All-American FB Jacob Garrett: “Really proud of what I’ve been able to do here”

February 3, 2023

Fifth-year senior Jacob Garrett cemented his name into Saluki football history forever with two touchdown catches in a 31-24 victory over Northwestern on Sept. 17. The fullback had entered the season with just 10 career receptions in 37 games played for Southern Illinois.

Having set career rushing records at Silver Creek High School in Sellersburg, Indiana, as well as contributing to the passing game, Garrett knew he had what it took to play a more visible role in the 2022 Saluki offense. What he may not have realized is how successful that transition would be.

Garrett tallied six receiving touchdowns in 2022 and added one more on the ground. The statistical production combined with his typical work as a blocking fullback earned him a second-team All-American nod by Phil Steele/Draft Scout, making him the first Saluki to do so at his position.

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“To see that come to fruition with the All-American award… is pretty cool to see after the work I’ve put in,” Garrett said.

Since 2018, Garrett served as the lead blocker for Southern’s offense, which reached great heights during his stay. In 2019, the team featured two 1,000-yard rushers in Javon Williams Jr. and D.J. Davis, and ranked 12th in the nation in rushing yards.

The next year, the Salukis led the Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC) in total offense, first downs and third down percentage. It was during that season when SIU football marked two milestones in what would be a program resurgence.

After his 2021 was cut short by injury, Garrett returned for his final season in 2022. His performance against Northwestern served as a breakout game of sorts, which he followed up with another two touchdown catches against North Dakota in the Valley opener. Those two games sparked a five-game winning streak for SIU.

“It was super cool to see my hard work kinda come to the front and being able to provide for the team like that in a meaningful game,” Garrett said. “A big FBS win, and then a big conference-opening win.”

The All-American honor came as a surprise for Garrett, who had assumed all of the 2022 awards had come out already. He heard the news from defensive end Richie Hagarty, who just happened to be walking by.

“I saw Richie Hagarty in the hallways of the facility this past week, and he kinda let me know. He said his dad saw it,” Garrett said. “If it wasn’t for him, I probably still wouldn’t know.”

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On top of his feats on the field, Garrett accomplished just as much in the classroom. He was named to the Academic All-America second-team by College Sports Communicators in December, a year after earning the MVFC President’s Council Academic Excellence Award.

“I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to do here at SIU,” Garrett said. “Especially with those academic awards, I take a lot of pride in that. Getting those grades right, and holding myself to a high standard.”

Garrett’s first season as a stat-getter on the Saluki offense will also be his last, having wrapped up his normal four years of eligibility plus a “COVID year” offered by the NCAA. Still just two months removed from the end of his SIU career, it still doesn’t feel quite over.

“I talk about this with my parents and some of the other guys I finished with,” he said. “It really hasn’t hit me yet.”

Part of that may be due to him preparing for a life in professional football, whether it be with the NFL, or an alternative league such as the USFL, XFL, or CFL. That dream became the motivation for him to develop as a pass-catcher in 2022.

“That was definitely a goal for me this year. I needed to do that to have an opportunity to pursue the next level,” he said.

In high school, Garrett scored 33 career touchdowns, including 25 on the ground and six as a receiver. With his previous accomplishments in mind, he believed that he could contribute effectively at the FCS level as well.

“I knew I had that ability in me, but I never really got to showcase it at the college level until this year,” Garrett said. “Really just focused on it in the offseason, working with [head coach] Nick [Hill], working with the coaches on what I can do to help the team in those situations.”

In preparation for professional football, he is currently training with Saluki head strength coach Meade Smith, as well as Javon WIlliams Jr. and Beau Branyan, who both recently declared for the 2023 NFL Draft.

Williams noted one of his favorite memories as a Saluki coming in a 2019 game against Youngstown State, during which he threw Garrett’s first career touchdown reception.

“Just to throw that to him and be a part of that experience, that moment of him getting his first career touchdown in college. It was just so surreal, so amazing to be a part of,” Williams said.

On a team with talented receivers like twins Avante and D’Ante’ Cox, and running backs like Williams and Davis, it was a feat by itself for Garrett to work himself into the lineup and get touches that would normally go towards the big targets.

“To be able to contribute on the level with those guys was really something special for me,” Garrett said. “They always support me, and know I always support them… It was cool to see them hyping me up whenever I’m getting those touches, rather than blocking for them.”

A defining trait of Southern’s program is the culture, which fosters a selfless, team-centric approach.

“Just the amount of weapons, and the unselfishness of the whole group, offensively and defensively, I think really attributed to our success over the past few years,” Garrett said.

On February 27, 2021, the Salukis defeated North Dakota State, the No. 1 team in the country which had a 39-game winning streak entering the day. Later that season, SIU would make the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2009, defeating Weber State in the first round.

“That whole spring season itself, just with all of the difficulties and challenges that COVID presented, and then basically playing two seasons in a sense… it was a crazy time period,” Garrett said. “So to have the success that we had throughout those two years is something super exciting to be a part of.”

Garrett credits the class before him, led by standouts like ZeVeyon Furcron, Qua Brown, Bryce Notree, Landon Lenoir and Anthony Knighton, with helping build the program back into a playoff team as it had been in the mid-2000’s.

“You could almost see, just as an outsider, the way that we were able to gel as a team,” he said. “That senior class before me… I credit them a lot with getting us to the point that we were able to achieve in this run of getting us back on the map.”

In college sports, student-athletes spend so much time around teammates that they often form inseparable bonds. Compounding that with the success that the team experienced during Garrett’s tenure, it becomes something truly special.

“I’ve definitely built friendships for life. There’s no doubt about it,” Garrett said. “Just a bunch of guys doing a bunch of great things that I’ve met through this game and through this university. It’s unreal how much of the world this game has let me see, and friendships I’ve been able to create just from this place.”

 

Staff reporter Brandyn Wilcoxen can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @BrandynWilcoxen. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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