By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 11, 2007
Kedric Golston knew he had picked the right mentor last August, when veteran tackle Cornelius Griffin happily loaned the rookie his beloved Hummer H2 in a time of need. Griffin realized he had discovered a worthy apprentice when Golston returned the vehicle in pristine condition and with the tank full.
"That meant a lot to me," Golston said. "This is a guy who hadn't known me much -- just for a few months -- and he trusted me enough to take his car home and use it. That showed the kind of dude he is. He'd give anything he has to anyone. Griff is a great man, he has a kind heart and he's a hard worker and he wants to be around guys who like hard work."
A year ago Golston, 24, was overwhelmed by his new surroundings, unsure of making the Washington Redskins' roster as an unimposing sixth-round pick. He was shy and reserved and willing to do whatever was necessary to be accepted by his teammates, quickly earning respect and contributing in all 16 games. Now, he is expected to start on the maligned defensive line at right tackle, where he can keep an eye on his mentor.
Golston began studying Griffin's every move during last spring's organized team activity practices, hearing how the coaches espoused his character, work ethic and impeccable technique. When Griffin provided an opening -- welcoming Golston with a hearty handshake when the rookie first entered the locker room last year -- Golston pounced, and the tutoring has not stopped. By the time Griffin, 30, loaned the youngster his customized SUV, they were well on their way to becoming close friends.
The car's value (perhaps $75,000 with all the extras) stood in stark contract to Golston's non-guaranteed rookie minimum salary ($275,000), but Griffin had no reservations.
"I'm not afraid to say it -- and the coaches make fun of me a lot for it -- but I do try to emulate a lot of things he does, because he is a great player," Golston said. "I remember watching Griff play for Alabama and then with the Giants, and I always loved the way he played, and for me to come here and on be on his team is a blessing, and I can't help but find myself doing some of the things he does to be successful. Everything I can take from him is a blessing, because he's one of the best tackles in the NFL."
Golston looks at Griffin and sees where he wants to be. Griffin measures Golston and sees where he once was.
"When I was in New York I took to [veterans] Michael Strahan, Keith Hamilton, Jessie Armstead, Micheal Barrow," Griffin said. "Guys like that showed me the ropes on how to be a professional player -- a lot of nonsense off the field is not tolerated, you have to be professional every day and be accountable, be a man and don't embarrass your family or the organization. That's how I was brought up and that's what I talk about a lot with Kedric.
"We're the best of friends, we live close together and one thing about Golston, he's very respectful of veterans and very respectful as a person. He don't act like a rookie. He's very mature and he can hang out with the older guys and do the right thing off the field."
An overachiever, Golston wrings every bit of talent from his 6-foot-4, 320-pound frame and relies on dedication, tenacity and guile to compensate for any athleticism he lacks. Arriving here from the University of Georgia, he quickly proved he could play in the league, and with starting tackle Joe Salave'a hobbled most of last season with injuries, Golston was thrust into 13 starts.
But while Golston was shattering expectations, Griffin, a second-round pick by the Giants in 2000, endured the most disappointing season of his career. The man most responsible for Washington's highly ranked defenses in 2004 and 2005 was never himself during a 5-11 season. Griffin sprained a knee in the final game of 2005 and underwent major shoulder surgery that offseason, keeping him out of the weight room for months.
"Last offseason I was skinny when I came in," Griffin said. "No chest. No arms."
He played in severe pain most Sundays on a defense that often appeared to have no discernable strength, and faced constant double teams with an unknown rookie stationed next to him. The situation could have strained their relationship, but instead, Griffin became a role model for Golston, doling out as much advice as the youngster could take in.
"What better person to do that than Cornelius, a veteran and a guy who plays with high intensity and is one of the vocal leaders of the team," Salave'a said. "So we saw sort of a protege/master relationship unfold, and that's always a good thing going into the next season, because you know there's a relationship there, there's a cohesiveness there and bond between them."
Despite their family commitments, Golston and Griffin made time to hang out beyond Redskins Park. They bowl and shoot pool regularly, and, with Griffin's family back in Alabama for much of this spring's OTA practices, three times a week Golston would eat dinner at home but leave room to share a meal at a restaurant with Griffin after his daughter went to bed.
"I wouldn't want a man to have to sit down and eat by himself," Golston said with a sheepish grin. "I've learned to just listen a lot more and keep my mouth closed, because there's so much wisdom there. I want to do anything he tells me to do."
They have much in common; both are gentle giants from small towns who played in the Southeastern Conference, and on game day they easily muster a nasty streak.
"Behind the scenes Golston is even a little bit meaner," said Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, "and I'm not saying that Griff is not."
Griffin wants to see his pupil tap into that vitriolic side more often this season.
"He's more confident now, and I told him he's not a rookie anymore," Griffin said. "He knows he has to play a little faster and a little more aggressive this year."
Getting to play beside a fully healthy Griffin would benefit Golston as well as the entire defense. Williams has crafted his scheme to allow Griffin to penetrate the gap on the pass rush more by stationing him differently, confident he can collapse the pocket and beat double teams if need be. The Redskins made no changes to the defensive line despite the struggles a year ago, counting on Griffin to once again elevate those around him and on Golston to become a robust complement.
"We're a different breed when Griff is out there [healthy]," Salave'a said. "That's been documented. So now it's time to support him. You can't have just [Michael Jordan] out there and no crew. We can't just let other teams double-team him. That's like putting a plow on a thoroughbred."