NEWS, NOTES &
The Bradsher Beat
Friday, February 29, 2008
By Bethany Bradsher
Garrard on journey with a
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Photo: Jacksonville Jaguars
The evening’s program was not quite over, so all
600 guests got to see the parade of four boys snaking between the tables at
the Greenville Convention Center Thursday night.
Each was carrying a white Pirates football, and
their destination was obvious.
The boys stopped at the table at the front of
the room to request autographs from the evening’s featured speaker – and
East Carolina's most recent national sports hero. But David Garrard’s
purpose at the Sportworks Banquet had little to do with personal
accomplishments and everything to do with the faith that has sustained him
through a journey marked with personal and professional pain.
Garrard, who led the Jacksonville Jaguars to a
12-6 record as the starting quarterback this season and finished the year
with 208 of 325 completions and 2,509 yards for 18 touchdowns, did spend a
few minutes remembering his recent mountaintop experiences – but he
deflected the credit for those.
“It was nothing but the hand of God in how all
of this played out for me,” he said. “I knew I could play that well at
times, but to be as consistent as I was, it was only because God was ruling
At the top of his career after seven seasons in
the NFL, Garrard is also fulfilled in his family life – he and his wife Mary
had a baby boy, Justin, in September. But as he recounted his personal story
to the crowd gathered to celebrate Sportworks’ 10th anniversary, Garrard
gave equal time to the periods when he was beset by hopelessness and
Garrard’s parents divorced when he was 6, and
his mother moved her four children to Durham. He thrived there until his
mother became sick with breast cancer during his freshman year in high
school. When she died, Garrard remembers feeling alienated from the God he
had learned about years earlier in church, he said.
“I turned my back to the Lord, because he took
my mother from me, and this was too much to handle,” he said.
He poured himself into football and school,
under the guidance of his older brother Anthony, but when he got to East
Carolina he felt like he was looking for something, he said, and he
remembers Coach Steve Logan telling him that he would never be a complete
person or a complete quarterback without a “spiritual side.”
“I knew I had a void in my life,” he said. “I
knew there was something inside me that wasn’t fulfilling my life.”
The antidote to that inner turmoil came during
lunch with Sportworks director Chuck Young at McAllister’s Deli one
afternoon. Drawn by the promise of free food, Garrard had started attending
weekly Bible studies for football players at Young’s house. That day at
lunch, Garrard felt a tug to step forward in his faith, and Young encouraged
him to open the door and give God control of his life.
“Something inside of me said, ‘It’s time,’” he
said. “And after that I said, ‘You know what? Life is going to be perfect
now. I’ve got no more worries, I’ve got God on my side.’ ”
But the valleys continued to crop up for
Garrard, although after that day at McAllister’s he knew where to turn for
comfort and purpose, he said. After finishing his college career with a
crushing loss to the Byron Leftwich-led Marshall team, Garrard finally got
to his first NFL gig with the Jaguars and learned that Leftwich had been
hired as the team’s starting quarterback.
What followed were five seasons in which he
labored as Leftwich’s backup, pining for the chance to start. He made the
most of his role, but those early seasons were also marred by poor health,
and just over four years ago he was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, a
serious intestinal illness. He lost 40 pounds, and doctors considered
putting him an all-liquid diet. Instead, he had about a foot of his
intestines removed during surgery. His symptoms have never returned.
When Leftwich was injured in 2006 and Garrard
got his chance, he stumbled during the last three games, and he feared that
he had lost his one opportunity to lead the team.
He was wrong. In September he took the helm for
real, Leftwich was cut from the Jaguars, and Garrard turned in a season
that many pundits pronounced worthy of the Pro Bowl.
In sharing the ebb and flow of his first 29
years with the Sportworks crowd, Garrard compared himself to Joseph in the
Bible, who was abandoned by his brothers, sold into slavery, then falsely
accused and thrown into prison, to ultimately rise to become second in
command to the Pharoah.
Like Joseph, Garrard said, he is sure that every
chapter of his life has been a means to his ultimate goal – helping God
achieve eternal things in a world that is often saturated with the
“People always tell you that to whom much is
given, much is required,” he said. “What are you doing with the gift that
God has given you?”
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02/29/2008 02:30:56 AM