Less than one week after he was shot in the face, Haskell Garrett was already back at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center preparing to return to the football field.
As a result of the gunshot that went through his cheeks on Aug. 30, Garrett lost five of his teeth and had to undergo a series of surgeries, including a bone graft, to repair his mouth. Nearly two months later, Garrett is still on a mostly liquid diet – though he is able to eat some soft foods – as his teeth have not yet been replaced.
But even though he wasn’t sure initially whether he would be cleared to play in time for this past weekend’s season opener against Nebraska, Garrett never lost focus on his desire to make an impact for Ohio State this season. So just five days after the shooting, with stitches still in his face, Garrett returned to the Woody to resume meeting with Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson and preparing himself mentally to play for the Buckeyes this fall.
“Post-surgery, I couldn’t do anything physically, but I could do stuff mentally, and just sit there and talk with Coach J and go over game plans and just be as prepared as possible,” Garrett said Tuesday, the first time he with the media since he was shot. “When I had found out that I had really no major damage to my mouth nor face, I knew in that moment that it was time to just get back to working, refocus myself and just be ready for any opportunity I have to get back to play.”
Understandably, Garrett did not what to talk about the specifics of what happened when asked about the shooting on Tuesday. He told Columbus Police after the incident that he was shot while attempting to break up an argument between a man and a woman he did not know, but said Tuesday he wanted to focus on football, moving forward and preparing for Ohio State’s next game against Penn State.
He did express gratitude, though, for the medical care he received at the Wexner Medical Center and from Ohio State’s athletic training staff, as well as for the support he’s received from his coaches, teammates and Ohio State fans.
“I was very happy the second I got cleared, just the fact that I knew they wanted me to be out there and I’m a leader in the unit and that the guys are leaning on me as much as I lean on them,” Garrett said. “So it was just really emotional, and it was really a very blessed opportunity to go out there and be with them.”
Getting himself ready to play in Saturday’s first game against Nebraska certainly came with more challenges as a result of the injuries he suffered. Because he still isn’t able to eat many solid foods, Garrett said he has had to drink “a lot of protein shakes” in order to stay in football shape.
It was clear that Garrett had done what he needed to do to be prepared on Saturday, though, when he recorded Ohio State’s first sack of the season and stood out for his disruptiveness on the Buckeyes’ interior defensive line – earning Ohio State’s defensive player of the game honors – while playing 23 snaps as the backup 3-technique.
Garrett said it “felt awesome” to be back on the field and make an impact for the Buckeyes on Saturday, and he said hard work was what made it all possible.
“I don’t think anybody really realizes how much goes into one play in college football and any level of the sport,” Garrett said. “When you’re prepared, you do good things and when you’re always ready and going in and doing stuff and meeting with your coach, nothing can stop you.”
Ryan Day said that while it was a team effort to get Garrett to the point of being ready to play on Saturday – from the doctors at the Wexner Medical Center who performed his surgeries to Johnson, the athletic training staff and director of sports performance Mickey Marotti – “you gotta give Haskell the majority of the credit.”
“I’m not surprised, because I know what Haskell’s capable of, but I am really impressed with the way he played,” Day said. “You gotta give a lot of credit to everybody involved to get him ready to play at that level after such a traumatic event. So while I wasn’t surprised at his ability on the field, it was pretty impressive to see that quick turnaround. And if he can continue that, he can have a major impact on our defense.”
“When you’re prepared, you do good things and when you’re always ready and going in and doing stuff and meeting with your coach, nothing can stop you.”– Haskell Garrett
Defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs said after Saturday’s game that Garrett “never gave up” in his determination to be ready for the first game, and center Josh Myers – who sometimes has the task of blocking Garrett in practice – said he’s seen Garrett take his game to new heights this offseason.
“His first day back in pads, we ran an outside zone play, and he got my number on it,” Myers said Wednesday. “I was not ready for it. Man, he came off the ball so hard. I could just tell he was so happy and excited to be back. And he came off the rock on the first day of pads, on the first set of team (drills), and I was like ‘Oh my god.’ I don’t know what all he did at home during the quarantine, but the way he came off the ball was different. It was different than the way he did before, and it was different than most players I’ve ever played against.”
Now that his first game back is out of the way, Garrett wants to keep building out and continue to be an impact player for Ohio State’s defensive line this season. Whether he’ll eventually move into the starting lineup or continue to rotate off the bench is uncertain, but Garrett says he isn’t concerned about that. Since the Buckeyes like to rotate multiple players at each defensive tackle spot, and they don’t have a ton of depth on their interior defensive line right now, they’re counting on him to be a key player in the rotation regardless, and that’s what he wants to be.
“It’s not about, really for me, who starts,” Garrett said. “It’s about just contributing and what you can bring to the table and how you can contribute to this defense that we all love, the Silver Bullets.”