Joliet (Ill.) Plainfield South five-star linebacker Clifton Garrett’s film is violent.
Garrett plans on announcing his college decision at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January.
The 6-foot-2, 228-pound Garrett flies around the football field slamming into ball carriers with reckless abandonment.
The tape looks downright mean.
Off the field, Garrett couldn’t be any more different. Besides being the top-ranked outside linebacker by 247Sports in the class-of-2014, Garrett is also the “Mr. Nice Guy,” in his class.
“When we go to Clifton’s school for parent teacher conferences, all the teachers are excited to meet us,” Clifton Garrett Sr. said. “It feels so good to see how C.J. carries himself everywhere he goes. He’s a humble and polite kid and it makes me and my wife feel good.”
Selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, before Garrett was running down quarterbacks and running backs, he’d run ahead of his parents to open doors for them when out shopping. College coaches like Ohio State’s Urban Meyer expressed to the elder Garrett that Clifton’s talent’s go beyond the football field.
“My parents have always kept me that way since I was little,” Garrett said.
“He’s a great kid,” Plainfield South head coach Ken Bublitz added. “There is no question about that. His parents are fantastic and I think that’s evident in the way Clifton handles himself and relates to other people.”
Good Things Happen To Good People
Garrett is high on Ohio State, but schools like Florida, LSU, Ole Miss and USC are charging hard.
Core 6 Athletes CEO/President Paul Szczesny has been training many of the Chicago area’s top athletes for the last three years and when he first saw Garrett’s sophomore tape, he quickly predicted everything that has come to fruition.
“The first day Coach Szczesny came to my house he gave me my Core 6 jersey and said by the end of my junior year I’d be the number one linebacker in the nation, every college would be recruiting me and I’d be playing in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl,” Garrett recapped. “I’m sitting here thinking this guy is crazy telling me this, but everything he told me has happened.
"It’s been pretty crazy for me. It’s definitely unbelievable. Not every high school junior gets this opportunity and I’m extremely thankful for it.”
Ohio State is the current leader for Garrett, but he’s also excited about offers from Florida, LSU, Ole Miss and USC. Oregon and UCLA are two other programs Garrett has interest in. However, recruiting is hardly in the forefront of Garrett’s mind as he’s always working to get better with Bublitz and his high school team and then on his own time with Szczesny and the folks at Core 6 Athletes.
“After watching Clifton for the first time play and seeing what he does on the field and how aggressive he is, meeting him and his family afterwards, I was surprised how low key and how polite he was,” Szczesny said. “Just after watching him play and knocking guys around and his aggression on the field, for him to separate those two things and be the kid he is was a pleasant surprise to me. We believed in his ability and he’s been a big part of what we do as a program.”
While Clifton and Katrina Garrett love hearing about another scholarship offer for their son, it means more when a teacher or coach tells them how much they like their child as a young man.
“Yes indeedy because I think as a person, a respectable and humble person, it carries you a long way in and out of the uniform,” Clifton Sr. said. “Most of all it’s out of the uniform because you have to get to know the person just besides what he can do in football.”
The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree
Look inside Garrett’s wallet and you’ll find a baseball card of Clifton Garrett Sr. who was drafted by the Anaheim Angels out of Chicago (Ill.) Roberto Clemente High in the 13th round of the 1989 June amateur draft.
Garrett Sr. played centerfield and was a leadoff guy, climbing as high as Triple AAA in the Angels farm system before a shoulder injury ended his career prematurely.
“I give Clifton a lot of insight,” Garrett Sr. said. He currently works for a metals company. “I say son, I’ve been there, I’ve seen it and I’ve done it. I tell him to make sure you’re doing it in the offseason. Make sure you’re working hard and keeping yourself in top shape.
“I tell him some of the good things I did and tell him some of the bad things I did. I won’t want him making some of the same bad decisions I made like showing up for spring training out of shape.”
The elder Garrett talks to his son about the places he traveled. The whole family still finds it cool when someone mails them an old baseball card.
“My dad has been a huge help since he’s been through the ranks and knows how I’m feeling,” Garrett said. “I can go to him with any question.”
Garrett Puts In Work
Naturally Garrett’s athletic career started on the baseball diamond.
“He was short and he was chubby,” Garrett Sr. laughed. “He would hit the baseball and start running and it looked like he wasn’t moving.”
The Garrett family moved to the Plainfield area when he was in sixth grade and playing football was on his mind. He missed signups that first year and was disappointed he couldn’t play. By seventh grade, he was slimmed down, fast and blossoming on the gridiron in that first year.
“When we signed him up that day he was out in the backyard running his own plays with the football and all of his football equipment on,” Clifton Sr. said. “He’s worked hard at it, the baby fat came off and he started running. I saw that burst of speed.”
Garrett was looking to make a big splash at Plainfield South his freshman year but tore his meniscus during summer camp. Thinking it was fine and just a little swollen, Garrett continued to compete for a few more weeks until his knee collided with a running back's knee during a play in practice putting him out for the season.
“It hurt me a lot,” Garrett said. He had 120 invisible stitches. “That’s when I started grinding and putting mass on my body and getting bigger, faster and stronger. I came back feeling better than I did before.”
By the end of his freshman year, Bublitz had a good idea in watching Garrett in workouts that he’d be starting him on his defense as a sophomore. Garrett went on to register 78 tackles, three sacks and three forced fumbles and had his coming out party in a playoff loss to undefeated Lincoln-Way East. He racked up 15 tackles, three stops for loss and a forced fumble.
“That was huge for me,” Garrett said. “It helped my confidence a lot.”
Garrett also emerged as a team leader as a sophomore and has embraced the leadership role.
“It’s definitely a huge plus,” Bublitz said. “Obviously he’s getting a lot of attention and kids recognize the way he carries himself and the type of character he has, it produces positive results through the entire program.”
Illinois was first to offer nearly a year ago in early-May. Indiana and Ohio State were the next two programs to offer, and Michigan State, Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Oklahoma all jumped in with a scholarship before the start of the season. Garrett went on to register 105 tackles during the fall and has seen his offer list grow to nearly 25 schools.
College Decision Will Come Down To The People
Garrett plans on announcing his college decision on Jan. 4 in San Antonio at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, and can't think of a better way of capping off his prep career.
"Not only am I very excited, but it's an honor to play in that game," Garrett said. "Our troops do so much for us, so when we get the chance to do something that big for them, I think that's amazing. There is no other experience like it."
In the last year, Garrett has visited Ohio State several times, and he’s also been able to check out the campuses at Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ole Miss and Wisconsin. The next scheduled trip for Garrett comes the weekend of April 21, where he plans to swing through Alabama before hitting LSU for the Tigers spring game.
“I’m still liking Ohio State a little bit,” Garrett said. “My focus is starting to shift to schools in the South. Ohio State is definitely a school that has stuck with me through the process. I like Ohio State a lot but I want to see more schools in the South and get out and see USC and UCLA and Oregon.”
Florida is also another potential visit in June.
Whichever hat Garrett picks up and puts on at the Army Bowl, “Mr. Nice Guy” will be headed to a program with folks he found to be the best fit.
“For me I think the biggest factor in my decision is going to be the people,” Garrett said. “Every college has the facilities and the academic support. For me it’s about the people. I’m going to be living in a place for four years, and I want to have a great coaching staff that cares about us as people and players and treats us with respect and the players treat them with respect. I want to play for a team that’s going to compete for National Championships and I want to be part of a great recruiting class that’s going to compete for National Championships. I want to be around a bunch of great guys and a bunch of winners.”