AUBURN, Ala. — Justin Garrett has used this spring to let off some steam.
Following Saturday’s practice in Jordan-Hare Stadium, the junior detailed his frustrations that stemmed from his injury-plagued 2013 season.
“It was hard coming to reality,” Garrett said. “When I injured it in practice, I couldn’t believe it because I had just gotten back out there feeling good. It’s been a long, hard road but I’m glad to be back on the football field.”
At the beginning of last fall, Garrett was the starter at the Star position. But he sprained his left foot prior to the season opener, missing the Tigers’ first two games. Upon his return, he was moved to weakside linebacker, playing in Auburn’s next two games — against Mississippi State and LSU, respectively — and tallying four tackles. Then the injury bug bit him again, as he suffered a fractured right foot.
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Though he tried to rehab the rest of the season, Garrett didn’t return to the field.
“I was trying to push myself hard, but I came to reality around Georgia week that I still couldn’t walk normally yet,” he said. “I just decided around that time that I should just take the medical redshirt.”
After the injury to his left foot, doctors discovered Garrett was flat-footed. It was a shocking revelation.
“I didn’t even know I was flat-footed,” he said. “I’d never looked at it. When I injured my foot the first time, they actually looked at it and said that I needed orthotics. I didn’t ever know that before.”
To correct the issue, he now wears special-made orthopedic cleats from Under Armour, which come with a wider base. Back to optimum health this spring, Garrett has been moved between two different spots. Not that he cares where he plays.
“It doesn’t matter where they put me — special teams, linebacker,” he said. “I just want to get back out on the field.”
Gus Malzahn likes what he's seen now that Garrett is back in the fold.
"It’s kind of the same thing we saw last spring," Auburn's coach said. "He’s got a nose for the football. He’ll really finish. He’s a physical-type guy and he’s done a very solid job this spring. I think the bottom line is we just got to keep him healthy.
The Tigers have also worked in Garrett in the dime package, which features both him and fellow Star Robenson Therezie on the field at the same time.
“We could cause a lot of problems for the offense,” he said.
It’s not just he and Therezie he has confidence in, though.
“We have a foundation for our defense, so everybody’s pretty much understanding,” Garrett said. “This is the first time since I’ve been here that we’ve had the same defensive coordinator stay. There’s been a lot of continuity.”
To get through the difficulties of last season, Garrett turned to his older brother, Jamoris Slaughter. Once a safety at Notre Dame, Slaughter tore his Achilles against Michigan State. While the Fighting Irish went on to play in the BCS championship game, Slaughter could only watch from the sideline.
Slaughter’s story has a happy ending, however, one that Garrett hopes to emulate.
“He went through the same thing being out for the whole football season during his last college (season) and he made it to the NFL,” he said. “That’s the motivation for me.”