Professional athletes put in hours of training to be the best in their sport. For some, they are blessed with athleticism in conjunction with coaching and learned skills.
Whatever the case may be, as fans of the game, we can recall childhood dreams of wanting to be professional athletes, mimicking the play style of our favorites and giving the best impersonation of their moves in games of throwback tackle in the backyard and two-hand touch in the street.
However, when the reality of discipline, dedication and setbacks come into play, some deter from their dreams. For Jim Hill High School football player, Kevin Garner Jr., this is a testament and the beginning of a journey toward his dream.
Garner, a senior offensive and defensive tackle for the Tigers, will return to the gridiron this fall after taking a three-year break from the game because of a series of knee issues.
“ Before attempting to play ball for Jim Hill, I began having bad growing pains in my knees, limiting my ability to perform at my highest potential,” Garner said. “ Then, in my junior year, I was in a bad sporting accident in which I tore cartilage in my right knee, causing me to have surgery.”
While knee injuries are serious and hard to bounce back from, the 6-foot-1, 362-pound Garner would not let the injury defeat him.
“ I said to myself, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” Garner said. “ Thus, I looked at the knee injury as minor setback for a major comeback.”
Indeed it has been a humbling journey for Garner, who began playing football in the first grade. From there, he moved to little league football, playing for the South Jackson Cowboys under head coach Eric Barber.
Garner credited his family on playing football at a young age.
“ My father was the number one reason for my interest in playing football because he played and it was something I always wanted to do,” Garner said. “My mother was on the Cowboys’ booster club and my father was on the coaching staff as well; thus, they were always there to motivate me.”
Garner’s father, Kevin Garner Sr., said he is excited to see his son continue working toward his dream.
“ I’m very proud of him following in my footsteps trying to go further than I did,” Garner Sr said. “ He is taking advantage of the opportunity God has given him.” Garner Sr. played offensive and defensive tackle at Raymond and Wingfield High School.
Often referred to as “The Refrigerator” in reference to William “The Refrigerator” Perry of the 1985 Bears, Garner played all through elementary and then moved on to play at Siwell Middle School, a public school located in south Jackson.
However, while playing football in middle school, Garner decided to become a member of the band where he played the snare drum.
“ It was exciting and a new experience for me,” Garner said. “ I always liked the sound of the percussion section but especially the sound of a snare drum.”
After leaving middle school, Garner began dealing with knee issues that led to the “setback” of his dream. Thus, he remained in the band coming into high school at Jim Hill.
“ I have enjoyed playing bass drum in the band for the last three years,” Garner said. “However, my first love has always been football and I always knew I wanted to return the sport I loved since I was five.”
Coming back from an injury can be difficult, but Garner said the transition of returning to football in his senior year has not been a difficult one.
“ With the previous experience of my football career, I feel as if I have not missed a beat,” Garner said. “ I have been treated as if I have been on the team since I was a freshman.”
With 57 days until the Tigers kickoff the 2015 season against Wingfield High School, Garner plans to better his skills at his position and workout daily to be in the best shape for the season.
“ I attended a two-day offensive and defensive lineman camp at Hinds Community College and will attend another camp for my position at Nicholls State University,” Garner said.” I will also be running laps and working out in the weight room this summer to build muscle.”
Following his first and only season with the team, Garner plans to continue his dream of playing football at the next level.
“ It is one of my biggest aspirations to play at Mississippi State,” Garner said, “ I love the teamwork, leadership and dedication the Bulldogs incorporate while playing the game of football.”
Until then, Garner looks forward to playing for Stanley Spell, who will begin his second year as head coach at Jim Hill this season.
“ Coach Spell and the other coaches on staff have stressed to the team to become stronger and smarter as the season moves forward,” Garner said. “ Thus, as a team, we will be able to make the best athletic decisions on the field.”
Playing the game of football will be a childhood memory for some, but for the young 17-year-old tackle, this is first step towards his ultimate dream.
“My family guides me, my future motivates me and it is my goal to be in the NFL,” Garner said. “ Then, I can give back to those who helped me achieve my ultimate dream.”
GET TO KNOW KEVIN GARNER
Full Name: Kevin Fitzgerald Garner Jr.
Major when he attends college: Computer Engineering
Hometown: Jackson, Mississippi
Fun Fact: When I was younger, I was nicknamed “The Refrigerator” similar to the late William “The Refrigerator” Perry of the 1985 Chicago Bears.
Nickname: Doman/ Big Kev
Favorite Athlete: J.J. Watt
Favorite Team: New Orleans Saints