She had been run over by a car and killed during a robbery, he was told, but that’s a little much for a 6-year-old mind to wrap around. About all he could grasp was that he was moving from his home in Columbus, where he had lived with his mom, to outside Atlanta to live with his dad.
He knew then only that his mom, Harriet, was gone. He couldn’t have dreamed how many people would come along to fill that hole.
Kedric Golston, now a junior defensive tackle for No. 8 Georgia, was about to start on a path that would take him from a point in his life where he had no male role models to a place where he has too many blessings to count. It began with his father, Leroy Golston, and has stretched to Georgia defensive line coach Rodney Garner. Along the way, there was middle school coach Mike Duncan and high school coach Rodney Walker and others.
But nobody had a bigger impact than the man who lived across the street when Golston and his family moved to their current home in Tyrone as he was entering his teens.
“When I first met him I think he was like any young man, depending on what crowd would get to him would determine where he might go with his life,” David Rocker said. “I think he was on the brink of being labeled a troubled kid.”
Golston acknowledges that if he hadn’t moved from Columbus he “probably would be selling drugs or something,” not because he lived in a particularly rough part of town but because “there just wasn’t a lot around there, not a lot of positive things going on.”
David Rocker had seen some not-so-positive things in his life, but he’d also seen the wonderful things that could happen if you got through them. From 1987-’90, Rocker lettered on the football team at Auburn, which Georgia plays Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Jordan-Hare Stadium. In 1990, he was an All-American, following in the footsteps of his older brother Tracy Rocker.
“David Rocker had a very positive influence in Kedric’s life,” Walker said. “A lot of the things on the football field and how he conducts himself as a person has a lot to do with David.”
Rocker, who now pastors the Gibraltar Christian Church in Fayetteville, immediately noticed one thing about Golston.
“He was a big kid,” Rocker said. “I was like, ‘Man, this guy has that football frame.’ I just thought, ‘If I can just get this kid and he’ll just listen to me, I can help him miss out on a lot of things in life that can ruin careers. And, the thing is, he was very open to that.”
Rocker helped Golston through several stages of his life, none moreso than the college recruiting process. Coming out of Sandy Creek High School, Golston was a Parade All-American and considered the No. 1 defensive tackle prospect in the nation by ESPN.com.
His final three choices for college were Georgia, Auburn and Tennessee, but Rocker didn’t try to steer his protégé to the Tigers. In fact, he told Auburn officials not to take anything for granted just because he was a major part of Golston’s life. When Golston chose the Bulldogs, Rocker was perfectly happy with that.
“I thought it was the best decision for him,” Rocker said. “By no means is that a slap toward Auburn. Auburn is a great school. It’s my school, but I felt like they did not do as well as I thought they could have done with Kedric. (Georgia was) showing him much love, so I thought it was really good for him.”
Garner, who is also Georgia’s recruiting coordinator, never worried about Rocker turning Golston against the Bulldogs, he said.
“David is a lot like everyone else who has gotten to know Kedric, he wants what’s best for Kedric,” Garner said. “(Kedric) is that type of person where everybody who meets him develops a passion for him. He’s definitely a special guy. He’s the kind of man you want your son to be.”
The fact that Golston lost his mother isn’t common knowledge among the Bulldogs. His stepmother, Lynette Golston, has filled the role so well that Coach Mark Richt didn’t know about until this week that she wasn’t his birth mother.
“I think it has an impact on his life more than he would ever mention or talk about,” Rocker said.
“It’s definitely made him mature beyond his years,” Garner said. “Here I am 38, and I don’t know how I’d handle losing my mom today.”
There is one thing that sticks with Golston all the time. When he shipped off to Atlanta, his half-sister Ebony moved to Nevada to live with her father, he said. He hasn’t seen her since the day of their mother’s funeral 15 years ago.
“I wouldn’t say it haunts me, but I want to be reunited with her,” he said. “I want to make my mama proud.”
This week, though, his, and Rocker’s, primary focus is on Saturday’s game. The Tigers (9-0, 6-0) are contending for a national championship, and the Bulldogs (8-1, 6-1) have hopes for an at-large bid to a BCS bowl.
For the last two seasons, Rocker has had no problems with split allegiances. He’s an Auburn man through and through, but Saturday, for the first time, he said he’ll make the concession of wearing some Georgia apparel along with his Auburn hat.
“Normally, I would say, ‘You’re down on my turf, Auburn is my team.’ But I’m just excited about where Kedric is,” Rocker said. “I want him to have the best game possible, but I do have to admit, I want Auburn to win.”
Rocker, like so many others, has done enough for Golston that he can forgive split loyalties.
“God allows everything to happen for a reason,” Golston said. At the time of his mother’s death, “I was torn up, but now I see how it affected my life in a positive way. A lot of people invested a lot in me. My goal is to make them proud of me with what I do.”