“He just showed up at our doorstep,” recalled Michel, the defensive line coach at McNeese State. He came up on the second floor, and me and (defensive coordinator Lance) Guidry were the first ones to see him.
“His wife dropped him off, was what he told me. His wife made him go talk to us. He was all nervous. He was working at a restaurant.”
Sometimes, kismet is sweet enough to kiss. Isaiah Golden, arguably the best NFL prospect in the Southland Conference, first walked into the Cowboys football offices last summer on a wing, a prayer — and a shove from his better half.
At first, Michel said, “we didn’t really know who he was. Then when he said his name, we knew who he was.”
He was a load. In high school, Golden blossomed into a U.S. Army All-American in Carthage, one of the jewels of east Texas, rated as the ninth-best defensive tackle prospect nationally in the Class of ’13 by Scout, and eighth nationally by Rivals. As a 6-2, 315-pound true freshman, he made six starts for Texas A&M, tossed straight into the Southeastern Conference fire, a tornado in the trenches.
Off the field? Golden’s life became hurricane that spun out of control. His infant daughter Avery passed away in September 2013. The following winter, he was charged with marijuana possession, suspended from the program and withdrew from school. A few months later, the last straw dropped: Golden was charged with three counts of aggravated robbery for his role in an alleged marijuana deal and kicked out of the Aggies’ program.
“He just opened up to us and told us about what happened and things like that,” said Michel, whose Cowboys play host to Incarnate Word in Lake Charles, La., on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on ASN. “He was up front. Told us everything. He didn’t hide anything.”
Michel said Golden also told him he’d married a Louisiana girl, and wanted to make good with a Louisiana life. They told him to spend a semester getting his head on straight and his academics in order.
“You get yourself in a bad situation, you make the wrong choice, and all of a sudden, you know, you’re labeled something,” Michel said. “He has to, I think, show people that ‘Hey, I am a good person, and I did make mistakes.’ And that’s what he’s doing right now.
“He’s going to school, he got eligible, and he had to get eligible last semester … (our) academic help is not near as much as at, say, a bigger school, so he had to do a lot of those things on his own, obviously. So he’s kind of on a one-man mission to show people, ‘I’m a good person, and people make mistakes.’”
And people repent. Over the summer, Golden worked part-time on the school grounds when not in the classroom or sweating blood with teammates, grinding from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“I just think A&M was too big for him,” Michel said. “We just think it was too big for him, and obviously, he made some terrible mistakes with some of the things that he did. But he’s working on it. He’s doing good. We’re proud of him.
“He’s got a future. This guy, now, he’s got a future.”
NFLDraftScout.com already has Golden on its radar, tapping the sophomore as the 57th best defensive tackle out of 164 projected for the 2018 draft class. With a 40-yard dash time in the 4.9s and a high motor, the big Texan has the kind of chassis that makes pro coaches salivate.
“He’s the best player that I’ve ever coached, as far as ability, and (that) can go to the next level,” Michel said.
“I’ve had a couple guys go to the next level — they didn’t have the same ability as him. He’s pretty good. I could see why he started at A&M as a freshman, and (Aggies) coach (Kevin) Sumlin said the same thing.”
Sumlin dismissed Golden in June 2014, shortly after the lineman and then-teammate Darian Claiborne had been charged with aggravated robbery for allegedly holding up men who’d agreed to buy pot from them.
More kismet: This past winter, with Golden trying to get his act together at McNeese, Michel happened to run into Sumlin while on a recruiting visit. They traded notes.
“Coach Sumlin just talked about some of the reasons why (Golden) was dismissed that we already knew about,” Michel said. “But he said he’s a great player. Likeable kid. He made some mistakes at a younger age, and I think he’s learned from them.
“He’s just glad to be playing ball and going to school and living a college life. And again, I think he matured greatly as far as when we’ve had him. The small setting has helped him. People like him, and it’s been good for him.”
For Cowboys nopponents, though, not so much. Last Saturday’s debut at LSU wound up getting cut short, and ultimately canceled, by storms. But just as Mother Nature unleashed fresh lightning, Golden was getting all jacked up to unleash fresh hell.
“In the limited plays against LSU,” Michel said, laughing again, “I think their center knew he was going to have his hands full the whole night, based on one series.”
Same chassis. New kid.
“America is the best country in the world that’ll give you a second chance,” Michel said. “And that’s basically what we did. We gave him a second chance.”