It’s 6:58 p.m. local time on Thursday in Arlington, Texas, and Myles Garrett and his family members have assumed their positions on the couches inside the restaurant turned TV studio in the Tierra Verde Golf Club. Garrett has unloaded his pockets — wallet, phone, and keys attached to a Jurassic Park lanyard — to an awaiting friend and strapped a mic pack onto the back of his black pants. The 2017 NFL draft is scheduled to begin in two minutes, and the cameramen from the NFL Players Association, Fox 4, and CBS 11 are double-checking that every possible movement the star defensive end might make will be captured by all 10 cameras when he’s soon either confirmed as the no. 1 pick or passed over by the Cleveland Browns.
As the buzz of about 100 people in the roughly 1,000-square-foot room fades with nervous anticipation, the Garretts realize that there’s no sound coming from the specially installed 85-inch Aquos Sharp TV. Garrett’s mother, Audrey, needs the issue fixed, so she prods the event manager from the NFLPA, which is using its youngmedia arm at a draft party for the first time and aims to provide future prospects with a way to fully experience the draft even if they don’t attend. As Audrey directs the operation, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell puts the Browns on the clock and Garrett’s brother, Sean Williams, a former NBA player who’s sitting two couches to the left, mouths to Garrett, “You?” Garrett shrugs and whispers: “I hope.” Then, silence.
“Your night, baby!” yells Bob Wager, Garrett’s former coach at James Martin (Texas) High School, breaking it. “Your night!”
The TV’s sound returns just in time to fill the room with ESPN’s exploration of the Browns’ ineptitude everywhere on the field en route to posting a .306 winning percentage since 1999. Garrett stares at the screen impassively. When his own Texas A&M highlight film begins to play, he scratches his head sheepishly.
Garrett retrieves his phone, and it rings. He talks for more than two minutes. With the TV screen still showing the Browns on the clock, someone in the crowd wonders if it’s bad news. Wager, standing about 5 yards from Garrett at 11 o’clock, puts his hands on his knees like he’s coaching from the sideline.
Then Goodell’s voice carries through the speakers, relieving the room: “With the first pick in the 2017 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns select Myles Garrett.” The room bursts. Six of Garrett’s high school friends thunder along with the roar from the rest of the crowd. His former assistant principal at Martin, Tunya Redvine, shouts and clasps her hands together. His agent, Bus Cook, nods.
Garrett beams, picks himself up from the couch, hugs both his mom and his dad Lawrence, and pulls off his gray Adidas Climalite shirt to reveal a Cleveland shirt that says, “The Heart of Rock ‘n Roll.”
Former star NFL receiver and current ESPN on-site Garrett correspondent Randy Moss, who cursed at himself an hour ago while filming 17 takes for a short Garrett promo, doesn’t stutter or stop during his live spot with Garrett, who says all the right things: Going no. 1 is just one of his goals; support from family and friends made the day special; he wants to change the program in Cleveland.
Yet even as Garrett appreciates the crowning achievement of his life with his friends and family, he’s already focusing on what it will take to make good on his draft slot, to realize his potential.
“You think I’d be thinking about the draft, which I am,” Garrett later tells The Ringer. “But in my head I was like, ‘I’m going to be going against [Browns left tackle] Joe Thomas, one of the best ever, in practice.’ So I’m thinking about how I can beat him. What do I do? How can I get better? What does he do when he goes home? Does he lay in bed with his wife? Of course. But the other times, he’s watching film, he’s doing yoga, he’s keeping his body right, he’s making sure he’s drinking right and eating right. How can I stay one step ahead of that?”
Garrett isn’t the first no. 1 overall pick to stay home instead of attending the NFL draft in person; in 2015, Jameis Winston didn’t travel to Chicago because he wanted to stay with his ailing grandmother. Garrett’s choice caught some by surprise, but he picked Tierra Verde because it was close to his parents’ house and he wanted to spend more time with his friends and family. These were the people who’d supported him, the people he wanted to thank.
Garrett wasn’t worried about suffering an embarrassing greenroom fall; in fact, he says he never doubted that Cleveland would take him first. The Martin High School football booster club had similar confidence. Their flyer for a party at the Arlington bar J. Gilligan’s read, “Martin’s first No. 1 overall NFL draft pick” — and it was produced at least a week before the draft. The NFLPA took a more pragmatic approach. When Garrett stepped out of his Nissan Altima onto the Tierra Verde curb at 6:08 p.m., he saw that the association’s representatives had laid out jerseys for Cleveland, San Francisco, and Chicago, the teams with the top three picks in the draft, on the main couch.
Six hours before Garrett arrived at the golf club, in the Martin football offices overlooking the school’s new, 60-yard indoor practice complex, as Wager hosted recruiters in his office, assistant coaches discussed the national debate over whether Cleveland should select Garrett or North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The Tar Heel, from what they’d read, was accurate and good in the pocket, but suspect for having only 13 games of starting experience. Garrett, meanwhile, had broken Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC freshman sack record and had played through injuries the past two seasons in College Station. The coaches at Garrett’s alma mater quickly reached a consensus.
“Has to be Myles at no. 1, right?”
“Has to be.”
Still, reports indicated that the Browns’ front office had yet to achieve similar clarity, fracturing over whom to take. Garrett had been the presumptive top prospect in this draft class for much of the 2016 college football season, but the narrative began to shift March 2, when Cleveland.com reported that the Browns were seriously considering Trubisky, a Cleveland-area native and former Mr. Ohio Football, first. (He went second, to Chicago, after the Bears traded up a spot to select him.) Trainer Travelle Gaines, who had worked with 41 first-round NFL draft picks and four no. 1 overall players before he began training Garrett, initially dismissed the rumors as smoke screens.
“I’d compare his athletic ability,” Gaines says, “to guys like Terrell Owens, Demaryius Thomas, Reggie Bush, who I trained. Really freakish athletes. You don’t pass on that. His height, weight, speed, strength? I’ve never seen it before.”
Even as the Trubisky chatter mounted, the prevailing opinion among NFL experts remained that Garrett’s size, athleticism, and explosiveness — and his ability to turn into a human Tasmanian devil when he blends those attributes together — made him a special prospect. Indeed, Garrett’s combine measurables juxtaposed with those of All-Pro offensive players read like splashy cutlines from the superhero comics he loves so much: taller than Julio Jones, heavier than Rob Gronkowski, quicker than Devonta Freeman, and faster than Jarvis Landry. With a 41-inch vertical, he outdid Odell Beckham Jr.
The rare knocks against Garrett centered on his run defense and on taking plays off, which he admitted to at the combine. That latter criticism came to a head April 23, when former NFL All-Pro defensive lineman Warren Sapp told ESPN that when he watches Garrett, “I see a lazy kid that makes four plays a game. This is the no. 1 guy? No, no, no.”
When Myles was asked about those comments later on a Facebook Live chat with USA Today, the mic picked up Audrey saying off-camera, “Is he still relevant?” in regards to Sapp. The blog posts ensued.
“I did not know that I was heard,” she later tells The Ringer, “But is he relevant? That still stands for me.”
By late March, shortly after Garrett’s Pro Day and private workout with Cleveland, the Trubisky talk hadn’t dissipated, and Gaines had listened to enough. He called his friend Hue Jackson, now the head coach in Cleveland. Gaines had been wowed by Garrett’s quick response to his mobility drills: lunges, Romanian deadlifts, and one-legged squats. Before Garrett hit 100 pounds, the heaviest single-leg squat Gaines had ever seen was 80 pounds by Pro Bowler Donald Penn, the 315-pound Raiders offensive lineman.
“‘This is the kid, man,’” Gaines remembers saying to Jackson. “‘It should be easy to take him.’ I told Hue … I think it’s a no-brainer to take Myles Garrett.”
After spending one hour with Garrett earlier on draft day, Hall of Fame NFL defensive end Bruce Smith felt the same way. Audrey had surprised Myles by having Smith, his favorite pass rusher, over to the house for an hour to break down her son’s film. Smith recommended firing off the line of scrimmage quicker.
“He was like a sponge,” Smith says. “I really enjoyed spending time with him. He only talked when I asked him questions.” He pauses, chewing a bite of apple cobbler. Then he slowly says, “There’s going to be a great deal of expectation laid upon him.”
Choosing Garrett didn’t just settle the debate about the Browns’ intentions; it represented a philosophical shift for Cleveland. The Browns have picked four quarterbacks in the first round since 1999, when they selected Tim Couch, and only one, Brandon Weeden, has posted a positive career touchdown-to-interception ratio (31–30). Cook, Garrett’s agent, says Cleveland brass told him after signing another client of his, linebacker Jamie Collins, to a four-year, $50 million contract extension in January, that the franchise wanted to focus on defense. And no wonder: Three of the last four Lombardi Trophy winners have fielded the league’s best defense, by either points or yardage.
Garrett says that he isn’t daunted by becoming the face of the changing team. But players who made it through the league want to pass along wisdom, like Smith did. Just before Moss leaves, he pulls Garrett aside and quotes Uncle Ben from Spider-Man. “Remember,” Moss says, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
Garrett leaps into the air and hangs there for a moment, as if shot out of a confetti cannon. He had pantomimed shooting a basket when throwing away his plate after finally sitting down to eat the catered Heads or Tails crawfish and Off the Bone barbecue. They had been inaccessible to him until this moment, at 8:43 p.m., due to the waves of family, friends, and media that consumed his attention all evening. There, on the edge of the patio away from the the building, the crickets drown out the assembled guests. Tierra Verde is a municipal course tucked off highway U.S. 287, where suddenly you can’t see or hear city life. Garrett has mingled for nearly three hours. Everyone has advice and congratulations and picture requests, which he enjoys.
“This is what your wedding will look like,” one woman says to Garrett after he first arrives at Tierra Verde.
“We’ve never met, but we need a selfie,” says, presumably, someone’s plus-one.
“Myles, can you take that picture again?” says nearly everyone throughout the night.
Those interactions best illuminate why Garrett wanted to stay in Texas for the draft. A few people close to him who requested not to be named in this context were disappointed when he decided not to go to Philadelphia. He wouldn’t receive that smile-widening, life-changing phone call while sitting at the greenroom table he’d worked so hard to reach. He wouldn’t walk across the stage, shake the commissioner’s hand, and bask in the lights.
But Garrett didn’t want that if it meant forgoing family. “That’s what everybody’s here for,” Garrett says, “to sink in this last big moment. Hopefully there will be many more big moments, but this one we can still all be together. … Every person in this room had an impact on my life, and they care for me one way or another. It was a sign of appreciation.”
When Garrett was a freshman in high school, assistant coach Anthony Gonzales asked him which college he’d play football for if he had his pick. Garrett quickly said Florida: He’d never been to the state, let alone the school, but the Gators won a lot and looked fun on TV. The next year, Louisiana State and Ohio State came around, and Garrett liked them too. But in the end, the five-star recruit’s decision came down to Texas Christian (a half-hour drive from Arlington) and A&M (three hours).
Family anchored Garrett then, as it does now. In the run-up to the draft, he continued to live in his College Station apartment. He tried boxing at A&M recreational services, walked campus and Kyle Field with fellow former Aggie Von Miller, attended a 90-minute math carnival for elementary schoolers at Martin on a Friday night and played air hockey with two friends at an arcade the night before his Pro Day. Garrett discussed flying to Los Angeles to work out with Gaines, his trainer, but Gaines sensed that Garrett would be more comfortable in Texas, so the two met frequently at Gaines’s then-unopened training facility in Houston.
On the last night of Garrett’s life before beginning his NFL career — before the boy who once quit football because he hated hitting became a professional hitter — he wanted to be in the place and with the people he valued most. Tierra Verde installed live-broadcasting capability, brought in brown suede couches from Hargrove company, and customized the patio, bar, and restaurant not to replicate what Garrett would have seen in Philly, but to feel like a backyard.
“This is by far the most detailed event I’ve ever worked on,” says Regan Wickes, who’s worked Tierra Verde events for five years and once hosted golfer Jordan Spieth. “They want it to feel like a large living room.”
In a green and secluded reserve in the middle of the Dallas metroplex, Garrett built his own oasis. He reconstructed home.
Three hours and 17 minutes after the Cleveland Browns picked him, Garrett sinks into a wooden chair at one of the only tables that hasn’t yet been shifted back into its usual place. The caterers are gone, as is the mock television studio.
When The Ringer profiled Garrett in October, he compared himself to Wally West, the former Kid Flash who had to go from sidekick to superhero. Growing up in a family of athletes, Garrett always saw himself as the younger one overshadowed by their greatness. Thursday night, when the Browns made him the no. 1 pick in the 2017 NFL draft, Garrett, like Wally before him, shed the “kid” label. He officially became the Flash.
“I heard Superman today,” Garrett says about superhero comparisons. “But Superman always does what’s right. Wally’s made mistakes, he’s lived in the shadows of others. He’s had to deal with adjustments. When you get down to it, he’s the most powerful of them all because of it. So yeah, probably, I’ll always be Wally West.”