COLLEGE STATION, Texas — He was 4 years old, or maybe a little younger. Someone popped in Jurassic Park. Myles Garrett watched, not so much horrified as enthralled, as the Tyrannosaurus Rex rampaged across the screen.
“He ate that man on the toilet, when he ran into that little shed,” says Audrey Garrett, Myles’ mother, describing the beast’s actions. “He bit that man in half.”
That was all it took. Next thing anyone knew, young Myles was crazy for dinosaurs. And if you’ve seen Garrett, all grown up now, shed an offensive lineman and devour a quarterback, it’s clear the 6-5, 270-pound junior is probably more velociraptor than T-Rex.
No, check that. The velociraptor, as popularized in the movie, might not be historically accurate. Garrett knows this, which is why he’s told people if he was a dinosaur, it would be Deinonychus. Either way, it’s an awesome, maybe even terrifying talent.
But that’s on the field. Garrett retains that fascination for dinosaurs — never mind football, he seriously considered several schools other than Texas A&M because of their paleontology programs — but a portrait of the Aggies’ best player (one of the very best anywhere) defies easy painting. That’s even if he’s the one painting. Or composing a poem. Or … well, put it this way:
“I just call him an old soul,” his mom says.
As No. 6 Texas A&M visits No. 1 Alabama on Saturday, the Aggies’ chances of upsetting the Crimson Tide reside in large part with a fast, talented defense. A&M’s defensive ends, Garrett and senior Daeshon Hall, are the chief catalysts. And Garrett — with his 28 career sacks, he is projected as a potential top five pick in the NFL Draft if he decides to leave school a year early — might be college football’s chief nonconformist.
That description might be more of a commentary on the stereotypical college football player than an apt description of Garrett. But the point is, he’s atypical.
“He’s just an unusual, different cat, as they say, across the board,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin says — and when Sumlin says he’d like to have, oh, 80 more players just like Garrett, he means more than talent (though he’d love that, sure). He’s referring to Garrett’s “low-maintenance” demeanor, even as he shakes his head over Garrett’s varied and unique personality.
Garrett writes poetry about “anything I’m feeling. Love. Happiness. Sadness.” He reads voraciously; on his nightstand recently: Dark Rivers of the Heart, by Dean Koontz and Freaky Deaky, by Elmore Leonard. He sketches “people, places, animals, anything that pops into my mind.”
“He beats to a different drum,” says Sumlin, unnecessarily, but that leads us to more:
Garrett’s eclectic playlist — “Just anything,” he says, but not much country – causes many teammates just shrug and shake their heads. Elvis Presley. Marvin Gaye. Genesis. Queen. Stevie Wonder. It’s what he heard growing up. His father, Lawrence Garrett, listened to Marvin Gaye, Teddy Pendergrass, old-school soul. With his mom, it was everything from gospel to Garth Brooks.
“It could be anything,” Audrey Garrett says. “He got a mix of music. He didn’t know what he was listening to, but he knew what he liked when he heard it. He’s always heard eclectic music — but Dean Martin, he stepped outside the zone with Dean Martin.”
Before games, when the locker room standard is something with a huge bass beat, Garrett’sheadphones routinely pour out jazz from Duke Ellington or John Coltrane.
“It’s all smooth, just throwbacks,” Aggies wide receiver Christian Kirk says. “He’s just kind of sitting there happy-go-lucky, he’s not too uptight. He’s not all angry and mad.”
And then he goes out and bites quarterbacks in half.
“As soon as I step on the field, totally different person,” Garrett says. “As soon as I step off, I go back to who I’ve always been. It kind of throws them off, how I transition from going onto the field and I’ve got to turn into a leader and be this aggressive guy, and then I turn into this goofy kid who listens to all kinds of music.”
For A&M receiver Ricky Seals-Jones, it’s not the music or the personality transition, but the poetry. “That threw me off,” he said. But they’ve learned:
“He marches to a different beat,” Sumlin says, “and he plays that way, too.”
Oh yeah, there’s that. At defensive end, Garrett has been a disruptive force since he set foot on campus: 28 sacks and 39.5 tackles for loss, and the statistics don’t do justice to his impact.
“Myles can get back there to the quarterback before the quarterback even has time to get to his second read,” Kirk says. “That’s the most ridiculous thing. He can overtake a game if he wants to. He just has that power.”
A&M defensive back Armani Watts adds: “He’s a freakish athlete.” Garrett has a 40-inch vertical leap and says he has run the 40-yard dash in fewer than 4.5 seconds. He recently told Fox Sports he bench-presses 485 pounds.
Yet Garrett might not even be the best athlete in his family. His mother was an All-American hurdler at Hampton. His older brother Sean Williams played in the NBA and now plays overseas. And his sister Brea won an NCAA championship in the weight throw. (Brea’s bid for most talented family member is formidable; in high school, she won Texas Class 5A state titles in both the shot put and the 100-meter hurdles, an extraordinary combination.)
When Myles was one of the nation’s most sought after recruits, Brea was already at Texas A&M, and that might be the biggest reason he ended up there, too, instead of somewhere like Alabama — or Ohio State or TCU, which had those paleontology tracks he wanted. Myles was difficult, Sumlin says, to decipher.
“We couldn’t get a feel for him because he just wouldn’t talk,” the coach says.
That hasn’t changed, by the way. Garrett remains softspoken, despite his stardom. But when he speaks, which isn’t all that often, he usually has something to say.
On Oct. 8, after Texas A&M outlasted Tennessee in overtime, Garrett took time during a postgame interview to request prayers for those afflicted in Florida and Haiti by Hurricane Matthew.
“I’d like to say one more thing,” said Garrett, who spent a week in Haiti last spring on a mission trip with 27 other A&M athletes, including 14 football teammates. “For all those affected with Hurricane Matthew, I wanted to say can you give whatever you have supporting and praying for them — those in Florida and those in Haiti. Can (you) just pray for them and support ‘Mission of Hope’? And know their endeavors. They’re trying to pursue not only prayers, but them going out, actively helping them getting clothes, getting food, getting water for those who are without electricity or without anything right now. … You know, show some love. Maybe send some letters, send some money, maybe send some clothes you don’t need or canned food, it would be much appreciated. It would go a long way.”
Back during the recruiting process, Brea Garrett routinely dropped by the football offices offering tips and information to help in the Aggies’ pursuit. And though she says she never overtly steered her brother — except away from one school (“All I ever told him was don’t go to Texas,” she says) — her presence might have been the tipping point as Myles chose A&M. Her enticement: regular laundry service and home-cooked meals (usually seafood alfredo or fried chicken) didn’t hurt, either.
Though she’s only 2½ years older, Brea has been as much like a mother to Myles as a sister. She says even as he has become a star, not all that much has changed since he was a kid who regularly dug deep holes in the back yard, looking for fossils, or reading anything he could get his hands on (usually about dinosaurs). His mother only recently packed up dinosaurs — hundreds of them, she says, wooden and plastic and stuffed and everything between — from his room back home and put them in the attic. He reads. He writes. He draws. And he plays football, too — and if it’s not his only focus, don’t misunderstand. He wants to play it very well.
“I’m not great,” he says, “until I’m the best.”
If Garrett chooses to leave after this season for the NFL Draft, he’s projected as a high first-round pick. But he doesn’t see it as the be-all, end-all. It’s just another item on a full plate.
“I’m just a person that played a game in the spotlight,” he says. “I’m a regular person. I’m a regular guy. As a kid I played games. As a kid I liked poetry. As a kid I liked drawing. And I never felt the need to stop doing anything. I never lost interest in them.”
Garrett is studying architecture at Texas A&M, but that’s because the school’s geology track is contained within that discipline. He still plans to pursue an advanced degree in paleontology, with the goal of one day digging for and finding real fossils. It just might just have to wait until he’s chewed his way through a few more quarterbacks.
“He’s just different,” Kirk says. “I guess that’s what makes him special.”