East magazine Spring 2008 edition
Cover Story


David Garrard’s summa cum season

The Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback enjoys a stellar year on the field,
but it’s his happy home life, and a new baby, that he cherishes most

By Steve Tuttle

 /Users/stevetuttle/Desktop/Web art/Garrard1

'I know it will not always be peaches and cream for me, on the field and at home, but I have been through some tough times and I know how to balance the good and bad and keep moving forward to be a better player. And now, I just want to be a better parent.'

avid Garrard ’01 is too nice of a guy to say “I told you so” to the critics who thought he didn’t have the skills to excel as a starting quarterback in the National Football League. Some sportswriters had pigeonholed Garrard as a good backup but not the star who could lead a team through a winning season and into the playoffs. In case they haven’t noticed, that’s exactly what he just did.

Six years after graduating from East Carolina holding 28 school records in football, Garrard finally got the chance to prove he’s a blue-chip NFL player. Officially tapped as the starting quarterback at the beginning of the season, Garrard relied on deadly accurate passes and timely runs to led the Jacksonville Jaguars to an 11-5 record and a spot in the playoffs. At one point in the season he completed 230 consecutive passes without an interception and was hailed as a David among the NFL quarterback Goliaths.

His last-second, fourth-down scramble for 32 yards to get the Jags within field-goal range to beat the Steelers in the AFC wild-card game instantly became an ESPN highlight reel. Analysts saw it as a career-defining moment validating his new spot among the NFL’s elite, sealing his reputation for winning big games, often while coming from behind.

Garrard never would say “I told you so” because that would involve negative thoughts, and Garrard just doesn’t “do” negative—not even during the three and a half years he labored in the shadows as the Jags’ No. 2 QB. “I felt that if I was patient, not causing a fuss and remaining positive, that would get me there eventually [as the starter],” he says. “There were things I couldn’t control. What I could control was trying to get better every year, improving my skills. And I just wanted to do those things and focus on being a good teammate and a person the coaches could always count on.”

Making this breakout year even more special for Garrard is the joy he experienced in becoming a father. In September he and his wife, Mary Knox Garrard ’03—the college sweetheart he proposed to on the giant TV screen at a 2003 game at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium—celebrated the birth of a son, Justin.

Does he change diapers? “That’s my job,” he laughs, implying that their division of labor puts Mary in charge of important things and assigns David to diaper duty.

“Family life is something that is important to me,” he says in voice that is warm and genuine. He was 14 when his mother died; he and a younger sister were raised mainly by two older brothers. “I had my two brothers and my sister, and we tried to keep our family going [after his mother died]. When I got married my wife became a big part of my life, and now with the baby we are a complete family.”

It seems entirely appropriate that the year David Garrard became a complete NFL player also was the year his family was completed.

A diamond in the rough

As a tall, heavyset ninth grader trying out for the JV team at Southern Durham High School, David and other players were asked by the coach to stand at midfield and see how far they could throw a pass. He threw the ball through the uprights, a good 65 yards on the fly. He threw a 70-yard touchdown pass in one of four games he played on the JV squad before being promoted to varsity. As big as a lineman and faster than most linebackers, David was installed as quarterback in an option offense. He ran the ball with a bruising abandon. Or, he would fake the handoff, drop back and toss a perfect spiral downfield.

(In high school, David got kidded a lot about his weight. At home, he loved to cook, which he did regularly for his brothers and sister after their mother died. He had ambitions of being a chef. In an interview some years later, older brother Quincy was asked if David was a good cook. He was a good eater, Quincy replied.)

Garrard was the state’s top-rated high school quarterback in 1997 and received scholarship offers from several football powerhouse schools. Based on his size and speed, most college recruiters saw him not as a quarterback but as a linebacker or defensive end, like Julius Peppers. Luckily for East Carolina, Garrard had attended summer football camp in Greenville and caught the eye of then coach Steve Logan, who in recent years had produced two NFL-quality quarterbacks, Jeff Blake and Marcus Crandell. David reportedly weighed 268 pounds when he arrived at camp and didn’t look like either of them. Except for his arm.

“He came to our football camp and I asked him where he played,” Logan recalled in a 2001 newspaper article. “I was figuring he was a defensive lineman. He said, ‘quarterback.’ Then he threw one over the elementary school across the street [from the football stadium], and I thought, ‘Maybe you are a quarterback.’”

He redshirted his freshman year while spending time in the weight room turning baby fat into muscle. Going into the 1998 season, he was among a few rookies trying out for the quarterback job. Logan tried each, then gave Garrard his first start in a midseason game at Alabama. East Carolina was outmatched and fell behind 21-0 but Garrard and the Pirates came back late, forcing the Tide to complete a two-point conversion to eke out a 23-22 victory. It was the first of many late-game highlight reels he would produce in a Pirate uniform.

ECU’s young squad, now led by a 19-year-old Garrard, struggled to a 5-5 record and was on the road at Memphis to end the ’98 season. A winning record and a bowl game were on the line. The game started badly and the Pirates fell behind 24-7 but Garrard and the offense exploded in the second half. In one stretch he completed 15 straight passes, producing three long touchdown drives. The score was tied 31-31 with 2:12 left in the game when ECU got the ball at its own 5-yard line. With riflelike passes and one timely scramble for a first down, Garrard methodically led the team to the Memphis 24, calmly called the final time out with seven seconds left for ECU to kick the winning field goal. He was 33 of 44 passing that night for 414 yards, including 166 yards on the team’s last two scoring drives. Those are a few of the 28 school records he eventually would set at East Carolina. And, in his eyes, it wasn’t even his best college game.

The Miami miracle

Expectations understandably were high the next year, and the team didn’t disappoint. The Pirates opened the 1999 season with four consecutive victories, beating Duke, West Virginia, South Carolina and then No. 9-ranked Miami. Pirate fans still are in awe of the last two of those games, which occurred just before and just after Hurricane Floyd. Playing in Columbia, ECU beat the Gamecocks 23-3 as the deadly hurricane approached and was left stranded by the worsening weather. South Carolina opened its dorms and allowed the team to practice on its fields. After the hurricane passed, it was evident ECU couldn’t play Miami on Saturday in waterlogged Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. N.C. State stepped forward to offer its Carter-Finley Stadium as the host site.

Garrard picks up the story at that point. “I remember so clearly going down to South Carolina, beating them, then having the hurricane roll through and flood out our town, having to stay in South Carolina the whole week and then playing the Miami game in Carter-Finley. They had that whole Miami mystique about them. It was just so cool.

“But the game got away from us and the score was 20-3 at the half. Our backs were against the wall. But that night our fans were great; there wasn’t an empty seat in the house. At halftime they were cheering so hard all we could hear [in the locker room] was ‘E-C-U’ and ‘Pirates.’ We just came out and turned it on in the second half. I threw the game-winning touchdown at the end of the game. I could not have written it any better.”

It was just one of many magical scripts Garrrad eventually would write in the ECU record books, including the last game of that wondrous 1999 season when the Pirates beat N.C. State 23-6 in the Wolfpack’s first game in Greenville.

The Pirates finished that season 9-2 and were ranked in the Top 20 but lost a tough bowl game to highly-touted Texas Christian.

There were more heroics his junior season in 2000, which produced an 8-3 record with notable victories over Syracuse and Louisville and an impressive bowl victory over Texas Tech. But his senior season was marked by disappointments and frustration. Weakened by injuries and the loss of the team’s strength and conditioning coach, ECU won only two of its first five games. But then the team, led by 20 seniors, seemed to regain its stride and notched four straight wins, including road victories over TCU and Cincinnati. Ahead was a season-ending showdown against Southern Miss.

That last game of the 2001 season—Garrard’s final game in Dowdy-Ficklen—left a sour taste in many mouths. Hoping for a big TV audience, Conference USA and ESPN scheduled the game for a Friday night, which in North Carolina traditionally is reserved for high school games. A storm of criticism engulfed the team and, more broadly, the university. The game began with an announced attendance of some 30,000 but the stadium looked half empty. The Pirates led early but then gave up five turnovers and lost the game, 28-21.

Still, ECU was invited to the GMAC Bowl to play Marshall, led by star quarterback Byron Leftwich. That game also started well for the Pirates, who cruised to a 38-8 half-time lead. But disaster struck in the second half. Garrard fumbled once and was picked off twice. The sloppily played game ended in a 51-51 tie. Marshall ultimately won 64-61 after two overtime periods. It still stands as the highest-scoring game in college bowl history.

Garrard, who suffers from the disease himself, volunteers his time with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America traveling around the country appearing at special camps for pediatric Crohn’s patients.
Turning pro

In three and a half years as ECU’s starting quarterback, Garrard gained 9,029 yards passing and 1,209 yards rushing. He threw 60 touchdown passes and rushed for 21 more. In his four years on the team the Pirates won 29 games and played in three bowl games. But after football practice he says he was just another college student hanging out with his friends.

“I went downtown probably too much,” Garrard laughs. “I had two really good roommates—Corey Floyd, a tight end on the team, and Charlie Robinson, who was a defensive back. We went to parties, played a lot of PlayStation and all the video games. It was through Kevin Miller, the kicker on the team, that I met my wife, and I started hanging out with her friends. It was fun, doing all the things that college kids are supposed to do.”

Completing a bachelor’s degree in construction management, Garrard was drafted in the fourth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars as the backup to veteran Mark Brunell. Garrard adapted to life as a pro, but he admits he became lonely for his college friends, lonely for his family.

During the preseason in his second year in Jacksonville he decided to pop the question to the girl he had left behind in Greenville. A teammate helped Garrard set up the surprise during the fourth quarter of a game they knew she would be attending.

“The stadium announcer asked if there was a Mary Knox in the stands, that she should turn her attention to the Jumbotron. And it says “Mary Knox, will you marry me?” I went to find her in the stands and the cameras were following me but she wasn’t sitting where I thought she was. She was sitting on the other side of the stadium with my family, so I couldn’t find her. It wasn’t until after the game in the parking that I was able to find her and finally, officially get down on my knee and propose.”

But there were some low moments in that 2003 season. After apprenticing under Brunell, Garrard had hopes of becoming the starting quarterback. But the Jaguars drafted Leftwich, and when Brunell was injured in the fourth game of the season, the coaches tapped Leftwich, not Garrard, to lead the team.

An even greater disappointment came in the spring of 2004 when Garrard suddenly became ill. He developed sharp pains in his stomach, lost 35 pounds and was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which is a chronic inflammation of the lining of the intestines. Surgeons removed about a foot of his intestines and followed that with infusions of immune suppressant drugs. Under Mary’s watchful eye, Garrard bounced back to rosy health. Just months after his surgery, he got a rare start in a game against the Detroit Lions and threw the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

Although he’s enjoyed many victories since then, he says that game will always stand out as his finest moment as a professional athlete. “Up until then there were questions about whether I could be a starting quarterback. On top of that there were the other questions about my health. I was happy to answer all those questions.”

Garrard remained the backup to Leftwich through the 2005 and ’06 seasons. But he dedicated himself to improving his skills at reading defensive formations. At the start of the ’07 season, the Jaguars abruptly cut Leftwich and named Garrard the starter. A midseason ankle injury kept him out of four games. In 12 games as the signal caller, he threw for 2,509 yards with 18 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. His 102.2 rating—the key measure of a quarterback’s proficiency—was third-best in the NFL.

Strong community ties

In his six years there, Garrard has established strong ties to the Jacksonville community. In memory of his mother, he volunteers his time for media events and public appearances at Baptist Cancer Institute in Jacksonville. He’s also given quite a bit of his time volunteering with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America and travels around the country appearing at special camps for pediatric Crohn’s patients. Although he’s the star athlete in town, Garrard doesn’t do many local TV and radio commercials. “The family comes first,” he told a Jacksonville sports writer last fall. “I’m not going to get carried away with [endorsements]. I don’t want to be sleeping in this locker room.”

Garrard, who signed a three-year contract extension with the Jaguars in 2005 that came with a $2 million signing bonus, is just hitting his stride as an athlete, but he’s not necessarily hoping for a long career in the NFL. He faced Vinny Testaverde, the oldest quarterback in the NFL, in a late-season game against the Panthers. Would he want to still be playing when he’s 44?

“Absolutely not. Even if I could play quarterback at that age, I wouldn’t want to. I am a family guy. I have a family life and I don’t want to go on missing the holidays away from my family. You know, we [the Jaguars] are working constantly for months at a stretch, and I miss having Thanksgiving and Christmas. I have to have that in my life.

“[Family helps] keeps things in perspective. When I got sick [with Crohn’s], that put things in perspective. That showed why family is so important because I came so close to not being here. What I know is, when you get upset with your family, don’t let that last because your family is all there is that is important.”

Garrard maintains strong ties to ECU. He continues wearing the No. 9 jersey he wore in college. During post-game press conferences this season he’s often sported a Pirate-purple jacket. His smiling face pops up on the video screen at Dowdy-Ficklen exhorting ECU fans to make some noise. He and Mary return to the area several times a year to visit their families and to attend university events. They also own a house on Lake Gaston and spend a lot of time there in the off-season.

Mainly, he focuses on remaining level-headed. “I know it will not always be peaches and cream for me, on the field and at home, but I have been through some tough times and I know how to balance the good and bad and keep moving forward to be a better player. And now, I just want to be a better parent.”