Garrett fills outsized role for Towson

Unremarkable in stature, CB is big in Tigers' plans

August 24, 1999|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

Jabari Garrett seems physically average. Though he is one of the keys to the fate of Towson University's football team in 1999, his 5-foot-9, 180-pound frame resembles that of your ordinary student.

Besides his appearance, his coach, Gordy Combs, said Garrett's speed is average, and so is his vertical leap. But for Garrett, a senior cornerback from Camp Springs, the results have been well above par.

"From Day One, he's been a leader," Combs said. "When he's done here, we might be able to replace what he's done physically, but I'm not sure we'll be able to replace him mentally. What he lacks physically, he makes up for in intelligence."

The Tigers, looking to rebound from a 5-6 season in 1998, have a young receiver -- Jamal White -- with tremendous potential. They have a running back -- Jason Corle -- who has passed the 1,000-yard plateau the past two season.

Still, it is Garrett who has garnered the most laurels, earning first-team All-Patriot League the past two seasons. Teammates and coaches consider him the leader of a group that will carry the heaviest burden of expectation.

With the best athletes, the secondary of Garrett, safeties Ricky Crestwell and Dennis Cliggett and cornerback Donald Wood will often employ man-to-man coverage to let the rest of the defense concentrate on run support.

"[Combs] feels like we can guard anyone in the league, and that gives us great confidence," Garrett said.

"We feel like our defensive backs are the best that we've had in recent years," said Cliggett, who led the Patriot League in kick-return average last season. "All four of us can lock up on anybody."

But the heart of the group is Garrett, who came to the Tigers in 1995, a 155-pounder considered too small to play at bigger schools, who was interested in the pre-med program and the league that the team would be joining shortly.

"They had my major, and it was far enough away from home and still close enough to home," he said. Another incentive was the Patriot League, which Garrett knew about from his friend, Joe Saunders, who plays for Holy Cross. "When they told me we were going to the Patriot League, that sold me."

He redshirted that first season, then worked his way up as an extra on long-yardage situations as a freshman in 1996 before earning a starting position the next season.

In Towson's first season in the Patriot League, 1997, the team took its knocks, but Garrett earned first-team all-league honors by knocking down 10 passes and recovering three fumbles and intercepting two passes.

He followed that up with a season of 79 tackles and three interceptions, also distinguishing himself in another way when he waylaid a 300-pound offensive lineman as Cliggett was returning an interception in the Holy Cross game.

"He brings more to the table than just a defensive back," Cliggett said. "The last three years, everything he does, you just shake your head."

NOTE: The installation of new artificial turf at Minnegan Stadium -- the first phase of a $28 million renovation project -- will be completed sometime this week, with the Tigers holding a scrimmage on the field Saturday at 1 p.m. Combs was glad to see a sign of long-awaited progress. "We've played in this stadium for 20 years," he said, "and we've been telling recruits for the past 10 years about these renovations."

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