Cale Garrett brings physicality to Mizzou defense

Michael Scherer: “He’s a lead-head, and he works hard. He likes running into stuff, which works out good when you’re a linebacker.”
Mizzou defenders Cale Garrett, 47, Marcell Frazier, 16, Terry Beckner Jr., 79, and Charles Harris, 91, stretch in an attempt to block a kick during the home game facing the Blue Raiders.

The first time Greg Jones saw Cale Garrett was in 2011. Jones, the coach at Kearney High School in Kearney, Missouri, was trying to peer into his football program’s future when he noticed the young linebacker dishing out punishment to his opposition.

“I knew Cale was special when I watched him in seventh and eighth grade,” Jones said. “He was a man among boys.”

The man Jones saw on those youth league fields earned his spot as a starter for the Kearney Bulldogs in his first season with the team. His impact was immediate — he finished with 96 tackles on the season in 10 games.

“He started for us as a freshman and was all over the field,” Jones said. “Every senior on our team knew he was special.”

Garrett continued to be a tackling machine throughout his high school career. He recorded 125 tackles his sophomore year, 157 his junior season and 160 tackles as a senior.

Despite his impressive numbers and being named the Missouri 4A Player of the Year in 2015, Garrett did not attract interest from any Power Five schools besides Missouri. Rivals.com ranked him as just a three-star recruit.

Garrett decided to make an early impression with the Mizzou coaching staff, just the way he did with Jones four years prior. He enrolled early at Missouri, coming to campus last January to participate in winter conditioning and spring camp.

“I just had the mentality coming in here that I was going to work hard every day, show up and give my all and see what happens from there and do what the coaches ask of me,” Garrett said.

His effort immediately caught the eye of his older teammates, just like it had when Garrett first took the field for Kearney.

“The kid works hard,” senior linebacker Michael Scherer said. “He’s a lead-head, and he works hard. He likes running into stuff, which works out good when you’re a linebacker. He puts the time and effort in that is really necessary to learn and do things on Saturday.”

The news of his effort did not come as a surprise to his old coach. Garrett’s consistent work ethic was something Jones relied upon during Garrett’s four years at Kearney.

“He has always been a player that I counted on to get his job done at a high level,” Jones said. “At practice there was no half speed for him.”

Even with the extra work he put in during the offseason, Garrett was listed behind Scherer at the middle linebacker position to start the season. Starting in special teams helped Garrett earn a starting role at Kearney.

In his backup and special teams role, Garrett made 12 tackles in five games, once again catching the eye of his coaches.

Heading into the Florida game, Missouri’s defense was in shambles. The Tigers had just surrendered 42 points to a struggling Louisiana State offense while allowing the Tigers down south to run for 418 total yards.

Something needed to change for Missouri to get back on track. Enter Cale Garrett.

“[He gives] a little bit more thump in there,” defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross said. “We thought against all the running teams we would need a more physical presence, and honestly, Cale is a little bit more physical.”

Garrett took the field for the first time as a starter against Florida, when Scherer was moved to the weak side position. Despite playing in a hostile environment, the freshman made his presence known by making eight tackles and helping hold Florida to 287 rushing yards.

His performance impressed the coaches even more. When asked about his play, Cross beamed and called it “tremendous.”

“The man has been consistently waiting his turn, being patient,” Cross said. “For him to go in and play against an 18th-ranked team and hold his own out there, he wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but he did enough things that our guys felt his presence on the field.”

Now, Garrett has another tough task ahead of him. The freshman will need to make up for Scherer’s absence, whose season was ended after he tore his ACL and MCL in the game against Middle Tennessee.

Garrett’s high school coach believes the freshman is up to the challenge. He knows Garrett will bring the same attitude Jones first experienced when watching an eighth-grade football game.

“Cale is a player that will not be satisfied,” Jones said. “He is always pushing and working to get better. As he progresses through the program and gets older and earns the respect of his coaches and teammates, they will see how strong of a leader Cale is.”

Edited by Peter Baugh | pbaugh@themaneater.com

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