July 20, 2011

Lockout puts hold on bond, common charity work for Jason Witten, John Garrett

The NFL lockout puts a hold on their relationship, charity work together.

Since John Garrett arrived as the Cowboys' tight ends coach in 2007, he and Jason Witten have spent a lot of time together in the off-season.

Witten went to Valley Ranch four to five days a week, whether for organized team activities, weightlifting or to watch film. The two also share the same commitment to charitable works, bringing them together off the field, too.

But not this year.

Garrett has been banned by the NFL from communicating with Witten during the four-month lockout. In what Witten agreed was "weird," he and Garrett have crossed paths only a couple of times this off-season. They have hardly said more than "hello."

"It has been different," Witten said. "We get along really well. We have a lot in common. Our wives are friends. It was awkward, because you're both committed to something, and you work so hard at it every day and you go through ups and downs. So much of what I do football-wise is with him. It's an ongoing process of every day trying to get better. When that's taken away, it's tough just because you do have a bond."

It might be hard for coaches and players to truly be "friends" given their relationship in the workplace. But Witten and Garrett certainly are friendly. Witten likes playing for Garrett. Garrett likes coaching Witten.

They also share a bond with the One Heart Project, a non-profit charity.

One Heart was born out of the football game between Grapevine Faith and Gainesville State School in 2008. Faith coach Kris Hogan had encouraged his players, students and parents to send a message of hope to the opponents from the maximum security correction facility.

"Here's the message I want you to send," Hogan wrote before the now-famous game. "You're just as valuable as any other person on the planet."

Garrett hadn't heard about the game until a few weeks afterward when he received an e-mail from a friend, who had attached a story about Faith's 33-14 victory that was about more than a score.

Hogan's act of compassion instantly gained Garrett's respect, and Garrett immediately called Hogan for lunch.

Garrett was sold on the charity that had grown out of the game.

"The unique thing about it is it impacted the Faith Christian kids and their community as much as it did the Gainesville kids," Garrett said. "Everybody recalibrated their perspective and how to look at things. Hope and encouragement are what every individual needs, especially the Gainesville kids. They need some reason to live and get back into society and be contributors and unearth all their talents. They seldom have the resources, but we can make an effort to provide those resources and an environment for them to succeed."

Garrett and his wife, Honor, became part of the movement. They gave money and helped raise money for a movie based on the game.

The movie tentatively is scheduled for release next fall.

They also are involved in the One Heart Project initiatives, which provide at-risk and incarcerated youth a second chance. One Heart hopes to build re-entry facilities around the country -- with the first in DFW -- to serve as 6-12 month transition residences, complete with life-skills programs, GED assistance and hands-on job skill training to equip them for productive lives after their release.

"Many of us are one bad decision away from being just like them," Garrett said. "When you look at it, these kids had hopes and dreams and visions of doing things. Because of what happened, or the situation they were born into, those have been curtailed. We just want to help them and give them the skills, the resources and the hope to be able to get back into society as contributing members."

Witten and his wife, Michelle, saw a presentation at Garrett's house, and they, too, were moved to help.

"It's amazing when you think about how the whole thing started," Witten said. "It turned into this. I know lives have already been changed, but it will be more so after these facilities are built, because this will give them another chance for whatever their goals are."

The Cowboys are clear on what their goals are for 2011. They just have to be allowed to get back to work.

Witten, for one, can't wait to walk back through the doors at Valley Ranch, where Garrett will be eagerly waiting for him.

"After the season we had, you've been so humbled," Witten said. "Everybody in the group is so excited to redeem ourselves....We're ready. Let's go."

Charean Williams


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