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Freshman a champ, now a starter

Oct. 13, 2000

Linebacker named to top position after impressing coaches


Sports writer

He can block. He can tackle. He can run. And Tuesday, he proved he can kick 40-yard field goals on command. On the football field, there's not much John Garrett can't do.

The 6-foot-2-inch, 215-pound freshman linebacker is already proving he's a valuable asset to the Baylor football squad. But it's no wonder.

Before coming to Baylor, Garrett had already been a strong safety, a running back, a punter and a linebacker at Class 2A Mart High School. He led Mart to an undefeated season and the state championship as a senior in 1999.

But perhaps his biggest test so far is still to come. Garrett will make his first start in college football against Texas A&M University on Saturday. However, he appears more like a seasoned Big 12 veteran than the first-year college player he is.

'I'm a little nervous, but that has happened every week since high school,' he said. 'After the first play, it's just another game.'

Starting as a true freshman, Garrett seems to be on his way to a promising college career. But just months ago, there was serious doubt as to whether the high school standout would even see playing time this season.

Academic barriers surfaced during the summer and threatened to force Garrett into a redshirt season. But just like in football, he proved practice makes perfect.

'I had taken my [college entrance] exams five times, and I still didn't have a good feeling about it,' he said. 'Then during summer workouts, [Head] Coach [Kevin] Steele called me out of practice and said he needed to talk to me. We walked up to his office and he didn't say a word. I was so scared, wondering what I had done. But once we got there, he put his feet up on the desk, smiled and said 'congratulations.' I had tears in my eyes I was so happy.'

Cleared to play by the NCAA, Garrett soon earned the No. 3 spot on the depth chart at weakside linebacker behind Anthony Simmons and Kyle Williams.

'I knew I wanted to play as a freshman and be on the travel squad,' Garrett said, 'but I also knew college football is a lot different from high school. The players are a lot bigger, and everything happens at a much faster pace.'

Steele said he has observed Garrett's transition into college football to be a prosperous one. He added, however, there is more to Garrett's success than his athletic skill.

'Number one, he's just a such a good guy,' Steele said. 'He's so upbeat, positive and competitive, and he enjoys the game so much. He runs around and he has a natural explosiveness that is rare.'

However, Steele added that, from a technical standpoint, it is important to realize that only one thing will make Garrett truly successful at the college level: experience.

'John's going to make plays,' he said. 'But a freshman is going to make some mistakes from time to time, too. We just have to let him go and not tie him down. You let John Garrett have some fun, and he'll probably make some plays.'

Garrett agreed, saying he enjoys the game, but he was quick to add that he goes out on the field for another reason as well.

While he said the A&M game wouldn't be his ideal choice for a first-time start, his goals and attitude are obviously in the right place.

'It's a war out there,' he said. 'We have to go out, be motivated and keep everyone from scoring.'

And there just may be one other secret wish he wants to fulfill.

'I told Coach Steele if he needs a kicker, I'm the man,' Garrett quipped. 'I'll let the other two [kickers] get kicks in, but after that, I start warming up.'