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THE PROJECTED NO. 1 pick in the 2017 NFL draft is in a full-throated sing-along to a power ballad that hit the charts back when his parents were of make-out age. Yes, Myles Garrett — the great hope for many an NFL franchise, a 6-foot-4, 272-pound man-eater by both position and on-field disposition — is having a Journey moment.
Restless hearts … sleep alone tonight … sendin’ all my love … along the wire.
“‘Faithfully’ speaks to me,” says the 21-year-old defensive end out of Texas A&M. “It’s about a guy who’s busy with his work, always on the road, but I’m still completely into you. If you just hold on, I’ll completely give myself to you. Just stick along for the ride.”
We’re driving through College Station, Texas, in Garrett’s beloved beat-up Volvo, which is almost as old as the guy behind the wheel. The streets here are familiar to Garrett, but there are few reliable maps of where his career is headed come April 27. He is, after all, a once-in-a-decade pass-rushing prospect with NFL-ready skills and a track record of production. He totaled 32½ sacks, 48½ tackles for loss and 7 forced fumbles in three seasons, despite playing much of 2016 with a high ankle sprain. His freakish natural abilities have drawn comparisons to at least half of the Justice League’s superheroes — and that will likely buy him a one-way ticket to Cleveland, home of the NFL’s worst team last season and seemingly every season.
The Browns and everyone else know Garrett is a singular talent on the field, but it’s his mind, and his curiosity about the broader world, that makes the biggest impression. To ride shotgun with Garrett, you have to play keep-up. In the span of a few minutes, he navigates the conversation from the genius of Journey to the true nature of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s power (his affability, in case you’re wondering) to how the words of Maya Angelou can infuse every cell of your body with light and love. And that’s before he gets to paleontology.
“I don’t think I’m the smartest player in the draft,” Garrett tells me, “but if you consider all the things I think about daily, how many things intrigue me and I try to get involved in, I’m up there.”
Over the course of several chats in Aggieland, and perhaps helped by numerous carpool-karaoke duets, Garrett lets his guard down, proving himself confident, if soft-spoken. As it turns out, the draft’s No. 1 star has dinosaur-sized dreams that only begin with football: to retire as the greatest NFL player of all time.
THE MAG: What’s going through your head these days, just a month shy of becoming an NFL player and potentially the No. 1 pick?
MYLES GARRETT: I didn’t know how this would play out when I was a kid. I knew I wanted to play ball, be a paleontologist and write poetry. I thought, “Heck, where will I find the time? Well, football comes first, and I’ll just find some time for poetry, and paleontology can come at the end.” I made this plan at 14, and dang, it’s all coming together. The day I’ve been dreaming of is tomorrow. Now I have to face it. I’ll either attack it and win or get swallowed by it.
By all accounts, your draft prep has been flawless. At the combine, you ran like a running back and jumped like a wide receiver and drew comparisons to all of the physical specimens at your position. Who do you think is your best comparison?
You can compare me to those wide receivers and the great stars of the league, but I want to show that I’m in a league of my own. I don’t want anybody to be like me. By the end of my career, I don’t want to hear talk of another Myles Garrett. I want to be the greatest. The greatest that ever played, regardless of position or era. They say that’s Jerry Rice. If his total greatness is considered the best of all time, I want to exceed that.
One defensive coordinator told Sports Illustrated that the closest player comparison is Wolverine. Your coach Kevin Sumlin used to call you Batman. Which superhero comparison do you like?
[Laughs] In high school, they used to call me Superman. Around here they call me Flash. I prefer Flash. He’s the fastest man alive, but he isn’t invulnerable like Superman, he doesn’t have all these powers, so he has so much pressure on him to keep up with the Justice League, and he handles it so well. That’s my life.
All right, superhero, let’s knock you down a notch. What do you struggle with most in this world?
My kryptonite? Social situations. I’m naturally a shy person. If I meet you, there’ll be ups and downs getting from “hello” to friendship. And in group situations I’m awful — I don’t know where to stand, how to act. People will try to clue me in, but I’ll try to stick to people that I already know.
What was your least favorite part of the draft process?
At the combine, you have informal meetings, just a roomful of tables with each team — scouts, coaches, former players. You’re meeting everybody for the first time, and they’re all studying you like you’re a piece of meat. The formal team meetings made me more nervous, because then you’re in this little hotel room with 15 people, and they’ve got film of you [laughs]. It’s hard for me to express myself like other folks.
What was the toughest question you fielded in those meetings?
I’m not gonna say who it was, but my worst one wasn’t even a question, more of a statement: “Last year, seemed like you were unstoppable at the beginning, but after that it seemed like you didn’t care.” I was like, “Yeah, I was hurt.”
Has Browns coach Hue Jackson given you any indication as to which way they’re leaning?
He had dinner with me. He wasn’t guaranteeing anything, but he said he’d be happy to take me.
All right, imagine I’m Hue at that dinner. My franchise hasn’t had a good quarterback since Bernie Kosar. Why should I take you first overall?
Because I’ll be a difference maker from day one. And I’m not gonna be in any trouble. I’m just gonna make plays and bring a good atmosphere to your organization. And I’m gonna start winning and winning now. And because if you don’t draft me No. 1, I will punish your team for the next 10 to 12 years. I’ll knock your QB out of the game every time we play you, and I’ll have to kick the hell out of No. 1, whoever it is.
If I’m Hue, my next question is: Which team do you want to play for?
The No. 1 team. Hopefully the Browns.
OK — I’m still Hue — then why did I see you in a video begging Jerry Jones to grab you?
[Laughs] Oh, darn! He didn’t even bring that up at dinner. The Cowboys are my hometown team, but when push comes to shove, I want to go No. 1. I don’t want trades, wondering where my fate lies. Whoever has the first pick, just go ahead and take me. I have no allegiance. I want to go No. 1.
As a GM, I’d probably also ask: With all your outside interests, in an age when athletes are being told to “stick to sports,” how do we know you’re focused?
I heard something like that. “What are your hobbies outside of football and will you go back home or stay around the area during the offseason?” I’ll be right here, doing the same thing I’m doing now: making sure my body’s right and finding some way to entertain myself that’s not illegal or stupid.
My favorite barista, Alejandro, is a Dawg Pounder from Cleveland, so I’m letting him ask a question: “Myles, I’m counting on you to save the city — LeBron can’t because this is a football town. Do you want that burden?”
[Laughs] I thought LeBron did that! So I’m the Chosen One now? Wow. I’m up for the challenge, though. It doesn’t bother me. I’m looking to achieve my goals, and one of them is to win a title for the team that drafts me. Well, one title would be nice — three would be great.
Why did you decline an invite to the draft in Philly?
I wanted to spend time with my family and friends because there are so many that would not be able to go to the draft but were also involved in my life. Who am I to say that you can’t be a part of this great moment?
You don’t want a photo with Roger Goodell?
No, thank you. An awkward photo doing a side hug with the boss? I’d rather be hugging my family and friends.
Which QB are you looking forward to sacking?
Tom Brady. He is supposed to be the GOAT, so I want to take him down, show him the best can still get humbled sometimes. Also because I’m a Peyton Manning fan.
Is it true that you began studying game tape of NFL greats back in high school?
Yeah, if I want to be the best, it has to start there. When they put me at end, my D-line coach, Gonzo, told me to start studying those guys. So I did, from LT to Deacon Jones to Bruce Smith to Reggie White to DeMarcus Ware to J.J. Watt, then to all the big-time players across the line to the linebackers. From the very beginning, I wanted to be the best, whether it was sports or poetry.
What have you learned from your fellow Aggies pass rusher Von Miller?
I haven’t talked to him but two times, and it was just, “Hey, hello.” Or at halftime: “Get after it, big dog.” All right, will do [laughs]. The only thing I’ve learned from him is from studying film.
Do you want to have a relationship with him?
Yeah. He’s one of the top dogs in the league. I’d like to pick his brain and see what he’s into off the field, besides Old Spice and chickens [laughs].
Why don’t you just reach out to him?
It’s that introvert thing. I wouldn’t know what to say. “Hey, Von, it’s Myles. Mind if we talk a bit?” And then he says, “Well, I’m busy.” OK, see ya [laughs].
How far are you from graduating from A&M?
I have 36 hours to go until I get my degree in architecture. I couldn’t get paleontology here, so I plan on going back to school for it, to get a master’s and possibly a Ph.D. after I’m done playing.
When did your fascination with dinosaurs begin?
Jurassic Park. My mother would pop it in the VHS in my grandmother’s garage on her itty-bitty TV, foot wide, foot tall. To this day that movie takes me back to when I was a kid with a shovel and a dream, when I used to go to the side of the house and just dig for fossils by the AC unit. So my dad would wake up at 3 a.m., open the door, take two steps and fall into a 3-foot-deep hole [laughs] I found some cool rocks but no fossils.
What do you dig about dinos, pun intended?
It’s just so mysterious. We find only 5 percent of these creatures that roamed and ruled the earth millions of years ago, but what we’re seeing is a glimpse into the past, and every time we dig, we find something new and more extraordinary. I want to see something nobody has seen anywhere on this earth, and my discovery is our discovery — we brought this into light. After football, I want to fund my own digs, and hopefully others will want to participate so we can share in good company as we put pickaxes to dirt.
So you’re a voracious reader and writer, particularly of poetry.
If I’m feeling stress or anxiety, I’ll escape into another world. With books, you’re going on an adventure, imagining and wondering. Poetry is different. When you’re a poet, or reading poems, you feel every single word. My favorite, Maya Angelou, was so knowledgeable and wise, and she poured her heart into every poem.
As a poet, what do you typically write about?
Whatever I’m feeling. If Coach chewed my head off, I’ll write about war, aggressive things, how things are going in the Middle East, how we’re treating each other, how we can do better. If I’m in a positive mood, I’ll look on the bright side, how we’ve moved forward so quickly as a people.
When was the last time you cried?
Probably a movie. I cried during Remember the Titans. I cried during MIB3.
Sorry, you don’t mean Men in Black 3?
Yeah, when Will Smith’s brother-in-arms saw his dad die right there in front of him, so he went ahead and basically adopted him [laughs].
Your mom — who’s been selling you out, clearly — says that your romantic disposition carries over to your taste in music. Myles Garrett, do you love love songs?
I love love songs. I’m deep into Journey right now. “Send Her My Love.” “Separate Ways.” But it also goes to “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” by Marvin Gaye, and “I Miss You,” by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. Then there’s Earth, Wind & Fire, Teddy Pendergrass, then other rock bands like Boston, Led Zeppelin.
I like ’70s and ’80s music equally, but my favorite is Journey, starting with the whole Escape album, then Frontiers, then a bunch of songs from each album. “Who’s Crying Now.” “Stone in Love.” “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.” “Don’t Stop Believin'” is overplayed.
How did you become such an old soul?
My parents and grandparents. I was raised that way, so music and everything else came with it. The R&B and soul is my parents. And my dad is a huge Journey fan, so I know how that happened.
You seem like the nicest guy in the world. Did anybody ask if you’re too nice for football?
[Laughs] Yeah, got that a couple of times. I’m nice now, but everything changes when I put the helmet on. If you smack me in the head, you think I’m gonna smile at you? I’ll smile at you after I kick the crap out of you and your QB. I come from a family of athletes and competitors. We know when to turn it off and on. You’re loving at the dinner table, but when we’re playing Scrabble or we’re in the yard, there’s no mercy.
What’s the meanest thing you’ve ever done?
Against LSU my last year, I choked out their tight end two times in a row.
That’s pretty mean.
[Laughs] He had it coming. He just kept holding me, so I picked him up, put him on his back and then I grabbed his face mask and kept jamming his helmet into the ground. I said, “I’m setting you straight right now. Don’t do illegal holds.”
Your brother, Sean, a 2007 first-round pick of the Nets, had well-documented troubles with marijuana. He has since sought help for addiction. How did his experience shape you?
Man, when I was a kid, to be honest, it was sickening. I felt like I was losing my brother. To this day, marijuana sickens me. I never want to be around it. Alcohol has never appealed to me either. I’ve never wanted to try it.
Sean once told a story about the time you caught him smoking weed. Do you remember that day?
I was probably 11 or 12 when I saw him smoking weed. It made me cry. I remember hiding his grill — for his mouth — and hiding his weed too. He ransacked my whole room looking for it. He was like, “I know you got it!” I’m like, nope. I did what I could to help him — even if it meant hiding his grill and weed, his pride and joy — because I wanted my brother back, the person I grew up with, who’d read the subtitles for me when I played video games because I couldn’t read yet. He was so helpful and caring. But it changed when weed happened.
What career goals have you set for yourself?
I gotta win Defensive Player of the Year, whether it’s my first year or anywhere down the line, but that’s what I’m going for in my first year. I want to be the sack leader. I want to lead in TFLs. I want to be dominant from day one. I want the single-season sack record.
That’s a goal for your rookie year?
Rookie year and throughout. I wanna break the rookie-year sack total as well. And I want to be in the career top 10 for sacks, but I don’t know if I’ll play that long.
I’ll play 10 to 12 years, long enough to leave my mark on the history of the game, but I also want to spend time with my family. I want to be there for my kids in all their spectacular moments. I want to teach them to have soft hearts and to care and to show their kindness and humility to others. And I want to travel the world and help people. I want to give money and build wells. I want to build houses and do fossil digs.
Do you want to write a poetry book too?
I do. I got some things I can put in a book now, but I’ll put it out when it’s finished, whether I’m still playing or not. I just don’t know if I want to put my name on it or go with a — what do they call it?
Right! You might see me release something, or you’ll never know.
What’s the first thing you’ll do when you sign your contract?
Buy my dad a car, because what he has right now — he deserves better. My family deserves better. I’m just gonna focus on spoiling the people that raised me and cared for me. And what I do for myself, that’s later on down the line when I feel like I earned it.