WINNIPEG - Without this Fork in the road, it’s entirely possible playing pro football would have remained nothing more than a dream for Chris Garrett.
Long before he was thrust into a role of starting running back for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Garrett was a young man trying to find his way.
“I was more focused on other things, I was young and immature,” Garrett recalled on Thursday.
And while he showcased plenty of talent on the gridiron in high school (piling up more than 4,000 yards at Stonewall Jackson high school), he didn’t have the grades to match, so he enrolled at Fork Union Military Academy.
“It was a very humbling experience,” said Garrett. “To be away from home and to be going through live military drills and stuff, it made me appreciate some of the things that I took for granted. When I first got there, I didn’t know how I was going to do it but I had a goal in mind. I wanted to go to college and I wanted to play Division 1 sports.
“That period in my life helped me become the person that I am right now. It taught me a lot and to be disciplined in all aspects of life. You were up at 5:30 a.m. every morning and to get into that kind of regimen, it had me more structured and being in the military setting helps you prioritize everything. The circumstances I was in were tough, but it made me tougher. It made me a better person, in the community and on the football field.”
Sure enough, Garrett’s grades and scholastic aptitude test (SAT) score went up and he accepted a scholarship to Ohio University, spending four seasons with the Bobcats before turning pro, eventually landing with the Blue Bombers for five games in 2010.
In three games this season since replacing Fred Reid (who was lost with a knee injury), Garrett has rolled up 296 yards on 44 carries for an average of 6.7 yards per carry.
“It’s definitely fun,” said Garrett, now 24. “How it happened was very unfortunate, but sometimes that’s the name of the game and you have to step in when there are injuries. This has been a good experience for me so far. I’m taking it day-by-day and just going from there.
“It’s very rewarding to get a chance to be playing, let alone be starting. It’s a good feeling to be the guy being counted on and being depended on to do a job. I just play every down like it’s my last.”
It’s clear that with the Montreal Alouettes coming to Canad Inns Stadium for a clash of the titans in the East, Garrett will need to have another strong outing for the Blue Bombers to keep their bid for first place alive.
“This game does have a big stamp on it,” said Garrett. “First place is on the line. We’re ready to come out here and have a good game. I believe in my team and we believe in ourselves.”
Garrett, who suited up in five games with the Blue Bombers last season before he was cut in training camp, calls former Detroit Lions great Barry Sanders his favourite running back of all time.
“He’s one of the guys I tried to emulate as a child,” said Garrett. “I have a lot of tools in my repertoire.”
The impact Garrett has made on the Blue Bombers offence is undeniable.
“He’s a patient back and he helps set things up,” said Blue Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice. “He’ll let the defenders run and then he’ll find a seam and plant his foot in the ground and get north-south. He breaks tackles very well and that’s another thing he’s done a real good job of.
“He’s explosive — and Fred was explosive too — but the difference is that (Garrett) really sets up his blockers well.”