THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – The fire that burned inside "a small school kid who basically destroyed that league" needed only a silent moment in front of a mirror to be lit.
Outside linebacker Chris Garrett wasn't the type of player who used rah-rah methods such as music to pump himself up, according to his younger brother Darios Crawley-Reid, a running back who played alongside Chris at Division II Concordia St. Paul for one season.
All Garrett had to do was quietly look into his reflection and remind himself of the difficult moments he endured and those who motivate him.
"I was standing in the mirror with him one time, next to him, kind of doing the same thing, just focusing up, and the glare over his eyes that changed in that instant, from just, 'Alright, coaches got done talking,' to 'We're about to go on the field,' when it changed, it was the craziest thing I've ever seen," Crawley-Reid said. From thinking about, 'Oh, we got to go play football,' to, 'Hey, I'm about to go play football. I'm about to go for a five-sack game.'"
For Chris, his journey to the Rams has been molded by never being satisfied, wanting to learn from his past so he can create a better present and future.
The earliest stages of those hardships began when Garrett was a child.
His parents got divorced when he was six years old, and from there, "things got really chaotic" for him and his five siblings, Garrett said. Living in shelters, even cars for a bit. In and out of their grandparents' places, from living with their grandmother on their dad's side to living with their grandmother on their mom's side. Going between their mom's place and their dad's.
"So it was pretty crazy," Garrett told theRams.com in May. "Even living with teachers at times."
Difficult as those times were, Chris and his siblings were not completely alone.
Their maternal grandmother, Ambretta Reid, and maternal grandfather, Kenneth George Reid Jr., continued to be involved in their lives as they had been since birth. During the divorce proceedings, Ambretta said she studied and learned how to write her own paralegal briefs, then successfully won grandparent visitation rights for her and her husband.
The couple – who were also counselors to at-risk children and worked with the Milwaukee Rescue Mission – supported their grandchildren in various ways like picking them up from school, cooking large meals, bringing them to church, and working to ensure they channeled the aggression felt from their upbringing into a productive outlet so that it wouldn't become destructive when they became adults and later parents.
At the same time, Ambretta said she and her husband were careful about not pushing their grandchildren into activities they didn't want to do because of their upbringing.
"We didn't want to break through that barrier that way," she said. "Because they were hurting, and all of them are different."
When it came to Garrett, though, they eventually had no choice.
Garrett developed a close bond with Ambretta, so much so that he was at first reluctant to play football because he preferred spending time with her.
One particular day, Kenneth told Ambretta it was time for Garrett to get off the couch, so Ambretta had Garrett help her take and unload recovery food and water to the park where his brothers' football team – which Kenneth was a coach for – was practicing.
Ambretta had a broom stick she would tap after her grandchildren, which meant grandma was being serious and if they did not come to her, they would be in trouble. She hid it in the car so Garrett couldn't see it on the way to the park, and when he came back for the last recovery item – a case of water – there stood Ambretta with the stick.
"What did I do? What did I do?" Garrett said.
"It's time for you to get on that field and play football, buddy," Ambretta said.
"Grandma, I don't want to do that," Garrett said. "That's not my sport."
"It don't have to be, but it's going to become yours," Ambretta said.
Ambretta then asked Garrett to put the case of water down and come to her. Garrett didn't obey, so she kept tapping the stick on the grass.
Garrett turned around, put down the case and took off running so fast that he caught the coach's attention.
"When they saw Chris running, they were like, 'Who is that?'' Ambretta said. "And my husband was like, 'That's the grandkid that we've been trying to come get on the football team.'"
So began Garrett's football career.
"He never stopped running since he was 10 years old," Ambretta said.
Garrett lived with his mother for most of his life, but eventually moved in with Ambretta around age 13 after the environment became unsuitable. Ambretta brought Garrett in even though she was dealing with health problems.
Kenneth was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer in 2009, passing away on January 12, 2010. After his death, Ambretta said she underwent surgeries to improve her quality of life and step up and be there for her grandchildren so that they would not become troubled teenagers.
"She was really my rock throughout all of it," Garrett said. "Always bringing Christ into everything. And that's really been how I've made it to this point."
It was an important foundation to have, because Kenneth's death turned Garrett into a father figure for his siblings at a young age.
"We didn't really have a father-figure in our life that was there for us like our grandfather was, so Chris had to take over that role throughout high school and into college," said Crawley-Reid, who also noted he talked to Garrett when he needed anything. "I couldn't ask for a better brother, than what Chris is to me."
Along with those responsibilities, Garrett also had to juggle being a student-athlete and later the recruiting process.
Garrett was a late-bloomer. Neal Crawley, whose family took in Crawley-Reid when Crawley-Reid was 14 years old and Garrett 16, said the 6-foot-4 Garrett was "probably more tall-and-skinny than tall-and-muscular" at the time.
Naturally, Crawley spent more time with Crawley-Reid than Garrett. Although Garrett would tell Crawley each time their paths crossed that he was fine and expressed confidence he could take care of his grandmother, Crawley said he understood but was there if Garrett needed anything.
Sure enough, Garrett would need Crawley. Neal remembers the University of Wisconsin calling Chris "right away" to schedule a Junior Day visit, and to Crawley's surprise, Garrett asked if he would go with him, along with Darios and Ambretta, to Madison.
When they got there and sat down with the coaches, Neal said the coaches raved about Chris' film, even projecting Garrett as a starter in 2-3 years.
There was just one catch: Wisconsin's academic standards. Garrett's grades weren't "terrible," according to Crawley, but he had a long way to go. They worked with his school counselors to close the gap, but Garrett's grades still weren't good enough, and Wisconsin fell off.
"We weren't quite sure what was going to happen," Crawley said.
Garrett said his expectation going into the recruiting process was to get a Division I scholarship offer. He felt like his numbers were good enough – his 100 tackles and nine sacks as a senior led to Little Ten Conference Defensive Player of the Year recognition – but Western Illinois and Northern Illinois saw him as a walk-on, a route he couldn't afford to take because of his family's financial situation. Utah talked to him, but did not offer him a walk-on opportunity.
A three-letter winner, team captain, All-State honorable mention performer, All-Region selection and two-time All-Little Ten Conference pick will get discovered eventually, though.
Two weeks after Wisconsin fell through, Chris received a call from Concordia St. Paul (CSP) tight ends coach Reed Johnson, asking if he could come up to campus.
Back in the car Crawley and Chris went, visiting campus then talking and praying about it. CSP head coach Shannon Currier's genuineness and sincerity won them over, so it didn't take long for Chris to tell Crawley he thought CSP was the place for him.
"And I said, 'Well, you can tell him right now,'" Crawley said. "Because I'm also convinced that it's not just the school that makes all the decision, but it seems like the coaches are really great here and they have your best interests in mind. So he said yes to them."
Currier said that as a Christian school, he felt that may have made a connection with Chris, a man of faith. It also helped that CSP also gave him a full scholarship – a rarity at the Division II level.
"As a head coach, I went in there and I said, 'I'm going to pay for everything,' which, in Division II, we don't do much, because at the most in our league, there's 36 scholarships," Currier told theRams.com in a phone interview last month. "We're operating with about 20, so you just don't commit that much money to one player. But I just saw the abilities that he had and the explosiveness and his length. So I guess we were right in this case."
The path was officially set for what would become one of the most decorated football careers in Division II and program history. However, similar to his high school career, reaching the next level required another leap of faith from Chris.