VALDOSTA -- A legend in Valdosta sports history passed away tragically Sunday morning.

Don Golden and his wife Debbie died after their car collided with a Chevy Suburban. Don, who quarterbacked Valdosta High to the 1969 national championship, will not only be remembered by family, but by friends, teammates and record books as well.

"(Don) was a great friend and great person to be around," said friend and former teammate Ronnie Pitcock. "We lost a great person in Valdosta, Georgia."

Pitcock played with Golden on the 1968 Valdosta High state championship team.

Another player on the team was guard Joe Clary. Clary also remembers Golden as a great friend and tremendous athlete.

"Don is one of the best all around athletes (three sports) that ever came out of Valdosta," said Clary.

Golden was a junior on the '68 team along with Pitcock and Clary, who were seniors. Both teammates remember Golden as someone to be admired when it came to athletics. And both said that Golden was "the best athlete they have ever seen."

"(Don) was the type of athlete you wanted on your team in a pickup game," said Pitcock. "He was great at everything, even ping-pong. He is the best ping-pong player I have ever seen!"

After Pitcock and Clary graduated, Golden moved from safety to quarterback for his senior season. At quarterback, he led the Wildcats to their second undefeated season in a row. In the State Championship game the Wildcats tied 26-26 with Athens, led by quarterback Andy Johnson. Golden and Johnson would be teammates for the next four seasons at the University of Georgia.

While at Georgia, Golden would letter three times and set records that have held up through today. Golden holds the records for most punts in a season (80) and most punt yards in a season (3,092). Golden is also 10th in the SEC with most punts in a season. All three records were set in 1972.

Golden had the chance to go into professional baseball after his senior year of high school when he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds. He declined so that he could go to college. After his collegiate career, he got picked up by the Chicago Bears as a free agent punter. There he played for one season until he injured his knee.

Both Clary and Pitcock remember Golden vividly with stories that sound like they have come out of fables.

"One day we were playing a big game for the region (baseball) championship," said Pitcock. "(Golden) left during the game to go compete in a track meet. He drove his father's truck to the competition and competed in the high jump. He won the competition, drove back, and closed the baseball game out for the win. While he was gone, he only missed two outs."

Clary also had a similar experience he remembered about Don. When they were growing up, Ford Motor Company used to host annual punt, pass, and kick competitions for kids. It was judged on distance and accuracy.

"We would call before we went to sign up for the competition and ask if Don had signed up already. If they said yes, we would be like 'ahh, forget it,'" said Clary.

After leaving football, Golden went on to coaching and teaching at high schools in the Atlanta area, such as North Hall, Jackson County, and most recently North Forsyth. Golden was the coach of the golf team and a marketing teacher.

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