The big, strong offensive lineman was part of the recruiting class that helped change the image of the University of Florida football program. And for that, Dean Golden will be forever grateful.
He made 20 starts in four seasons and contributed to teams that won three Southeastern Conference championships while shattering the perception that the Gators couldn’t win titles without breaking rules.
But Golden also sat out two of the biggest games of his career - back-to-back Sugar Bowls - because his grades weren’t good enough, and he left school without a degree.
For that, the 6-foot-6, 280-pound Canadian Football League rookie blames himself.
“I tip my hat to the people who are able to excel academically and play, too,” he said. “I put everything I had toward football.”
Golden, who signed with Florida in 1990 as part of coach Steve Spurrier’s first recruiting class, completed his eligibility last season.
He will be remembered most for twice not being able to enjoy the biggest prize associated with winning the SEC.
The conference title is the Gators’ top priority each year and the reward for winning three of the past four titles has been trips to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Night. Golden was left behind after his junior and senior seasons because of academic reasons.
“Obviously, he was a young man who didn’t make the effort we would have expected,” said Florida coach Steve Spurrier.
“Maybe we should have suspended him before. But he was eligible and met all the university’s guidelines, so he played. There are some others we’re not real proud of (academically), but he did miss two of his biggest games,” Spurrier said.
Only five of the 17 players in Spurrier’s first recruiting class have graduated from Florida.
For Golden, the problem was balancing the demands of the classroom with the commitment required to play on one of the nation’s best football teams.
Football players typically go to classes in the morning and spend most of the afternoon and early evening hours in practice and meetings.
“Even a lot of students who see us every day don’t realize the amount of time you have to put into football and (the) preparation that goes into a game,” said Golden’s teammate, Michael Gilmore, who earned his undergraduate degree last December and plans to begin medical school at Florida in the fall.
“It’s really not their job to understand it, but they come to the games thinking, ‘These guys have got talent and just come out on Saturday and play.’ It takes preparation, like anything else, every day,” Gilmore said.
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