Texas Community Mourns Quarterback Whose Last Pass Was a Touchdown
The senior quarterback from West Orange, Texas, already had a scholarship offer from Iowa State and was attracting attention from other schools as well -- Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Missouri, and Houston among them. All of those colleges were paying attention to the fleet-footed 6-foot-2,175-pound, dual threat quarterback who had dreams of leading his team to a state title.
But first Gilbert's team, West Orange-Stark, had to play its rival, Jasper, beneath the Friday night lights of Texas.
All summer, Garrett had worked to improve his passing accuracy, for moments just like these, rivalry games in East Texas.
Against arch-rival Jasper, the work paid off. Garrett dropped back to pass and in the words of his head coach Dan Hooks, a 72-year-old East Texas coaching legend with over 250 career wins, "just threw a perfect post-corner route for a touchdown. It was a beautiful pass."
The crowd of 6,500 exulted. Garrett's second touchdown pass of the game, midway through the second quarter, put his team up 21-0. Hooks remembers locking eyes with his quarterback as Garrett ran off the field. "He was smiling, the biggest smile you'd ever seen, just happy at what he'd done," Hooks told FanHouse on Saturday
As Coach Hooks, a 48-year coaching veteran who has been head coach at West Orange-Stark for the past 30 years, turned to ensure that his special teams were ready to attempt the extra point, Garrett collapsed on the sideline.
"It happened so quick none of us knew what to think," Hooks said.
Last season, his first year on the varsity, Reggie Garrett passed for 11 touchdowns and rushed for 13 more. Twenty-four touchdowns weren't good enough for Garrett; he needed to improve on his passing accuracy.
Last season he'd only completed 48.3 percent of his passes and that failure gnawed at Garrett, whose high school teammates of last year Trey Franks and James Haynes now are at Oklahoma, and drove him to practice throughout a stifling Texas summer. He would do better, improve, lead his team into the Texas state playoffs and better last year's disappointing finish.
He'd do his best to match his father, who'd played at the same high school for the same old coach. Daddy had been a linebacker who'd been a part of Coach Hooks' two state titles. Now, his son wanted to be a quarterback on the latest state title team from West Orange-Stark.
On Friday, that dream came to an unsettling end.
Paramedics rushed to the senior quarterback's aid and at first everyone on the sideline assumed all would be fine.
"It's hard to believe," a shaken Hooks said the next morning. "We've had injuries before, but nothing like this."
Garrett was placed in an ambulance and rushed to the local hospital as the game continued. By the fourth quarter rumors began to circulate throughout the stadium and filter to the sidelines. Reggie Garrett, the quarterback whose final pass was a touchdown, had died at the hospital.
"None of us could believe it," Hooks said, "none of us."
Suddenly the 72-year-old man who'd thought he'd seen everything in 34 years as a head coach, who had been on the sideline for every game in West Orange-Stark since 1981, long enough to coach this boy's father, addressed a decimated football team that should have been elated by a 27-6 victory over a rival. "The boys were quiet," Hooks said, "so awful quiet."
After the game, Coach Hooks made one of the most difficult drives of his coaching career, from the high school field to Memorial Hermann Baptist hospital. As he drove he thought of what might have been, about coaching the sons of former players, of boys growing into men, of some boys that would never grow into men.
"He wasn't but 17, you know, 17," the old coach said. "He was a good kid, had his academics in order, he'd improved so much since last year. Every time he played a game he got better."
Arriving at the hospital, Hooks found Garrett's mother, still in a state of complete shock. She'd begun her night in the stands to watch her son play a football game and before that game was even over her son was gone.
"I didn't know what to say," Hooks said. "I still don't know what you can say. We just don't know what to do. None of us do."
Coach Hooks paused for a time on a Saturday morning in Texas, the dawn of a day he never thought he'd face, and sighed.
"I've been doing this for 48 years," he said, "and nothing has even been close to this."
The old coach was quiet for a time. "I just keep thinking about him smiling after that pass," he said, "that's what I keep thinking about."