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Myles Garrett's path to greatness off to strong start

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Myles Garrett always welcomes a challenge. Kevin Sumlin found this out firsthand when Texas A&M recruited Garrett, the highest-ranked prospect the Aggies signed in more than a decade.

After Garrett verbally committed to the Aggies, Sumlin gave his prized defensive end prospect some good-natured ribbing about his basketball skills. At Arlington (Texas) Martin High, Garrett was a three-sport star: football, basketball and track and field.

"I joked with him and told him 'You can't hoop,'" Sumlin recalled. "'You don't know what you're doing, you're a D-lineman.'"

The 6-foot-5, 255-pound Garrett let his play do the talking when Sumlin went to Martin to watch him on the hardwood for the first time prior to Garrett signing a national letter of intent with the Aggies in February.

"He's out there running around like a deer and he's huge," Sumlin remembered. "He comes down, catches a ball off the rim, this guy's just draped all over him -- [Sumlin then mimics a two-handed slam dunk, accompanied with an exploding sound] -- and then he turned and ran down the court and pointed at me in the stands.

"I said, 'I really like this guy,'" Sumlin said laughing. "'I'm a fan.'"

So is everybody else in Aggieland, after Garrett turned in an exceptional true freshman season. He shattered Jadeveon Clowney's SEC freshman sack record (eight) with 11 of his own. He earned All-SEC second-team honors, an All-SEC freshman team nod, was named the Aggies' defensive MVP and is a member of ESPN.com's Freshman All-America team.

The future is indeed bright for the 18-year-old, who will turn 19 when the Aggies meet West Virginia in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Dec. 29. Even his opponents think so.

"I think he's going to be a great player," said LSU offensive tackle La'el Collins, a likely first-round NFL draft pick who faced Garrett on Thanksgiving Day. "If he puts the work in, I think he'll be able to double his stats next year... . In about a year or so, he's going to be a monster."

Garrett, who is prohibited from speaking with media as a freshman per Sumlin's first-year player policy, wasn't always gung-ho on football. As a youth he was more enamored with the hardwood. After giving Pee Wee football a brief try, he didn't like it, opted for basketball and didn't return to the gridiron until his freshman year at Martin. When moved from offense to defense after his first two days of practice, he was concerned.

"I was ready for offense; I could take a hit," Garrett told ESPN.com prior to his arrival in College Station. "But they put me on defense days later. I was like 'Oh gosh. I'm going to get cracked from the side or something, I'm going to hit somebody and my neck's going to be turned sideways for the rest of my life.' I didn't know what to think."

This was news to Bob Wager, his head coach at Martin High, and his parents, Audrey and Lawrence Garrett. His fear never showed. Soon, he fell in love with defense.

"It was a great decision because I love hitting people," Garrett said.

Though Wager moved Garrett up to varsity as a sophomore, he wasn't an instant hit. Wager called a meeting with Myles, Audrey and Lawrence and candidly told Myles that if he wanted greatness, that he needed to find that next gear.

"He had the physical abilities to be able to do that but we had to get his motor running to match his physical abilities," Wager said.

Said Audrey: "It's not that he wasn't giving it his all, but it just didn't look like the effort was there. He kind of walks with that lazy gait. That's just his demeanor. That meeting showed Myles that he had to show the effort ... I don't think he was taking plays off, it was just funny because it looked too easy. He realized 'I even have to kick it up another gear.' I don't think he realized there was another gear."

From the time Myles walked out of Wager's office, the change was nearly instantaneous. His work ethic reached a new level, he became a star in the weight room (Audrey said he asked for weights as a gift for his bedroom during his sophomore season) and the physical transformation began.

"It's like he went into his room and came out Mr. Olympia," Audrey said.

Soon, he was mistaken for a grown adult male by strangers. Audrey recalls the time her oldest son, Sean Williams -- a professional basketball player in Turkey who was a first-round NBA draft pick and spent four seasons in the NBA -- brought Myles to practice when Williams was with the Dallas Mavericks.

"Somebody from the Mavs called his agent and said, 'Tell Sean he can't be bringing this dude to the gym because he may hurt one of our guys,'" Audrey said. "They thought he was a grown man. Myles was 16 at the time."

As Garrett's emergence continued, colleges began to notice. Name the school, it was probably on Garrett's offer list: Alabama, LSU, Notre Dame, Ohio State. Texas A&M had an ace in the hole in the form of Garrett's older sister, Brea, who is a track and field star for the Aggies and won the NCAA indoor weight throw competition in March. Sumlin joked that during Myles' recruitment, he bugged Brea and bugged his parents but didn't pressure Myles.

The connection Myles established with defensive line coach Terry Price, the presence of his sister and the high bar set by his first visit to campus in January 2013 ultimately led him to choose the Aggies.

Away from the football field, Garrett's mind shifts elsewhere. A geology major (he fell in love with paleontology at age 3), he found a healthy balance between the gridiron and the classroom and had a 3.0 grade point average this semester.

"When he's not on the field he has no interest in talking football," Audrey said. "He'll avoid it like the plague. He doesn't want to watch it. He'll strategize game-wise when he's preparing for it, but when he walks away from it on the off days he has, he definitely has interests outside of football."

Don't confuse that with a disinterest in greatness. He wears the No. 15 because he wants to average 15 sacks per season. He admires great athletes from a previous era, such as Muhammad Ali or Deacon Jones. Garrett is his own harshest critic.

"His best is never good enough for him," Audrey said. "There's not one game which he came off the field -- not one this year -- where he was happy with his performance. He critiqued himself every time. Not once was he happy."

Others in the SEC took notice. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, who has seen many great college defensive linemen come through his program, had high praise for Garrett after watching him on film.

"He reminds me a little bit of Aldon Smith, a top-10 pick who played for us and now plays for the 49ers," Pinkel said. "That's a really huge compliment ... Imagine what he's going to look like in another year or two. He's a great young player and he certainly has everybody's attention every play which you have to have."

Garrett wants to leave a lasting impact on Aggieland, one that won't soon be forgotten. So far, he's off to a good start.