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Best tackler in the NFL: Learned the “Hosea-Method” in 5th grade.

Dashon Goldson - Train 'Em Up Alumni

San Francisco Chronicle, December 2, 2012

In the 49ers’ locker room Friday, safety Dashon Goldson was demonstrating proper tackling technique to a reporter, which is not unlike having Warren Buffett explain investing.

With his knees bent, his head raised and his hands at his side, Goldson attacked an invisible ball carrier by thrusting his arms upward like uppercuts. His knuckles were up, his elbows down and his head, tilted slightly to the ceiling, shifted to the side.

Then, with Goldson in mid-seminar, a member of the team’s public-relations staff approached the six-year veteran, who smiled as he hinted this was not the time for intrusion.

“I’m talking about tackling,” he said. “I love this.”

The story of how one of the NFL’s finest form tacklers developed his passion is a remarkable tale whose first chapter was written 15 years ago in suburban Los Angeles.

Goldson was a fifth-grader playing his second season of Pop Warner football for the Tri-City Falcons. Bobby Hosea was the junior-midget team’s accidental leader, a father and rookie coach who was more concerned with safety than on-field success.

The Teacher
A former UCLA cornerback, Hosea, 57, whose son was on the team, has since emerged as one of the nation’s leading voices in injury-preventive tackling. The tackling consultant for USA Football, the governing body for the sport at the youth and amateur level, he was the subject of a lengthy New York Times feature in 2010 because of his commitment to helping players avoid concussions and catastrophic injuries through heads-up tackling.

Hosea doesn’t just instruct youth and high-school players how to avoid tackling with the crown of their helmet through his camps and videos. He’s also still teaching his most celebrated pupil, Goldson, a Pro Bowler with whom he maintains a tight bond. Goldson can still expect a pointed message when he strays from the fundamentals he learned 15 years ago at Harbor City Park.

“He’ll come up and lay out and put his helmet down sometimes and I’ll always text him,” Hosea said. “Oh, yes, he’ll get a text from Coach Bobby every time. And, you know what, he’ll answer me. He says sometimes he’ll come back into locker room after the game and have 50 texts and the only one he’ll respond to is mine. I’ll always watch out for him, making sure he’s tackling right.”

The Student
For his part, Goldson welcomes the tutorials from a man who remained in his life beyond Pop Warner. When he returned home during his career at the University of Washington, Hosea would knock on Goldson’s bedroom window before dawn, awakening him for grueling workouts at Redondo Beach.

Goldson’s mom, Desrene Williams, began raving about Hosea’s dedication and influence without prompting during a recent phone interview: “Did Dashon tell you about Coach Bobby?” she began.

Said Goldson: “It’s definitely been a blessing to have Coach Bobby in my life.”

Hosea is quick with encouragement, and his tsk-tsk tackling texts are infrequent, given Goldson’s often textbook form.

In October, Jim Harbaugh termed Goldson’s takedown of Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch “one of the best up-front tackles” he’d ever seen. The following week, Harbaugh was wowed by Goldson’s shoulder-to-shoulder collision with Arizona wide receiver Early Doucet. “Vince Lombardi would be proud,” he said.

One of the NFL’s fiercest hitters, Goldson isn’t synonymous with tackling safety to most fans.

In recent weeks, his collisions with New Orleans’ Marques Colston and Lance Moore – and his aforementioned hit on Doucet – have left those wide receivers momentarily motionless, although none sustained a concussion (and none of the hits drew a penalty or fine). In addition, his five personal-foul penalties this season have only enhanced his reputation for ferocity. Last week, he hit Rams quarterback Sam Bradford in mid-slide, drawing a 15-yard penalty, a $7,875 fine from the NFL and, of course, a text from Hosea, who didn’t like the position of his helmet.

The Technique
In many ways, though, Goldson is a poster boy for player safety in a league that counts concussions as its biggest issue. Goldson, who has 296 tackles since 2009, has never been fined for a helmet-to-helmet hit and says he sustained his only concussion in 2003 at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College.

“He’s always been a hard hitter, and he’s always had his head up when he tackles,” 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown said. “Dashon does it the right way. He’s not going at guys’ heads.”

Despite his aggressive style, Goldson has played in 60 of San Francisco’s past 62 games, his only two absences due to a knee injury. He gave a knock-on-wood rap when discussing his lack of concussions.

“The NFL is trying to come up with different helmets that keep you from getting a concussion,” Goldson said. “But it’s just that people need to learn to tackle correctly. It’s just doing it the right way. I don’t think a helmet is going to keep you from getting a concussion. You can do it by playing clean football – hitting people hard, but doing it clean.”

Goldson is quoting directly from the gospel of Hosea, who literally turned to prayer when he was unexpectedly thrust into the role of his son’s Pop Warner coach in 1997. His first move was to fashion crude hurdles from PVC pipe. With knees bent and heads up, players ran through the “dip-n-rip sticks” and hit a tackling dummy, a drill that taught proper form.

The Relationship
Hosea found an eager student in the football-mad Goldson, who used his birthday money to pay his Pop Warner fee as a fourth-grader, without consent from his protective mom.
Years removed from those modest beginnings, Hosea now works with a group that includes Hollywood director Peter Berg and former NFL linebacker LaVar Arrington on USA Football’s “Heads-Up Tackling” program. The goal is to gradually change the game, starting at the grassroots level, by giving youth coaches a standardized way to teach proper tackling.

Hosea is fiercely committed to the program, and says the kid and the coach who met 15 years ago could positively impact the sport at its highest level, starting today.
“If the NFL really wants to solve this concussion issue, all they have to do is watch Dashon,” Hosea said. “Or have them hire me and I’ll train the whole league.”

View Eric Branch’s article at SFGate.com

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