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Casa Grande graduate finding ways to compete

Makana Garrigan was a highly recruited defensive back while playing for Casa Grande.

PRESS DEMOCRAT FILE PHOTO
Published: Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 11:35 a.m.

From time to time The Press Democrat plays catch-up. Where are the athletes we once championed in high school? Where did they end up? Did it turn out as they planned?

Makana Garrigan had a plan. He graduated from Casa Grande in 2011 and was co-SCL Player of the Year with Casa quarterback Nick Sherry. Sherry was going to UNLV. Garrigan, a defensive back, was headed to the University of Nevada in Reno.

“I told Nick that when I intercept him,” Garrigan told The Press Democrat in February 2011, “there are no hard feelings. He told me there would be no hard feelings after he throws a touchdown over me.”

Garrigan caught 53 passes for 776 yards and 11 touchdowns — all from Sherry — in their senior seasons. But the next Sherry pass Garrigan would catch, Garrigan could score another touchdown — by intercepting it and running it into the end zone. Nice, romantic symmetry.

But even then as he said that in February, Garrigan’s right shoulder felt a little tingly. No worries, he thought. It was just a stinger, the docs said, a rather benign tagline for when a nerve is stretched, impacted, sending numbness down arms to fingtertips. Happens all the time in football. Usually the nerves regenerate. It’s a common injury, not a red-flag, oh-my-God injury. It’s not like a concussion or a torn ACL.

In the fall of 2011, Casa played Montgomery and on defense Garrigan went to tackle a Vikings runner. Garrigan started his dive aiming for the player’s waist. At the last second the player dipped his head. Garrigan’s right shoulder hit the player’s helmet.

“My arm went numb,” Garrigan said.

He shrugged. This is football. This is not floating in a swimming pool on a rubber ducky.

“A broken bone is not that big of a deal in football,” Garrigan said. “It (injury) happens all the time. About every 10 plays you see someone on the ground.”

Garrigan played a couple of more games for Casa, his shoulder wrapped. Time and rest take care of stingers. Usually. It would be more than nine months before summer camp in Reno, his next serious football contact. Nine months is plenty of time to heal. He never doubted he would.

“I grew up to watching Ray Lewis and Sean Taylor,” Garrigan said. “I learned about Ronnie Lott from my dad.”

Football ran deep in him. The kind of deep that nothing else penetrates. Sure, his family and his friends were right there next to him in spirit, but outside of that Garrigan was driven to the sport. So Kimo Garrigan drove his son to the University of Nevada in the summer of 2011, telling his boy he’d see him after the fall semester.

“Three days later, I get a call from a Reno coach,” Kimo Garrigan said. “He said, ‘Pick up your son. His shoulder is damaged. He failed the physical.’”

The depression and the bewilderment were nearly overwhelming. When he left Casa, Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada recruited him heavily. Garrigan was an athlete. He was a quick study. He was coachable. He was intelligent. He was driven. He had plans. Now it was time to retire as a player? At 18?

“I couldn’t deal with all the free time,” said Garrigan, who returned to Nevada in the fall of 2011 for his first freshman semester.

Garrigan came home over Christmas break. The day before he was to return to Reno after break, Kimo found the door to Makana’s bedroom closed. His son didn’t want to return to Reno. He wanted to go to SRJC. It was too painful to watch, he told his dad. He had been playing the game since he was 6. He wasn’t ready to watch the school who recruited him play football without him.

Go back, Kimo said. Get your education. You love the game? OK, find a way to stay in it. Reluctantly, Garrigan returned. He went to Nevada’s then-head coach, Chris Ault, and said he wanted to be involved with the team, even if he couldn’t play.

Fine, Ault told Garrigan. So Ault did what coaches always do to someone who says he wants to remain connected. He tested Garrigan’s sincerity. Garrigan cleaned waistbands. He punched holes in papers. He was at the bottom of the food chain. He was picking up the scraps. He didn’t whine.

“I wanted to make myself indispensable,” said Garrigan, who is working on his bachelor’s in community health science, to be followed by a master’s in educational leadership. “I could have either soaked myself with all the pity or do something I enjoyed.”

So what’s happened in the past 20 months? This season, Garrigan stands on the sideline during every Wolfpack game next to defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton. Hazelton decides on a defense. Garrigan signals it to players on the field.

He is a student assistant. He is being considered for a scholarship. Nevada’s current head coach, Brian Polian, told the school’s student newspaper that one day Garrigan will be a coach at an NCAA Division I university. He has found his niche, which is all the more wondrous to him because it wasn’t that long ago that he didn’t have a niche.

“I didn’t have a backup plan,” Garrigan said. He knew the odds were out there — 98 out of every 100 high school athletes never go on to play a college sport at ANY level, according to a 2006 study funded by Georgia researchers. But he never looked at the odds, nor thought they applied to him.

At different times this year Garrigan has tweeted, “Normal is boring ... You know I’d kill to strap it up (again) ... what I would do just to practice for a day ... ”

And then at other times Garrigan has tweeted, “Hearing people complain about the little things is hands down one of my biggest pet peeves ... If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door ... If you are trying to fly, you better let go the things that are holding you down.”

Garrigan, 20, is working through it, moments of acceptance and promise turn into hours, which will turn into days, which will turn into a lifetime.

“When he looks back on his life,” Kimo said, “this will be like a speed bump.”

If Garrigan was a player, he’d be more than halfway through his college career. Instead, he is just beginning a career that will take him to gray hair and grandkids.

“The NFL was always in the back of my mind,” Garrigan said. “But now, well, this sure as hell ain’t a bad Plan B.”

Audibles, Makana Garrigan has found out, don’t always occur at the line of scrimmage.

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