Player Profile: Antonio Garay
Garay played football at Rahway High School, and was a standout offensive and defensive lineman. Garay is not only an outstanding football player, but a stellar wrestler as well, something that runs in the family. He was the state and national wrestling champion in 1998. During his high school years (1994-98), he never lost a match.
His uncle was a state champion wrestler, as was his dad, brother and a second uncle. Garay credits wrestling with improving his football skills. “Wrestling helps with football because the mental drive comes from being in an individual sport. It’s you versus the other guy. You can’t blame it on anyone else. When you are in the trenches, playing nose tackle which is in the middle of the defense, it’s you versus the center. The key is to play good enough where he needs help from the guards.”
In high school, Garay was not only a dominant force on the football field (All-State and Blue Chip All-American), but a track star running the 100 and 200-yard races and throwing the javelin. Antonio’s success was not limited only to playing sports, he excelled academically as well. He was offered scholarships from 25 different schools, but he elected to accept the offer from Boston College. At BC, Antonio continued to wrestle until Boston College dropped the wrestling program his senior year. On the football field, he was a standout offensive and defensive lineman. He was a co-captain his senior year, and finished his Boston College career with 162 TT, 12 sacks and 24 TFLs. He suffered a season-ending ACL sprain on the first play of his junior year, and a season-ending spine injury against Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish during his senior year. Not to be deterred, Garay graduating Boston College with a bachelor’s degrees in both English and marketing, and a master’s degree in secondary education with a focus on English.
Antonio Garay was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the sixth round of the 2003 NFL Draft. During the 2004 season, he tore his ACL and was waived in December. The Chicago Bears, where Ron Rivera was Defensive Coordinator, signed him in 2005 to their practice squad, and eventually to their active roster. Garay spent 2005 and 2006 with the Bears, and was a member of the 2006 NFC Championship team. The next season, on December 7, 2007, in a game at the Washington Redskins, Garay was injured by an illegal chop block by Chris Samuels, the Redskins OT. Samuels was not flagged during the game, but later was fined $12,500 for the hit on Garay that broke his leg and shattered his ankle. Three days later he was placed on IR, and he was released on February 2008. On February 29, 2008, he became an unrestricted free agent.
Garay now faced the most difficult roadblock of his career. It took nearly two years for him to rehab his devastating injury. Antonio says of the injury, “When I broke my leg … I’ve broken my leg before; I knew right away it was broken. I knew I was going to have a journey ahead of me. Unfortunately, I was going into my free agent year and not many football teams are in the market for a D-Lineman with one leg.”
However, there was no quit in Garay. “I was just real motivated. I knew what I wanted to do. I knew I loved football. I knew I wanted to play football. I knew I had a lot more to give to football. Sometimes guys just stop, they feel like they’ve accomplished everything they could. Deep down inside, I felt like there was a lot left for me to accomplish. … In the back of my head, I knew I’d be cheating myself. If I wanted to play football, I [had] to make sure I devoted everything to football. It really was just kind of a mindset that I would will myself to get an opportunity, no matter the cost.”
On October 20, 2009, the New York Jets announced that they had signed Garay to their Practice Squad. Two months later, Garay was signed off of the New York Jets’ practice squad by the San Diego Chargers. He was re-signed to a two-year deal on March 6, 2010.
Garay was thrilled about his move to San Diego. “Once I found out I was coming here, I knew I’d have a good opportunity,” he said. “I had a pretty strong relationship with the coaching staff. Ron Rivera was my defensive coordinator in Chicago. Don Johnson was my D-line coach. For them just to want me [in San Diego], the stars [have] aligned.” Garay still enjoys a good relationship with Rivera. “Coach Rivera has done a great job with his play selection and the mentality that he set throughout our defense. One thing he stressed all year is 11 guys making one play at a time.” And San Diego? Garay loves this town. “I like everything about [San Diego]. I like the people, the fans. Everyone is so personable. The organization itself, the guys on the team, everyone [made it a] very easy transition for me. It [was] a sign of great things to come.”
This year, Garay has started in all but one game, and has made his presence felt at nose tackle. He recorded four sacks this year against Derek Anderson, Matt Schaub, Sam Bradford, and biggest of all – NFL Darling Tom Brady. “Pass rush coming,” shouted Josh Lewin. Here came Garay, blasting past center Dan Koppen. “Brady with the pocket collapsing … and down he goes on the 24. Antonio Garay got him around the hips!” Garay owned center Dan Koppen at the line of scrimmage on nearly every play.
On October 17 in St. Louis, Garay registered a sack in the 2nd quarter. After the loss, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo gave the Chargers credit, calling them “an elite football team” and noting that the Rams were “very, very concerned about playing [the Chargers].”
During week 9 at Houston, Garay registered five tackles and a sack in the win against the Texans in the Chargers first road win of the year.
Last week during the disappointing loss to the Raiders, DL Luis Castillo and Garay were seen arguing with each other on the sidelines late in the game. Not too much later, they were seen hugging it out and Luis Castillo said that will not be an issue on Sunday. “This is the closest line I’ve ever been a part of playing at any level,” Castillo said. “We’re like brothers, and sometimes brothers fight. It was an emotional point in the game, and we got into it a little bit. We’re fine. There’s nothing more to it than that.” Antonio agreed, stating, “Our chemistry is great. Luis is a great player. He makes my job easier. He makes a lot guys’ jobs a lot easier. When he’s a focal point, people have to worry about him and not me.”
Moving forward, Garay says, “[The defense] can be better. Right now we have a good defense. People are going to try and test us. They are going to find gaps and holes that they believe they can expose. We have to be prepared for that. Our defensive coaching staff does a great job knowing what we need to do and what we should do. Like I said it’s all about 11 guys doing what they are supposed to do. I think the sky is the limit for us.”
Antonio Garay, along with Cam Thomas, is the only player solely listed as a defensive tackle. It can be difficult to compare nose tackles in the NFL, as it is one of the positions that cannot be accurately reflected on the stat sheet. Stats that can be compared are combined tackles, sacks and physical size. At 6’4”, Garay is the tallest NT after the Vikings’ Kevin Williams, who is one inch taller. At 335 pounds, only three NFL nose tackles outweigh him: Kris Jenkins (360#), Shaun Rogers (350#) and a nose tackle familiar to Charger fans, Jamal Williams (348#). In the combined tackles and sacks category, Garay keeps pace with the best nose tackles in the NFL. Garay has 38 CT, and only one NT in the league has more: New England’s Vince Wilfork has 44. Garay leads the league in sacks with 4. Jay Ratliff (DAL) is second with 2.5 sacks. Garay’s stats can next be compared to Ted Washington, who is generally considered to be the G.O.A.T. Nose Tackle. Washington was gargantuan at 6’5”, 375# and his size garnered him the nickname “Mt. Washington”. In Washington’s best year (2004, Raiders), he garnered 41 combined tackles and 3 sacks. His last full year, (2006, Browns), he garnered 52 tackles, 0 sacks. The most amazing thing about Washington was his longevity in the most physically demanding position in the NFL, playing 17 years until the age of 39. Garay has been in the league since 2003, and at age 31, only time will tell if he can break Washington’s records.
Beyond football, Antonio is in the process of creating the “Set The Tone” foundation, a foundation that will work with kids in his community to prepare them for college, as well as providing a safe haven for studying and instructing them about avoiding the dangerous pit falls that tend to detract students from achieving their fullest potential.
And Garay doesn’t stop there. Even though he is 100% committed to football at this moment, Antonio has not completely ruled out representing the United States in wrestling at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
With his no-quit attitude and steely fortitude, the sky’s the limit for Antonio Garay.
Connect with Antonio by visiting his Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/#/pages/Antonio-Garay/251498588675