If you stroll across the Morgan State University campus on a day class is in session, you might run into an impressive, polite and respectful young man who goes out of his way to say hello and asks you how your day is going.
But if you come back on a Saturday and step inside Hughes Stadium, you might be surprised to see that same young man flying all over the football field, looking to hit anything that moves and jumping around to incite the crowd and energize his teammates.
Morgan State junior all-conference strong safety Carl Garnes is unquestionably the heart and soul of the Bears' nationally ranked defense.
"He's always out there flying around," Morgan State head coach Fred Farrier said. "He's a very physical player and an active player who is all over the field and is good playing the run or the pass. Carl is a vocal leader who gets after the guys and definitely gets them to rally around him and play hard. He's just a really good football player who brings a lot of leadership to the field and makes a lot of plays for us."
Garnes is especially fired up for the Bears' Sept. 16 trip to Rutgers. Garnes, 20, grew up in New Jersey dreaming of playing for the Scarlet Knights and will have 50 friends and family there supporting him.
"I heard from Rutgers a lot during my sophomore and junior years; I was definitely on their radar," said Garnes, one of five Morgan State players who will be returning to his home state Sept. 16. "But they never pulled the trigger on me. I definitely carried a little bit of a chip on my shoulder about that. This game is very important to me. I dreamed of playing on that field since I was 15, so it did sting a little."
As big as the game is for Garnes, Farrier said the team can't ask too much of him. He needs the support of his defensive teammates as well as an offense that has yet to score a point in two losses.
"It's always a little bit tricky when players go home to play," Farrier said. "We just want to stress with him to keep doing what he's been doing, to take care of his job and not try to do everybody else's job, because that can be a recipe for disaster."
The Morgan State defense ranks among the Football Championship Subdivision's top 10 nationally in pass efficiency defense and overall defense. But Farrier knows his defense can't win games without support from the offense and special teams.
"Our defense has played well and been very strong for our first few games, and I'm very encouraged by that," Farrier said. "We really need them to keep playing at the level they've been playing at so far. But it doesn't matter who we are playing -- a Big Ten team that is big, fast and physical or any other opponent -- we need to be able to do things well in all three phases of the game if we are going to be successful."
Garnes also contributes to another phase of the game, serving as a punt returner. A talented all-around athlete who ran track and played wide receiver at Camden Catholic High School, there have been whispers about him possibly lining up on offense.
"Carl is just an outstanding football player," said Ernest Jones, the Bears' associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator. "He can do anything on the football field. I bet he could play QB if we told him to. It's not just on defense. He is responsible for generating offense as well, whether it's returning punts or after he makes an interception. He's electric. When he's on the field you are just watching, expecting him to make plays, and he's the kind of player who wants to make plays -- and does make plays -- when it really matters."
Garnes said he often jokes with the coaches about helping the offense.
"I tell them all I need is four plays a game to make something happen," Garnes said, laughing.
A third-team All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference selection a year ago after recording 35 tackles and a pair of interceptions, Garnes was a second- and third-team all-conference pick this preseason by various groups. But he insists his focus is on the team.
"I definitely want to be first team, but mainly I want to win the MEAC and go to the Celebration Bowl," Garnes said. "If we really attack the conference, I think we can do it. I've never had the chance to play in a big game like that before, but I feel like this team is special. We've got the players and the coaches to get to the Celebration Bowl, and that's what I'll be trying to help us do."
Garnes also harbors dreams of an NFL career. But if that doesn't work out, his plans include teaching history and coaching high school football.
"I want to be remembered first as a great student and a great person," he said. "When I'm walking around campus, I always try to be friendly to everyone -- other students, the lunch ladies, teachers. I'd like to be known as someone who left it all out on the field, gave his all on every play and played on a great team that hopefully won a championship. I'd like to be thought of as a great player, a great teammate and a role model on campus."
Photo Credit: Lawrence Johnson/Morgan State Athletics