Young Thoroughbred

By: Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson
A tattoo etched in a gothic cursive writing on Michael Ray Garvin’s back reads: “Thoroughbred.”
The phrase written on his back, which starts at one shoulder blade and ends at the other shoulder blade, is not just something that is a fashion statement. It is something that represents this recent graduate of Florida State’s journey to the 2009 NFL Draft on April 29th.

According to Webster’s, a thoroughbred is defined as the best blood through a long line of pure-blooded stock of horses. They have characteristics of courage or an elegant form.

The year is 1991; Michael Ray Garvin is outside of his church in Brooklyn, NY. Neighborhood kids are competing in small race competitions. It is there that young Michael Ray becomes interested in running. He was invited to participate but didn’t really understand what was going on. From the way Michael Ray recalls the story, someone shot a starters pistol and everyone started running.

All except Michael Ray, that is.

“The race started and I just stood there,” said Garvin adamantly. “So I had to play catch up. I was about five years old then,” he exclaimed. “I ended up winning the whole thing,” Garvin added.

Athletics and competition are things that Michael Ray Garvin enjoys the most. He gets the competitive drive from his father, who he notes as his biggest motivator. “He put a football in my hand,” he said.
Michael Ray discovered a lot about himself at an early age while observing his father, who was a football player, in football practice.

“My dad was playing semi pro football for a New York team at the time and there was a track on the side of the field where he practiced and I just started running,” he said.

“I remember running my first mile at four years old,” he added. Garvin and his family moved to New Jersey when he was about seven. As soon as he moved, Michael Ray was playing pee wee football for the Teaneck Highway Men in addition to running track by the age of nine.

“Playing sports has always been fun for me. It made me want to work my hardest,” said Garvin.
That hard work at an early age, in addition to the 6 AM workout sessions implemented by his dad, prepared him for the rigors of summers spent at the All Bergen County Football Camp. There he caught the eye of Greg Toal and Dean Presto. Both would later become Michael Ray’s football coaches at his high school, Don Bosco Prep.

“I have been coaching Mikey Ray since he was in 3rd or 4th grade and he was always the fastest and hardest working kid,” said Presto.

Let’s fast forward to August 2001. Michael Ray Garvin is a high school freshman at the prestigious Don Bosco Prep, an all male catholic high school in Ramsey, NJ. “I didn’t want to go because it was an all-boys school,” said Garvin.

It was at Don Bosco Prep where Garvin’s potential began to soar. “He had been on a different level, since his freshman year,” said Presto.

Mike Quick, the host of MSG Network’s “High School Weekly,” which profiles high school sports in the tri-state area, agrees. “He’s definitely explosive, he has unparalleled speed,” Quick said.
“When he was at Bosco, he was better than the competition and he knew it,” Quick added.

Because of Garvin’s individual success at multiple positions, he was getting letters from major universities. There were more than twenty schools pursuing him.

“I got letters from Florida State, Rutgers, Georgia, Colorado, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas State, Wisconsin, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Penn State, Florida, and USC,” said Garvin.

This made him work even harder. “Mikey had noticed the beginning of dominance at Don Bosco with (current Green Bay Packers starting tailback) Ryan Grant, Steve Levy, Mike Teel, Marquise Liverpool and Brian Toal. Then the torch was passed to him. He out-worked everyone and was a 24/7 football guy, that handled his grades first,” said Presto.
After winning New Jersey state championships and All-American accolades as a two sport athlete at Don Bosco Prep in 2005, Michael Ray Garvin made the decision to enroll as a student-athlete at Florida State University.

“It’s a fast school. I transitioned to a prestigious school like Florida State where there were top notch athletes. I played with a lot of first round draft picks and lot of guys who were going to make it to the NFL. It was tough getting acclimated to the system. It took hard work,” said Garvin.

Hard work is exactly what Garvin did. Garvin earned his first career touchdown off a 94-yard kickoff return against the University of Colorado—a school that recruited him. That 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown is tied for the 10th longest in Florida State history.

“I think when you are an athlete; you have to learn to deal with adversity and prosperity. Mike has probably learned both being an all American in football and track,” said Don Bosco Prep Athletic Director Nunzio Campanile. “Things may not have gone his way for him. That may actually help him in the long run because when you get in an NFL camp, you are going to be competing day in and day out every day,” he added.

Garvin’s results have been uncanny. He had an impressive Pro Day for the NFL Draft on March 18th, turning in times of 4.24 and 4.28 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Both times were the fastest of the any recorded at the NFL combine this year.

Steve Levy, a former University of California Berkeley and Don Bosco quarterback had nothing but optimism regarding his former teammate. “Mikey has the kind of talent that little kids pray for at night,” he said. “He was always trying to be the best and out work everyone around him, it’s starting to pay off,” Levy added.

“His ability to be a game changer at Florida State will help him transition into a constant special team stand out at the next level,” Levy said.

Levy, now a college football analyst for ABC-KGO San Francisco, believes that Garvin will likely be drafted anywhere from the third to fifth round.  “He’s a work horse and it does not surprise me at all that he recorded the fastest time at the combine,” he added.

One thing’s for certain, on April 29th, a thoroughbred is leaving the stable.

Better hope he forgets his blinders!