Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, the player coach Kevin Sumlin described as “our toughest guy on defense,” offered an interesting confession during Tuesday’s session of the SEC media days.
A self-described “pacifist” off the field, Garrett will not squash a bug he finds inside the house. Instead, he’ll put it on a piece of paper and set it free outside. Why?
“It’s life and every life is precious,” Garrett said. “But on the field, it’s a game and you signed up for getting hit. So be it and you have to get after it.”
In two seasons at A&M, the junior from Arlington Martin has gotten after it to the tune of 24 sacks and 33.5 tackles for losses, including SEC-best totals for sacks (12.5) and TFLs (19.5) last season.
By continuing or improving that pace this season, Garrett (6-foot-5, 262 pounds) projects to be on the short list of players under consideration as the first overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft if he opts to make himself available.
Garrett, an All-America performer last year, did nothing Tuesday to tip his hand about his postseason intentions. Nor did he downplay his NFL interest, a topic that surfaces regularly when he interacts with friends or strangers.
“It comes up at least twice a day from the people around me,” Garrett said. “I just tell them, ‘That’s in the future.’ All I can do is handle what’s around me right now and that’s to make sure I have a good season.
“Before anything else happens, I’ve got to play up to my expectations and hopefully exceed those before I can think about being in the first round or being the first pick or anything like that.”
Asked if it is difficult to prepare for what could be his final college season with such a possibility lurking in the background, Garrett said: “It’s not hard at all.”
Topping his current list of priorities, Garret said, involves helping the Aggies improve on last year’s 8-5 season marked by the December transfers of the top two quarterbacks on the A&M depth chart: starter Kyle Allen (to Houston) and backup Kyler Murray (to Oklahoma).
A key emotional step in that direction occurred in May, when Garrett was one of 15 football players who took part in a mission trip to Haiti led by Mikado Hinson, the player development director for A&M football.
A total of 29 athletes from multiple sports were part of the 36-person contingent, when school officials partnered with Mission of Hope Haiti. But the bonding between football teammates, agreed Garrett and quarterback Trevor Knight, proved pivotal as players repaired houses, dug ditches and performed other tasks to improve the lives of Haitian families who live on the U.S. equivalent of $2 per day.
Knight, a graduate transfer from Oklahoma who won the starting job in spring drills, said the shared experience between teammates is “going to help moving forward … You just believe in each other more because you went through stuff like that. That trip was huge.”
In addition to team bonding, Garrett said he picked up key life lessons on the trip.
“It really humbles you,” Garrett said. “Just to see the optimism that people have when they have so little. They thought we were teaching them things but, really, they taught us how you could be so happy in a situation like that with so very little. We appreciate the lessons that they taught to us.”
Truth be known, Sumlin said Garrett is one of the last guys on the A&M roster who needed a reminder about avoiding an attitude of entitlement. The junior received kudos Monday from SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey for being an athlete who “lives well beyond the game of football” as a poet, avid reader and budding philanthropist.
Sumlin described Garrett as a “low-maintenance great player,” a rarity in today’s world.
“I wish I had 80 guys like that instead of just a couple,” Sumlin said.
Garrett cited his father, Lawrence, and his late grandmother, Juanita Garrett, as key individuals who help him stay grounded when others are quick to place him on a pedestal because of athletic achievements.
“I’m just like any other guy. I put on the pads and tie my shoes, just like anybody else,” Garrett said. “Then I go out there and play to the best of my ability. My dad is a low-maintenance person. My grandmother was a low-maintenance person. She didn’t need much. She worked hard. She was humble. She was sweet. I hope the values she’s given to me I can display to other people.”
Garrett remembers watching the movie Ali with his grandmother when he was a child and the boxer’s way with words inspired him to write his first poem. He hasn’t stopped since. Asked the subject of his favorite poem, Garrett replied: “Love.”
But a different side of Garrett surfaces when he begins rushing the passer. Despite owning the SEC sack record for a freshman (11.5), set in 2014, and following up with a league-best 12.5 sacks last season, Garrett said he still does not think he has had his “breakthrough” season at the college level.
“I’m still improving. I think I can have a great, breakout season this year. I think our whole team will,” Garrett said. “I don’t compare myself to other players. I just try to dominate the game as well as I can. I want to be one of the best that’s ever come through A&M.”
Even if his time in Aggieland does not last beyond his junior season.