Larry Johnson likes to talk about the process. The longtime defensive line coach does things his way, ensures recruits understand they’ll have to buy into how he does things, and he doesn’t deviate. As he explained once again this past week, he believes in the idea that you “have to do all the grinding at the bottom to reach the top.”
Few in his position group at Ohio State embody that quite as well as Haskell Garrett, the fifth-year defensive tackle who earned All-American honors last season.
“He's been here, and now he's moved that stick very high,” Johnson said on Friday. “Now he's in a place where I call rare air. I talk to a lot of guys about that. Now it's time to move forward.”
What’s the next step for Garrett? Where can he now take his game?
Those are difficult questions to answer for somebody who has bucked all projections in the past 12 months.
At this point a year ago, Garrett seemed like somebody who might have reached his ceiling as an interior defensive lineman in the Big Ten. He had put together three seasons of solid yet unspectacular play, and he seemed potentially destined for a fourth that could be described as such. Taron Vincent, a fellow 3-technique, was garnering much of the attention at the position in the preseason, and that was even before Garrett got shot in the face in late August, making all football questions a secondary concern behind his health.
Somehow, Garrett didn’t miss a game. And somehow, he played better than ever before.
He knocked around offensive lines, creating havoc beside Tommy Togiai to record 20 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception in the end zone for a touchdown. Though the Big Ten’s coaches only voted him a third-team All-Big Ten honoree and the conference’s media left him off its list entirely, he was selected as a first-team All-American by Pro Football Focus and second-team All-American by the Associated Press and Walter Camp Football Foundation.
“My season last year, I just kind of took it game-by-game and was trying to get better,” Garrett said. “It was unexpected, but I had prepared for that my whole career. For the most part, it was, how can I contribute? And how can I become a better player for my team?”
He clearly figured out how to contribute last season, and he’s figuring it out once more right now.
Garrett, as Ohio State confirmed a couple of weeks ago, is out for the duration of spring camp with an undisclosed injury. He posted photos on social media recently using a scooter and wearing a medical boot on his right foot. Thus, he won’t be able to practice until preseason camp comes around.
This isn’t ideal, of course. Head coach Ryan Day touted the benefits of Garrett going through a full offseason back in January, and he’ll no longer be able to do that. But he has proven himself capable of making the most out of unfortunate circumstances, which he’ll attempt to do once more.
Leadership and conditioning are on the forefront of Garrett’s mind as he remains sidelined for spring practices.
He’s an elder statesman with the most accolades of anybody on the defensive line, so he knows the others at his position will follow his lead. He wants to be “showing that example of what you're supposed to do and how you're supposed to do it” to his teammates. And once he’s on the field, he doesn’t want to take as many breaks as he did a year ago. After the shooting, he only had four days to go through conditioning and training before the first game, which he believes affected his productivity.
“I realize I got tired mostly toward the end of games,” Garrett said. “I want to go literally from the first snap until the last snap of the game. Pretty much what I'm focusing on is my conditioning this season.”
Outside of that, he has given himself a fairly broad to-do list this offseason.
“To me, personally, what I need to improve on is my strength of attack,” Garrett said. “Just kind of enhancing everything. Everybody kind of thinks I had a great season, but with this season, we're going to have 12 games, a full season. I just need to be prepared – conditioning, strength and all-around need to get better.”
Most predicted Garrett would right now be just a few weeks away from knowing his NFL destination. Instead, he chose to utilize the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility to stay at Ohio State for a fifth season, and he’s gearing up for one last run as a Buckeye after a whirlwind 2020.
“It just enhances all my motivation,” Garrett said. “I just want to leave behind a great room for coach J and have everybody ready for when I leave so that the room is in good hands and I left my mark and left my legacy when I leave.”