Former NFL defensive back Sam Garnes spent some time with me this week talking about something that he feels very strongly about; helping young athletes to be the best they can be.
The 6’3, 225 lbs Garnes spent 7 years in the NFL from 1997 to 2004. He was drafted by the Giants in the fifth round and played with them for five years. He was a big part of their defense when they played in the Superbowl in 2000. Then he spent the remaining two years as a part of the Jets, helping them to make the playoffs as well.
Within a few minutes of talking to Garnes, I realized that football was not something that he just fell into, but something he worked really hard at achieving. Garnes’ message he wants to get across to young athletes is that if they want to move to the next level they need to work for it.
He said that many people he played with in high school were at the same talent level as him but didn’t have the right guidance to take it to the next level. “Our running back was Sheldon Cooper. He was definitely good enough to play in the NFL.”
Currently Garnes spends a lot of his time running clinics, camps and one-on-one trainings to help players get to that next level. His approach is all about teaching fundamentals so athletes can improve their skills necessary to excel in football. His goal is to help the people like Cooper who with the right direction and coaching can make it to the next level.
Garnes would really like to see football have more resources dedicated to it in the tri-state area. “In Texas they play football year round. There are so many talented players in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. If there were more focus on developing these kids, this area would put out a lot of great players to colleges and pro's.”
“There is so much money pumped into this area and they should really allocate more to sports for kids. In the city, kids either do battle on the streets or on the playing field.” Garnes said. “When the season ends, the kids go back to the streets.”
Garnes works in partnership with Primo Sports in Florida, NY and Legends Resort & Country Club Vernon, NJ to help youngsters learn skills from a real professional. His football academy is set up for youngsters from 9 to 14 years old. “We want to get them started young before high school because at that level the coaches bring them to football camps in the summer.”
Garnes also spends time doing private training lessons for many local high school atheletes who are serious about excelling. “Being a defensive back, you get to know about every position. I help quarterbacks with their three-step drops. I teach running how to run. We teach runningbacks how to run. We teach the right fundamentals so when they are on the field it just comes as an instint.”
Earlier this year, he helped out with the Montclair High School football team, which ended up making it to the State Finals in Giants Stadium.
When Garnes was in High School at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, he was a defensive back and a wide receiver. Then he was given a scholarship to go to the University of Cincinnati. “I considered myself a wide receiver. I thought I was going to be the next Al Toon or Jerry Rice. But in college they thought I would be better at defensive back.”
Garnes attributes his attitude to his success on the field. “When I was in college, I had an edge that since I was from New York I was tougher than everyone. Not that that was necessarily true, but that was the motivation I used. Our coach said to use whatever motivation works for you, and that is what I did. I told myself that I was better than the kids from Texas and Florida, because I grew up in New York City.”
On his vision to get to the NFL, Garnes said, “I knew I was good enough to play in the NFL. When I was in college my friends used to bust on me because I was so confident about getting to the NFL. It wasn’t a question of ‘NFL or bust’; it was ‘I am going to the NFL’. I didn’t matter, I was going to work as hard as possible and do whatever I needed to do to get to that level.”
Once in the NFL, Garnes made the most of his opportunity. In his first game as a pro, he intercepted a pass and returned it 95 yards for a touchdown vs. the Eagles. “That moment let me know that I could play at this level.”
He also discussed what it was like playing at the Superbowl. “I can’t even describe in words. It was just a dream come true. The two weeks before the whole country is just focused on the game you are about to play. It was really amazing to watch all those camera flashes coming from the stands during that first kickoff.”
Garnes also talked about how he understands how deflating it was to lose that big game. “It was like you worked so hard and played at the highest level you possibly could to get there. I understand how difficult it is for teams to come back and do it again.”
Garnes actually retired in 2003 after starting every year for the seven years he played. “I played a very emotional and physical type of game. My mind and passion were still there, but your body just cannot bounce back as easily when you get older. It was really hard to retire.”