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Hawkeye RB recruit beats cancer

[ 3 ] January 27, 2012 |

Given the unusually high rate of attrition at running back on the Iowa football team, somebody with undeniable endurance could be just what’s needed at the position.

Especially if he comes wrapped in a 6-foot-2, 195-pound frame and is considered one of the top high school running backs in the country as is the case with future Hawkeye Greg Garmon.

The Erie, Pa., native is one of the most sought-after prospects in Iowa’s 2012 recruiting class as evidenced by his more than 40 scholarship offers. Garmon also plays a position that’s arguably the biggest focal point in the Iowa pro-style offense, but one that’s been decimated by personnel losses.

“He’s got everything going for him, and the way Iowa trains and develops people he’ll be an All-American barring injury,” veteran recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said of Garmon.

Garmon didn’t always have everything going for him, though.

Persevering through adversity

His life has been a painful and scary journey filled with adversity and uncertainty.

Garmon is among at least 17 high school seniors who are expected to sign national letters of intent with Iowa on Wednesday, which marks the start of the national signing period for football.

Garmon will sign his letter of intent Wednesday morning before competing for the U.S. Under-19 National Team in the International Bowl later that afternoon in Austin, Texas.

He’ll also sign it barely more than four years after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma of the bone.

Garmon endured three months of medical treatment, which included weekly chemotherapy and radiation before learning that he was cancer free after six months.

“It’s made me grow up faster, and it’s made me appreciate the little things a lot more,” Garmon said in a recent phone interview. “And it’s reminded me to always stick by your family.

“Your family is always going to stick by you and help you work through everything.”

His passion for football also helped Garmon persevere.

The chemotherapy and radiation severely weakened his body, but not his spirit or determination. Once he was cleared to start exercising again, Garmon attacked the weight room intent on rebuilding his body.

By his sophomore season, he already was flirting with stardom as a running back.

And by his senior year, Garmon had BCS schools from all over the country pursuing him. His bout with cancer was brought up by some coaches during the recruiting process, but Garmon said it never became an issue.

‘A love for football’

Garmon ultimately picked Iowa over Arkansas and Miami (Fla.), and he also took official visits to Illinois and North Carolina.

“It made me more anxious to play because I sat that (eighth-grade) year out and I’ve always had a love for football,” Garmon said. “So once I had the opportunity to play again, I just wanted to get on the field and catch up with the competition.”

Garmon didn’t just catch up with the competition. In most cases, he raced past it, considering he is ranked as the 15th best running back in the 2012 senior class by Scout.com.

And if overcoming cancer wasn’t enough to test Garmon’s perseverance, his family’s house also was destroyed in a fire the summer before he entered the sixth grade. The aftermath of the fire separated the family for a year, with Garmon going to live with a friend and his mother, brother and stepfather living in a hotel.

Lemming was so intrigued by Garmon’s story that more than a year ago, Lemming drove from his home near Chicago to Erie in a snowstorm to learn more about it.

“The kid was smiling the whole time I met him,” said Lemming, who has been a college football recruiting analyst since the late 1970s. “He was the most engaging kid that I had met.”

Lemming was impressed with Garmon as a person and as a player so much that he made Garmon his first pick to participate in the 2012 U.S. Marine Corps Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl. Lemming selects the rosters for both teams, and the game featured some of the top high school players in the country.

Garmon announced his decision to attend Iowa while participating in the all-star game Jan. 3 in Arizona.

“I asked him to be in that game, and he said yes a year ago and has never looked back,” Lemming said.

Lemming has gotten to know countless recruits through his job as a talent evaluator and with that comes a wide range of background stories.

But Garmon’s story is unlike any other. Asked if he had dealt with anything similar before, Lemming said: “Not cancer that early and all the problems that he’s had. It’s certainly one of the most unique stories I’ve heard.”

And now a new chapter is about to start with Garmon on the verge of becoming a Hawkeye.

Selecting Iowa

There were a number of factors that convinced him to pick Iowa, including the chance for immediate playing time and the belief that Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz would stay put. Ferentz has coached at Iowa for 13 seasons and has a contract that runs through the 2020 season.

“One thing I like is that coach Ferentz has that contract,” Garmon said. “So that was a big factor.

“In my mind, I knew I’d be playing for the same coach my whole four years and I wouldn’t have to worry about a new coaching staff or anything.”

It also helped that Iowa already had established a recruiting pipeline to Garmon’s hometown with former star players Bob Sanders, Ed Hinkel and Jovon Johnson — all Erie natives.

“It helped just to know that they went to Iowa and they were successful,” Garmon said. “So in my mind, I was thinking since they were successful at Iowa, why can’t I be?”

Garmon said his family was pleased with his decision to attend Iowa, partly because of the football program’s connection to Erie.

“They really loved Iowa when they came down with me on my visit,” Garmon said. “The whole (town) of Erie, Pennsylvania, loves Iowa, and I just knew that if I went there I was going to have a lot of support from the area.”

Garmon is happy to be through with the recruiting process because now people have stopped asking him the same question over and over.

“Everybody doesn’t come up to me anymore and ask me where I’m going,” Garmon said. “So I’m real happy to be a part of the Hawkeyes.”

Moving away from home will be an adjustment, even for somebody with Garmon’s unique background. But he’s ready to face new challenges and his family is ready to face it with him.

“I was always ready to try something new,” Garmon said. “My family will try to be at every one of my games so I’ll probably see them every weekend during the season. So moving away from home wasn’t a factor at all.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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