Those two offers grew to a dozen, then to more than 50 by his senior season. And as the mail grew, the phone calls to Friendship Coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim and Goldman’s parents multiplied. The attention will reach its peak on Feb. 1 — National Signing Day, when Goldman announces the school of his choice — a decision three years in the making, hundreds of hours of conversations, phone calls, text and Facebook messages, and thousands of dollars in the making.
On that Wednesday, the 6-foot-4, 315-pound Goldman, who hates the spotlight and didn’t start playing organized football until the eighth grade, will make his announcement in front of a horde of television cameras and other assembled media members he often has done his best to avoid.
He’s ‘difficult to impress’
The laundry list of coaches to have come through Abdul-Rahim’s cramped, messy football office (with a leaky refrigerator) to talk to or about Goldman is a virtual who’s who of Bowl Championship Series schools.
Maryland’s offer, which came when James Franklin, a Terps assistant at the time, and Abdul-Rahim met Goldman at a takeout restaurant in Northeast. Now, the Terps are one of seven finalists on Goldman’s list, along with Alabama, Auburn, California, Clemson, Florida State and Miami.
“I was told that it was going to be a trip with the recruiting letters and talking to these coaches and meeting these coaches that you’ve seen on TV for the last decade,” said Goldman’s father, Eddie Muhammad, who changed his name from Goldman about 10 years ago. “I was being told that it was going to happen. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’d love to see that day.’ ”
Those close to Goldman tried to shield the player early in the recruiting process. Until late this summer, Abdul-Rahim didn’t give out Goldman’s cellphone number to college coaches, instead fielding the calls himself. When Goldman took 15 unofficial visits to 13 schools over the past two seasons to help whittle down his list, Abdul-Rahim was on nearly every trip.
The coaches see plenty to be awed about in Goldman — mammoth size, powerful hands and an explosive jump off the ball for a defensive tackle. Those around Goldman, however, make sure they approach his recruitment like a business deal.
“You have to look out for the best interest of your child at the end of the day,” said Muhammad, who works the graveyard shift at an electrical supply company. “You can’t be like, ‘Wow.’ I let certain coaches know, ‘Yeah, I know who you are. I’ve seen you ball.’ But you have to be level-headed about it all.”
Added Abdul-Rahim: “That’s where [Goldman’s] personality helps him for the glitz and the glamour. It’s difficult to impress him.”
Born in Silver Spring but raised in Northeast when his parents split, Goldman is naturally quiet. He once tried to sneak past reporters from recruiting Web sites because he didn’t want the attention. Some recruiters think they’re losing their footing with Goldman because he doesn’t return their phone calls. He’ll laugh and show his emotions behind closed doors but in the spotlight it’s as if he’s got a poker face on all day.
“He is the perfect person for this,” said Goldman’s mother, Sharon Davis, “because he knows how to turn it on or off.”
Goldman and his father watched as one of last year’s top recruits, DeMatha lineman Cyrus Kouandjio, announced his decision to attend Auburn only to express second thoughts within hours. He eventually switched to rival Alabama days later because he was influenced by approximately 3,000 text messages and countless Facebook messages.
“There is no way I’m going to let somebody else, especially somebody I don’t know, blur my vision of what I want,” Goldman said. “That ain’t going to happen.”
‘They’re gonna use you’
After all the unofficial visits and phone calls, Goldman has developed his own way of handling the pitches from college coaches. During visits, he’ll sit back and observe. When he meets current players at those colleges, he picks their brain and listens to his gut. He only heeds so much of what a college recruiter says.
“I’ve learned that people are going to use you and whatever school you talk to, they lied to you at some point,” Goldman said. “And they’re gonna use you. But some schools are going to use you in the wrong way and some school are going to use you in a good way. Schools that are going to use you in a good way, that’s the team and school you want to go to.”
The NCAA allows a recruit to take an unlimited number of unofficial trips to a school because the costs are covered by the player; official visits are covered by the school, and a recruit is limited to five. Abdul-Rahim paid for most of Goldman’s expenses for unofficial visits out his pocket (“a couple thousand”) and some through the nonprofit he founded, Positive Choices, Inc., meant to help inner-city children.
Goldman will make his official visit to Alabama on Saturday, for the No. 2 Crimson Tide’s game against No. 1 Louisiana State. During an unofficial visit to Tuscaloosa this summer, Goldman was brought into the office of Tide Coach Nick Saban, one of the country’s most successful recruiters. A one-on-one conversation ensued between a multi-millionaire coach with a world of experience and the 17-year old — a situation Goldman’s coach tries to avoid.
“I try to shield [him] from that as much as possible,” Abdul-Rahim said. “I don’t like Eddie getting cornered because he ain’t somebody who is going to fight his way out. He’ll sit in there until Saban says, ‘Okay, I’m going to go ahead and do something else. I’ll see you later.’ ”
The recruiting process, however, cares little about the character of a prospect.
“For him, sometimes it’ll be a little overwhelming,” said Davis, who works at a hair salon. “He’ll come home from school and I’ll be like, ‘So and so called and they want to talk.’ And he’s like, ‘I’m just getting home, I need to regroup.’ ”
Some recruiters stick to small talk, some plunge right into football and others blend both. “Some of it feels like a friend [calling] and some it feels like a college coach,” Goldman said.
Goldman isn’t glued to Facebook. He watches YouTube videos of top defensive lineman to glean tips. But he rarely searches the countless stories about him on recruiting sites. He answers only a couple of the 40 Facebook messages he receives daily.
In a way, Goldman’s father serves as a filter — on Facebook and on interviews. When Muhammad talks to coaches, he does so with a notebook in hand and fact checks what they say.
Attractive co-eds send Goldman messages begging him to attend their school (“I think you’re the best defensive tackle!”). Grown men, 60-year-old rabid football fans, do the same (“I really hope you come to Clemson.”) Entire college coaching staffs, such as the one at Rutgers, send friend requests.
February decision awaits
Goldman will take his time making his decision, waiting to see what other top recruits decide and what college coaches changes jobs following the season. He says he is searching for a school that will play him immediately, prepare him for the NFL and give him a chance to earn a business degree.
His first official visit was to Florida State for its nationally televised game on Sept. 17 against Oklahoma. Goldman’s father, stepmother, mother and stepfather all paid their own way to Tallahassee; the school covered Goldman’s expenses. They were shown the facilities by three attractive college-aged female tour guides, fed constantly, met all the Seminole assistant coaches and Coach Jimbo Fisher and talked about everything from playing time to academic support.
Goldman’s host player, Florida State freshman Karlos Williams, took him to meet his family after the game. And then he took Goldman out to other players’ houses to hang out. College kids partied outside with beer and music. During a night out with Florida State players on a previous unofficial visit, Goldman was spotted by a group of girls who recognized him, knew his name and asked for photos with him.
Before the game against Oklahoma, Goldman and his family stood on the sideline during warmups. Fans yelled his name from the stands. Posters carried his name. “The girls are blowing kisses,” said Davis, Goldman’s mother. “When we were walking back, they were screaming his name. I was like, ‘Oh man, is this a setup?’ ”
Said Goldman: “I never had nothing like that before. You kind of feel like a celebrity.”
On Feb. 1, once Goldman utters the name of the school of his choice, life will, to some extent, return to normal for him. He will be just another top recruit committed to another major school, the next stage of his life set to begin.
“Once you make the decision in February, all of it’s gone,” he said. “You’re at the bottom of the depth chart and you’re a freshman again.”