HOUSTON -- Kevin Sumlin remembers what it was like recruiting Myles Garrett.
At the time, Texas A&M’s brand was hot, coming off a 20-6 stretch in its first two SEC seasons and having a Heisman Trophy winner (Johnny Manziel) grab headlines, good or bad, on a daily basis. The Aggies were in the national spotlight. Garrett -- then the No. 4 overall prospect in the 2014 ESPN 300 and the No. 1 defensive end in the recruiting class -- was a crucial prospect for Sumlin and not an easy one to land. In fact, Sumlin remembers Garrett favoring another school before he decided to choose Texas A&M.
“Ohio State,” Garrett recalled on Tuesday.
“Paleontology,” said Garrett, the perpetual dinosaur lover.
It was Garrett’s older sister, Brea -- then a track and field standout for the Aggies -- who helped convince her younger brother to go to Aggieland. Myles became the blue-chip prize in a top-5 Texas A&M recruiting class.
Three years later, Garrett’s journey appears to be coming to a likely close as Texas A&M meets Kansas State in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).
He hasn't said so, but this is likely Garrett’s final game in a Texas A&M uniform. He’s a virtual lock to go in the top 5 in the 2017 NFL draft should he declare for early entry, and there’s a good possibility he could go No. 1 overall. Two of his three seasons were affected by injuries -- including this one -- and that makes it a logical time to leave.
Garrett comes from a family of athletes, and he's equipped with enough sense to make shrewd business decisions about his career. But he didn't let the attraction of future dollars impact his decision to play in this game. When LSU running back Leonard Fournette and Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey announced their intentions to skip their respective bowl games to preserve their health and prepare for the draft, Garrett went the opposite direction, saying he would play in the Texas Bowl.
“I love my teammates,” Garrett said. “I'm never going to try and let them down. If I can go, I'm going to go until I can't draw a breath. I've just been competitive all my life. That draws from a competitive family. We're all athletes and we're all trying to win no matter what it is, whether it's Scrabble or basketball. I'm trying to win. Those two things together; I can't pull out just because of injury.”
Asked if he considered not playing because of what was at stake financially, Garrett huffed.
“It's just money,” he said. “I mean, the relationships I'll make during this time or the impressions I'll make on people around me will last forever. Money will come and go.”
It’s that awareness which has made Garrett such a treasure in Aggieland. Yes, Garrett’s on-field exploits are known by everyone on the outside and is the main reason he’s so revered by fans. Guys who are 6-foot-5, 270 pounds and perform the athletic feats he does -- "You just don’t find those guys,” said Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis. “They’re not out there.”
But Garrett was more than just your run-of-the-mill, cliché-filled football player. He showed himself to be a deep thinker, someone who doesn’t necessarily follow the crowd (see the deletion of his social media accounts or his willingness to discuss social issues from an educated place as evidence). Following a win over Tennessee on Oct. 8, he made a public plea for people to donate and/or pray for Haiti in the wake of Hurricane Matthew (Garrett was one of 29 Texas A&M athletes and 15 football players to make a mission trip there over the summer). He was what Sumlin likes to call “a low-maintenance, great player,” someone who handled being the face of the program with grace and never did anything to bring negative attention to himself or to the program.
No, his career probably didn’t go exactly as planned, but it was still impressive. He broke Jadeveon Clowney’s freshman SEC sack record in 2014 with 11.5 sacks. Over the past three seasons, Garrett has the most sacks (32.5) of any FBS player.
Nearly half of those sacks came against non-Power 5 competition, which is something critics will certainly point to during the coming months of over-analysis that comes with NFL draft season. His freshman season was affected by torn ligaments in one of his hands (that injury required postseason surgery), and this season, he was limited by an ankle injury suffered when he was cut block in the Aggies’ Sept. 24 win over Arkansas.
He hasn’t been 100 percent since but played the rest of the season, save for two games. Against Tennessee on Oct. 5, he played only third downs. Against Mississippi State on Nov. 5, he was again limited to part-time duty. In the Aggies' final two games of the season, Garrett finally started feeling closer to his normal self.
“This guy was not healthy after Arkansas and is a dominant player,” Sumlin said. “And the fact that he wanted to play in games at 50 percent, whatever it was, third downs, whatever, with his teammates, says more about him than just his talent.”
His on-field impact was evident. Of his 48.5 career tackles for loss, 30 of them have come against Power 5 opponents. The one season he was healthy from start to finish was his best: 2015, when he finished with 12.5 sacks (nine versus Power 5 competition) and 19.5 tackles for loss (14.5 against Power 5 teams). He did things such as cover the quarterback and the running back on an option play, which shouldn’t be possible for a defensive lineman. He forced fumbles, blocked punts and generally made life hell for quarterbacks in the pocket when he was healthy. Chavis, with more than two decades of defensive coordinator experience in the SEC, didn’t hold back in praising Garrett.
“Myles is the best big athlete that I've ever been on the field with,” Chavis said. “There's no question. He's an outstanding young man, he has talent. You don't find guys that are 6-5-plus that can bend and turn and run. ... He can do that better than any big athlete I've been around.”
Tonight, he'll have one more chance to make a final, lasting impression.