On Aug. 31, 2017, Malik Golden’s breakthrough became heartbreak.
In Pittsburgh’s final preseason game, the former Penn State safety intercepted Carolina quarterback Joe Webb and could have coasted in for a pick-six — that is, if he could run. Instead, Golden hobbled out of bounds with a torn tendon in his groin.
His chances to make the Steelers’ roster were over. But now — after being brought back for a second training camp — Golden is getting another crack at finding a spot on the 53-man roster.
“I just want to be competitive and try to help everyone out,” Golden said last week after practice. “Because if they’re playing well, then I have to play well. As long as we keep trying to better ourselves, no matter who’s in the room, at the end of the day I think we can all say we put our hand in the pot and we tried our best.”
Golden, who went undrafted in 2017, is one of seven safeties on the Steelers’ squad. He’s joined by former teammate and rookie Marcus Allen, who is also trying to nail down a roster spot. The group is headlined by veterans Morgan Burnett and Sean Davis and 2018 first-round pick Terrell Edmunds.
Pittsburgh had only four safeties on its initial 53-man roster after the 2017 preseason and could keep a fifth this go-around with its increased focus on sub packages. Still, Golden — who is eligible for the practice squad — has a fight on his hands.
By now, the former Nittany Lion is used to looking long odds in the face. Golden, one of the last remaining players recruited by Joe Paterno, initially played wide receiver under Bill O’Brien and later switched to safety. And as a senior, after dealing with a shoulder injury the year prior, he battled and won a starting job alongside Allen. Golden started 13 games and finished fourth on the team with 75 tackles, helping Penn State win the 2016 Big Ten Championship.
The Connecticut native went undrafted and signed with the San Francisco 49ers only to be waived a month later. Then, he landed in Latrobe in late June 2017.
“My first week here last year was rough,” Golden said. “I didn’t know anybody. It was real tough. But after that, things started to click for me.”
Golden credits a tackle on special teams for the turnaround. In Pittsburgh’s second preseason game against Atlanta, the Steelers safety dropped Falcons kickoff returner Reggie Davis at his own 14-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Atlanta couldn’t recover from the drastic field position change and lost to Golden’s Steelers. “From there, things went uphill,” the former Nittany Lion added.
Of course, until his unfortunately timed groin injury. But it wasn’t all bad.
After being waived, Golden took advantage of the time away from football. He took up new hobbies, like painting, and discovered more about himself off the field. In his words, Golden “grew as a person.”
The safety subscribes to the belief that “everything happens for a reason.” And after two tackles and a pass defended in his first preseason action Thursday night in Philadelphia, Golden is hoping this opportunity to make Pittsburgh’s roster ends better than the last.
“You always think about it,” Golden said of NFL dreams. “And now that I’m here, it’s a little bit surreal.”