus the morning meeting. Friday is for traveling, and Saturdays are game days. The team has traveled 3,813 miles so far this year for away games. That includes trips back to Columbia.
Within Golden’s busy schedule, he also has study hours at the Sheldon Academic Resource Center, housed in the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex. Oh, and he has classes.
Grinch doesn’t doubt the players’ ability to balance and work through the tough times.
“The guys battle through it,” he said. “Like anybody, they have good days and bad days, but they battle. I think they are young enough to battle and mature enough. We help them along as best we can.”
In Golden’s two years at MU, he said his toughest class was psychology and not because of the material. Golden took the class online. He said it was hard because he had to remember that he was taking the class.
Overall, the academics have not tripped up Golden, and he credits the Total Person Program for his success.
“It’s hard but at the same time, Mizzou makes it as easy as it can be,” he said.
Golden plans to play in the National Football League following in the footsteps of many defensive linemen who took that next step.
If that doesn’t work out, he would like to coach high school football and teach physical education.
Despite all the attention and recognition this season has showered on number 33, Golden remembers his roots. He said he talks to his brothers many times throughout the week, and he texts his mom. He also maintains his unwavering work ethic.
“Really, I am just a hard worker,” he said. “I like to work hard no matter what I am doing.”
Sounds like a stereotypical response? Oliver disagrees.
“He is not just saying that because of the cliché,” he said. “He is trying to get better. That’s just the way he is.”
Golden called playing football at MU a blessing. Yes, he has expenses just like every other student at the university. Yet, Golden is also representing the university on the field every weekend. Pinkel said that’s the football program’s small contribution to the university.
“A lot of guys back from where I’m from didn’t even have the chance to come here and play,” Golden said. “I would never let money ruin something that I’m enjoying.”