FRISCO — Chauncey Golston could have quit football.
Like a freeway, the sport offered him exits.
Golston was 10 when he learned his mother was unable to pay the $125 registration fee for a youth football league. Some soon-to-be seventh graders might pursue another sport or interest for the summer.
Golston borrowed his neighbor’s gas-powered lawnmower and got to work.
A couple months ago, Cowboys defenders conducted an exercise in which each player wrote a word or phrase to describe himself. Golston chose “driven.” Drive fueled the rookie defensive end’s journey from East Detroit to the NFL. It continues on Thanksgiving against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Nothing came easy for Golston.
Still, the third-round pick kept driving.
When money was tight. When his crime-dense neighborhood presented potholes and wrong turns. When a traumatic leg injury suffered in high school led to emergency surgery. When his long body frame was gangly, needing time to build the strength needed to compete at the highest levels.
Golston demonstrated a maturity beyond his years. That same maturity has helped him begin his NFL career, as he’s part of a Cowboys rookie class that has helped mitigate injuries to veteran defensive linemen.
“The man that Chauncey became is the man that he’s been all his life,” said Linda Golston, Chauncey’s mother. “He’s been a man. Rather than being a young kid, he was always a thinker. He loved school. Always on the honor roll, scholarship. He just had such a positive attitude.”
“Looking back at it, I’m really proud of my younger self,” Golston said. “I wouldn’t say that I have changed too much from how my younger self was. I’ve kept that mentality.”
Golston relished youth football and the camaraderie with his teammates, many of whom attended different schools.
He wasn’t ready to give up it or them.
Seeking to solve his $125 problem, Golston went door-to-door and offered to cut neighbors’ grass. It was not the first or last time he took up small jobs for income, but that summer was the most pressing. He had a clear expenditure in mind for which he was saving.
Pricing for Chauncey’s Lawn Services varied.
“Depending on the yard, it would be like $20,” Golston said. “Some people would be like, ‘OK,’ and then you get a little $5 tip. And then, some people would say, ‘Nah, I can’t do it,’ but you could see the indecision in them. So I’d be like, ‘OK, I’ll go down to $15.’”
Golston reached his goal.
There were alternatives on how to generate capital on East 7 Mile Road. Not all were legal. Golston said that he belonged to a group of friends who collectively observed others’ choices and learned from their mistakes.
Rather than drugs or gun violence, Golston mowed lawns in the summer and shoveled snow in the winter. His step-dad, who passed away when Golston was in college at Iowa, worked as a general contractor. Golston occasionally assisted, learning different parts of the trade.
He stayed in his lane.
He minded the speed limit while often hearing gunshots in the background.
“There were ways to make money, and there were dumb ways to make money,” Golston said. “We were like, ‘Yeah, this cutting grass stuff, this is easy money.’ … A lot of them were just living a little too fast for our time. They would get caught up in stuff they shouldn’t have been in, and it was just a multitude of things. …
“Coming from an area like that, when you’ve got family that’s living like that, that’s all you know. Some people, their family has doctors, and they’re like, ‘I want to be a doctor when I grow up.’ But when you don’t have that actual role model in your house who’s pushing you to do that, it’s really easy to take the path of least resistance. So you had people from the neighborhood that took those types of routes, and a lot of people took early exits from life. That just wasn’t the path that we saw.”
There is no mistaking Golston today.
He looks like an NFL player.
The 274-pounder is listed at 6-5. His 84 3/8-inch wing span is far from pedestrian, and his nearly 11-inch hands can clutch a basketball with the same ease a Central Market customer might a grapefruit.
His appearance wasn’t always so prototypical.
Rod Oden, Golston’s football head coach at East English Village Preparatory Academy, remembers an eighth grader more long than large.
“The thing that you noticed about Chauncey is he was awkwardly built,” Oden said. “He was growing so fast. He had outgrown a lot of his clothes.”
Oden saw the growth potential.
When he started Golston as a freshman at defensive end and offensive tackle, he says people thought he was crazy; Golston lacked varsity strength and, to be kind, took his share of lumps. He made measurable improvement as a sophomore. As a junior, Oden said, Golston was “unblockable” at end and allowed no sacks at tackle.
Then came the injury to end his junior year.
On Nov. 7, 2014, in the first half of a playoff game against Warren De La Salle, Golston ran down a defender who intercepted a pass. Golston felt discomfort in his upper left leg after landing on the defender’s knee when making the tackle. The discomfort grew, and he exited the game. Golston struggled to bend the leg at halftime.
Linda Golston watched from the stands with one of her other sons.
“When you know your child, you know he’s trying to shake it off,” she said. “I told my son, ‘He’s hurt. He’s hurt.’ He was like, ‘Nah, I think he is all right.’ I said, ‘No, my baby is hurt.’”
Golston consciously avoided talking to his mother about his injury while the game was underway, intent on supporting his teammates from the sideline during the second half. After the game concluded, Golston’s mother saw his thigh had swollen to double its normal size and immediately drove him to a hospital.
Blood vessels ruptured in his quadriceps area. In a condition known as compartment syndrome, pressure was building. A football journey preserved when Golston cut grass to pay for his football equipment now had medical workers cutting through his football pants in order to save it.
The emergency procedure left Golston with 46 staples in the leg, Golston said, and he was in the hospital for 11 days. When people ask Golston about his long scar, he often devises a creative story — he got shot, he might say — before telling them the actual origin.
It was another exit sign from the sport.
“At the time, I was contemplating if I was even going to play football again because I was scared,” Golston said. “But I always knew that wasn’t me. I felt like I would have been letting down my teammates if I still had fight left and I didn’t give them all I had. I ended up coming back after that. I was able to do all the running stuff around February-March.”
Golston had no college scholarship offers at the time, but Oden regularly arranged for Golston to attend various camps and recruiting visits.
Don’t worry about food or hotel, he’d tell him. It is all handled.
Golston tagged along when high school teammate Cedrick Lattimore, also a defensive lineman, made a recruiting visit to Iowa. Iowa coaches took to Golston and offered him a scholarship before his senior season. He accepted.
“If I quit,” Golston said, “I wouldn’t be here right now.”
Linda Golston often had to remind her NFL-bound son.
She is the parent.
For years, she worked long hours to support herself and her six children, holding occupations in steel, plastic or automotive plants to complement her job as a medical assistant. Her objective was to raise her children without the financial support from welfare to become the best adults they could be.
Chauncey Golston, she said, is certainly an adult.
After embracing odd jobs and keeping out of trouble at school as a youngster, he now has taken it upon himself to serve as her unofficial financial advisor, assessing her purchases and sharing unsolicited tips on how to minimize her spending. Such advice prompts her to reminder him who’s the parent.
Still, she quit playing the Michigan lottery because of him.
“I’d rather stop than hear his mouth,” Linda said with a laugh.
His maturity is noticed in Dallas.
Golston, who redshirted as a freshman at Iowa after arriving at about 215 pounds, impressed Cowboys coaches in the spring. But on the first day of training camp in Oxnard, Calif., he injured his hamstring during the conditioning test.
He rehabbed diligently while missing all of training camp, the preseason and the season’s first two games. He has since made impactful plays, recovering a fumble in a win over the New England Patriots and batting a pass at the line of scrimmage to help spark a defensive turnaround two weeks ago against the Atlanta Falcons.
Golston sees no exits.
He continues to work and develop, just like the 10-year-old who cut grass to stay on the field.
“Talking to Chauncey, I didn’t know that particular story,” said linebacker Micah Parsons, the Cowboys’ rookie first-round pick. “But I think he’s a great guy. How he carries himself every day, always smiling, you could never tell he’s been through anything. He always puts his head down and works, no matter what trials and tribulations come his way. …I’ve got nothing bad to say about Chauncey.”
There is a saying often used at East English Village, Oden said.
“Get it out of the mud.”
That is, it falls on teenagers from low-income neighborhoods to rev their engines and create their own opportunities. Golston is a walking example.
Rather than attend the high school around the corner, he regularly walked nearly three miles to and from school to attend the newer East English Village. Rain. Snow. Morning. Afternoon. It didn’t matter. During his own work commute, Oden would notice Golston walking alongside the road and stop his vehicle to give Golston a ride the rest of the way.
Oden said he’ll “probably shed a tear” Thursday when seeing that same person on Thanksgiving’s national stage.
This game is meaningful for Golston, too.
“People are off work,” Golston said. “Everyone gets their family together. People watch football all the time, but when you watch it as a big group and all those connections are going on and you’re around your loved ones, that’s just different. To know that you’re bringing entertainment to masses like that, it’s a blessing.”