SANTA CLARA -- Dashon Goldson wants Green Bay Packers receivers to feel fear as they wander over the middle at Candlestick Park during Saturday's NFL divisional playoff game.
"I think I need 'em to," said the 49ers' hard-hitting safety. "That's making your presence known. "
But on several occasions this season, that approach made Goldson's presence known in the NFL league offices, where he was issued hefty fines for violent hits. It also risked earning him a label he strongly wants to avoid: dirty player.
Those who know the 28-year-old two-time Pro Bowl pick paint a far different picture of the Goldson most only know as an on-field intimidator.
"I'm so proud of Dashon sometimes I forget he's in the NFL," said his brother, Huey Goldson.
The 49ers' star describes himself as a laid-back family man, until it's game time.
"It's kind of like the Hulk -- until you tick him off, that's when he turns into a whole other guy," Goldson said.
Huey, who is one of Dashon's five siblings, shares his big brother's Bay Area condominium during the season. He laughs at the perception many fans must have.
"Game days he may seem like an animal or a bad person because he hits people so hard," Huey Goldson said. "That's just his job."
Goldson met a fan recently who was dubious whether he would like the 49ers' safety. After spending a little time with him, the surprised fan told Goldson: "Man, it's a pleasure to meet you."
That would be no surprise to Goldson's mom, Desrene Williams.
"No teacher ever had to call me. No fights. Nothing," said Desrene, who talks on the phone every day with Dashon, sometimes twice from her home in Southern California.
"She doesn't give me a chance to miss her," Goldson said.
For Goldson, everything starts with his mother, who came to the U.S. from Jamaica three decades ago, eventually settling near Los Angeles. J.R. Munoz, Goldson's coach at Narbonne High in Harbor City, called Desrene "the one common denominator who's been in his life all the time."
Desrene gave her son discipline, focus, work ethic and a love of family.
The only thing she didn't initiate was football, which seemed foreign and violent. So, in the summer before the sixth grade, Dashon took his birthday money to the park across the street and signed himself up to play for the Tri-City Falcons' youth football team.
"I guess he couldn't wait on me until I gave him the OK," Desrene laughed.
Goldson took to the game immediately, thanks to his Tri-City coach, one-time UCLA cornerback Bobby Hosea. Known as a tackling guru, Hosea would spend hours teaching his young players how to correctly square up and make tackles with their shoulders. This was years before the NFL became sensitive to head injuries.
Only one of the NFL fines totaling more than $70,000 levied against Goldson has come as the result of a helmet-to-helmet tackle -- a hit he made on Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez last month that he and his coaches said was clean. Coach Jim Harbaugh called Goldson "one of the best upfront tacklers in the game."
The process of becoming an elite player was methodical, and involved overcoming obstacles at each step.
That included growing up in what Munoz described as a tough neighborhood. "But the gangs would leave him alone," Munoz said. "He had that kind of respect. In a way, he had a neighborhood pass."
Goldson said his mother and stepfather, Kevin Irons, moved the family to progressively better areas, and drove their children to school and to all their activities. "They did a good job of keeping us off the streets," he said.
College coaches found a gold mine of talent at Narbonne, the alma mater of Cal star and four-time NFL All-Pro Nnamdi Asomugha. Goldson was among nine players in his class of 2002 who earned Division I scholarships, but he couldn't earn a qualifying SAT score and had to make a detour to a Kansas junior college before going to Washington.
At Coffeyville Community College, Goldson found himself "in the middle of nowhere."
"I didn't know what homesick was all about until my mom and dad left me in Coffeyville," he said.
As usual, Desrene had a remedy. Twice, she and her husband packed the entire family into a large rented van and made a road trip to Kansas. She'd cook up a large batch of Dashon's favorite meal -- curried chicken -- and headed to Kansas for a Midwest family reunion.
Jeff Leiker, then the coach at Coffeyville, said Goldson was all business en route to earning JC All-America honors.
"He was just a guy you didn't need to worry about," Leiker said. "He was already a big hitter back then."
At UW, Goldson credits defensive backs coach Phil Snow with showing him how to study videotape. Back in L.A. in the summer, he'd get a tap on his bedroom window at 5 a.m. each day by Hosea, who'd pick him up to run 5 miles in the sand at Redondo Beach.
Every step helped Goldson get to where he is today, in his sixth NFL season, earning $6.2 million as the 49ers' franchise-tag player.
He owns a home in Southern California with girlfriend Ashley and their 21-month-old daughter, Charly. He also operates The Highest Point Foundation, which holds camps for youth in his hometown area.
"I never doubted him talent-wise," Donell Wheaton, a friend since childhood, said. "But the kind of success he's having now you can only dream of."
Wheaton will be among 15 family members and friends staying at Goldson's condo for Saturday's game. Desrene will be there, too, although Goldson said his mom won't be transporting her curried chicken.
"She'll probably just make it at the house."
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