Puyallup: Sports

NFL draft pick Garnett has kept Puyallup close to his heart the whole time

Puyallup High grad Joshua Garnett blocks for Stanford against USC during the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. Garnett was selected with the 28th overall pick Thursday night by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Puyallup High grad Joshua Garnett blocks for Stanford against USC during the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. Garnett was selected with the 28th overall pick Thursday night by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2016 NFL Draft. Stanford photo

For 18 years Joshua Garnett spent his life in the city of Puyallup.

From playing youth football leagues to graduating from Puyallup High School, Garnett has always carried a piece of his home with him. His home has become a core part of who he is.

“It’s taking an ownership of where I came from and what I was able to do,” Garnett said via phone last week. “It’s places like Competitive Edge (on South Hill) growing up. Working out with Puyallup (High) or playing on the GK (Graham-Kapowsin) Eagles little league football team. I mean, it’s just things like that that have built my foundation of where I was able to go to.”

Garnett grew up with a work ethic driven from his father, Scott, a former NFL lineman (1984-1987) who spent time with Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, San Diego Chargers and the Buffalo Bills.

Born February 24, 1994 in Auburn, Garnett has always been determined to be there for others. And Garnett’s hometown of Puyallup has always stuck with the big man. From Shaw Road Elementary to Kalles Junior High to Puyallup High, he’s always wanted to bring the lessons from each stop with him.

“That’s a big thing growing up, as I always wanted to be a (Puyallup) Viking,” Garnett said. “Once I had that opportunity to put that purple and gold on, I took it really seriously. That’s what I try to preach to the guys when I go back, to take it seriously.”

Here, during his time spent living in Puyallup, experiencing the community’s outreach to him, set Garnett on his path of selflessness. Here is where he decided his life would lead.

The guard got the call Thursday night he’s been waiting for his entire life, ever since playing youth football in the city of Puyallup. On the other line was San Francisco, which traded up with Kansas City to select Garnett with the 28th pick.

“I want to come in and compete,” Garnett said of his early NFL goals. “I want to come in, I want to play and I want to compete for that starting spot from day one.”

Garnett entered the 2016 NFL Draft as one of the top 60 prospects in the draft, where his dreams of reaching football’s highest level have come true. San Francisco saw more in the stout lineman.

Garnett had a productive senior season with Stanford, one where the Cardinal won the Pac-12 title and the Rose Bowl over Iowa, 45-16 on New Year’s Day.

As Stanford’s first Outland Trophy winner as the best interior linemen in the nation, becoming the first true freshman lineman to start for the Cardinal in a decade in 2012, from becoming the seventh Cardinal to being selected as a unanimous first-team All-American, Garnett has always carried a piece of home with him.

“From the Rose Bowl the first day of the year, to going San Diego training for the combine, the combine, (from) the Senior Bowl to my Pro Day at Stanford — I mean it’s been a grind, but it’s been fun,” Garnett said. “Just trying to balance everything, you have to take it day by day. You have so many things coming up. There’s so many things important about balancing success and going into the NFL.”

So what has been the biggest lesson of the year so far?

“You just got to have good time management. You have to know what you’re going to do the next day,” he added. “You have to have things planned out already, so it doesn’t get too overwhelming. You have to a plan of action, and you have to stay on track. You can’t play video games as much as you want to or do all that good stuff.”

Garnett will graduate from Stanford University this spring with a degree in human biology, where he hopes to use a stepping stone to join a medical school after his NFL career is over. All the awards, all the accomplishments Garnett has accumulated started here, in the city of Puyallup. And every year with no real reason than the want and desire to help others, Garnett comes home.

It’s not surprising for those who know him most, those who have been there since he was young growing up as the biggest kid on the field, bulldozing everyone in front of him.

“He was always a good kid, even when he was young,” said Graham-Kapowsin coach Eric Kurle, who remembered Garnett from his time with the GK Youth Football Team. “He’s one of those guys that wants to give back. You always appreciate a player of his caliber who reaches out to help the kids in the area.”

When Garnett entered the Puyallup football program, coach Gary Jeffers already had an idea of who he was getting. Before even setting a foot in Sparks Stadium, Garnett entered his high school football career with a college offer from UCLA already in hand.

He was rated a 4-star prospect, according to Scout.com, and was listed as the nation’s No. 42 prospect in 2011 as well as the No. 3 offensive lineman in the country.

“The reality of it was when he came to us as a (sophomore), he’d been to UCLA’s rising stars camp as a (freshman) and been offered by (then-coach) Rick Neuheisel,” Jeffers said. “We kind of knew we had a kid who people would be interested ... I don’t think there was ever a moment I didn’t think he wouldn’t become the kid who he is.”

He’s a person who wears his heart on his sleeve.

A lot can go wrong when it comes to handling a player of Garnett’s talent, Jeffers thought when he first heard about the young man he was getting. Years later, Jeffers would joke that he would give up all the 4-star or 5-star lineman in the world for a skill position player with half their talent.

But not Garnett.

Never had that thought crossed the Puyallup coach’s mind when it came to the most talented player Jeffers has coached. There was always something different about Garnett.

“From a work ethic, there is no question about his desire to get better. He was always putting his time in the weight room (or) up at Competitive Edge, there is no question about his physical development,” Jeffers said. “He’s got a ton of talent, but he worked his butt off as well, for sure. (It’s) the character of who he is at his core as he’s always trying to find ways to be influential to people.”

What Jeffers saw then is what many in the San Francisco Bay Area will see in the future: A man driven to help others, to be there for an area and one who’s always giving back.

Every year Jeffers organizes a young Vikings football camp in the spring. And every year Garnett always comes back home, ready to give back to an area that gave him so much growing up.

“Coming from Puyallup, there’s not a whole lot of guys that have the name recognition, especially in this day and age,” Garnett said. “You have the Huards and guys like that. But kind of in this new Puyallup age, there hasn’t been too many guys who have come back and given their wisdom.

“To come back home, and I’m only four or five years older than the guys, and they’ve seen the success I’ve been able to have, it kind of motivates them. It gives them the opportunity to be the next guy to come out of Puyallup. I felt I should be able to go back and help kids build their foundation, so they could go do better things, bigger things than I was able to while in college. You want to see as many guys (from Puyallup) playing college football.”

In the fall, all eyes of the area prep football scene will be on another one of the nation’s top high school prospects as G-K’s Foster Sarell will enter his senior season as a 5-star recruit and the No. 1 prospect at his position (No. 5 overall).

Knowing the pressure that a kid from his area will face, Garnett reached out to Sarell, giving advice on what to expect, while just being a sounding board for the young Eagle to lean on.

“We don’t see too many guys who from Puyallup (or the surrounding area) doing real huge things in football,” Garnett said. “But when you do have guy, you want to be able to comeback and give back — to challenge those guys. Guys like Sarell , a kid in the 253 area — that’s a guy where you want to be able to go back, and let him see you’re doing well to challenge him to be the best. And if he’s being the best, then do even better.

“It’s taking an ownership of the area.”

Ownership to mentoring the future, in Puyallup or the surrounding area.