Cale Garrett’s final season with Missouri football ended very abruptly — and it had nothing to do with the coronavirus.
The middle linebacker’s fate changed suddenly in a much different manner than Southeastern Conference spring athletes who had the rest of their seasons officially canceled Tuesday.
The Kearney native’s final act as a Tiger arrived well before he expected, the result of a torn pectoral muscle suffered in the first quarter of a game against Troy on Oct. 5 at Faurot Field in which he made two interceptions, returning one to the end zone.
While the paths of spring-sport athletes could lead any number of ways after their recent diversion, Garrett’s path forward was direct.
He worked to get back in shape to be evaluated for the 2020 NFL Draft.
That nearly-seven-month process has about six weeks remaining, with the draft still on for the end of April.
“It's been the most frustrating thing that I've had to deal with in a while, one of the most frustrating things I can recall,” Garrett said of his recovery. “And it's a challenge not only physically, but mentally in a sense that I'm just always go, go, go. I can hardly sit still. In that first month or so, there wasn't a whole lot I could do. So that was really aggravating.
“Just not being able to do things that I normally used to do. I've never really gotten a major injury like that before, and I know that’s part of the game and whatnot, but at that time I wasn’t necessarily used to it and don't want to get used to it.”
Garrett finished his senior season at an All-American-type pace. In five games, he garnered 43 tackles, five tackles for loss, three defensive touchdowns, three interceptions and two sacks.
Both of his picks against Troy came after suffering the injury.
After being cleared to jog again by early December, Garrett did most of his training in Weston, Florida, about 40 miles north of Miami.
Garrett’s on-field return came in late February at the NFL Combine. He rated himself at 90-95% while participating in drills in Indianapolis and said he’s a step ahead of that in present day.
“From a healing standpoint, I'm completely healed,” Garrett said. “It's just a matter of being able to get my strength back. My left arm’s catching up with my right arm now and I'm pressing. I'm doing every sort of workout, but no restraints or anything like that. It's just about being able to move weight that I'm comfortable with, slowly get back to where I was, and then hopefully even stronger.”
Garrett is back in Columbia this week as Missouri’s pro day was scheduled for Tuesday but got canceled. Although Garrett participated in the combine and was only going to partake in position drills at the pro day, it’s the face-to-face interaction with professional scouts he will miss most.
Every draft-eligible player is facing similar difficulty in that regard, but since Garrett’s most recent season was cut short, his game film may be less of an indicator of his potential than other prospects.
Garrett plans to split his time between Columbia and the Kansas City area before the draft, finding creative ways to work out.
“You can do a workout anywhere, but I've been going in the mornings to a little trail here in Columbia and running on that,” Garrett said. “I don’t see too many people out in the morning or whatnot and it’s not super busy.”
Although gyms are closing nationwide to limit mass gatherings, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Garrett wants to continue his road back to full strength as fluidly as possible, even with some changing of habits due to the virus.
“It's changed a little bit, obviously. Hanging out with friends or going to any sort of big social gathering is out of the question,” Garrett said. “But I'm not going to live my life in fear. At the same time, I'm very respectful of other people's wishes and desires not to get sick, either. It is a serious issue.”
As the draft continues to near, Garrett looks forward to hopefully getting a phone call that he was selected by any of the 32 NFL teams.
Although his road back to full strength has taught Garrett plenty of lessons, being among the players drafted would be the cherry on top of his extended recovery.
“As long as I find out that I'm getting an opportunity to continue football somewhere in some manner, I’m OK with that,’” Garrett said.