AUSTIN, Texas -- The first thing noticeable about Garrett Wilson were the turf burns. They were all over his shoulders and back, so you couldn't not notice. Good God were they brutal, with large craters of pink flesh layered underneath fresh scabs. They hurt to even look at.
"Oh, yeah, those are the worst I've ever had," he mentioned with a passing glance of his body.
Garrett, a 17-year-old senior at Lake Travis High School, earned those battle scars during The Opening in Frisco, Texas, the annual showcase of the best high school talent across the country. He was running a post route and laid out for the pass with the defender landing squarely on top of him. The momentum carried the two across the turf with Wilson taking all of the impact. The friction tore the skin right off of him.
As painful as it was, all of it at least could have been romanticized if he scored or something -- except he didn't even catch the pass. He wasn't even close. "It's like it was all for nothing," he said.
Perhaps so, but the fact is he put his body through the ringer just for the chance at catching one pass during what is supposed to be a stress-free summer camp where the biggest takeaway is the Nike swag. If you ask anyone who knows him, from his parents to his coaches, they'll tell you that's classic Garrett -- always the competitor and never the diva. It's why he's earned five-star recognition from 247Sports' Composite rankings and is considered one of the top players in the state of Texas. It's also why he's breaking the mold of what a wide receiver is supposed to be like.
"You know, sometimes it's fun to just go physically dominate someone. I like that it's legal to go knock someone down," Garrett said. Keep in mind, too: this is coming from a 6-foot-1, 180-pound wideout and most definitely not a linebacker.
Imagine him in an actual football game with stakes.
"He has that competitive … I guess I'd call it 'urge,'" said his father, Kenny Wilson. "He takes responsibility for his team. When the chips are down, that's when he's at his best.
"I always knew where he would go, but I never said out loud exactly where," Kenny continued. "I knew he'd go somewhere where there's greatness, like Alabama or Ohio State."
Sure enough, father knows best. Garrett has indeed verbally committed to the Buckeyes and is on track to graduate high school this fall in order to enroll early in Columbus so he can be ready to compete for playing time in 2019.
Cris Carter. Joey Galloway. Santonio Holmes. Michael Thomas. Garrett Wilson. Ohio State fans, meet the freaky athlete ready, willing and able to become the Buckeyes' next great wideout.
This wasn't the path Garrett was supposed to take. Basketball is in his family's blood.
Kenny was a star on the hardwood at Davidson in the early 1980s, where he's still regarded as one of the program's all-time great scorers with 1,573 points -- fifth-most at the time. He even played against Michael Jordan a couple of times in NBA Summer League before a brief stint with the Denver Nuggets.
If you ever want to hear a never-ending debate that could be on sports talk radio, ask Kenny and Garrett about which player is the G.O.A.T.: Michael Jordan or LeBron James.
"Jordan was the greatest player at his size," Kenny says. "I know, I saw him in person. Garrett tells me not to be a prisoner of the past, so I tell him don't be a prisoner of the moment."
Garrett, who went to Cleveland to watch James play during Game 3 of the 2018 NBA Finals, fired back, "Lebron has always had the odds stacked against him. If you replace him on some of those Cleveland teams, they couldn't make those runs to the NBA Finals like they did."
Basketball is not just a topic of fodder with Garrett, though. Kenny called his youngest son, "one of the best basketball players he's ever seen." Growing up in Dublin, Ohio, just northwest of Columbus, Garrett played guard on a championship team for All-Ohio Red, an AAU program with deep ties to Ohio State that has produced players like Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft. "That's really where Ohio State was ingrained into him," Kenny said of his son.
Garrett was always a prized two-sport athlete in football and basketball. At 11 years old, he was part of yet another championship team as a quarterback for the Titans, a youth football team in Dublin. But when the Wilson family made a more permanent move to Austin in 2011 for Kenny's job, football started appealing to Garrett more and more.
Garrett's mother, Candace, did extensive research on the right school that would give their son the best balance of environment, athletics and academics. They landed in Lakeway and Lake Travis High School, which has developed a reputation as one of the premier football programs in the state.
By his sophomore year, Garrett was playing on the Cavaliers' varsity squad. Things really took off during an early season game against Cibolo Steele in 2016 in which he had seven catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns in a 59-56 overtime win for the Cavaliers.
"That's when I first realized I could really do this," Garrett said. "They couldn't guard me and they were all juniors and seniors.
"Then [football] blew up a little bit more. I was always excited to go out on the field whereas sometimes with basketball I wouldn't feel like it because I was tired."
He finished his sophomore season with 53 catches for 699 yards and 12 touchdowns. By his junior year in 2017: 96 catches, 1,764 yards and a whopping 26 touchdowns.
Suddenly, the long-time basketball star was breaking out in football at one of the top high school programs in the state. And college coaches around the country were taking notice.
That's the story of how Garrett Wilson became great. Here's the why.
It starts with Kenny and Candace. They're the parents of five children: four boys and one girl, and all of whom are great athletes. Still, Kenny couldn't help but notice early on "there was something a little extra" about Garrett's athleticism. As such, his recruitment on a national scale has been unlike anything the Wilson family has seen. But after watching his older brothers go through it, there's so much Garrett has seen that he was prepared for.
"We have a lot of conversations as a family about what Garrett is going through, but he's also seen a lot having grown up in a family of athletes. His brothers have gone through it. As things come up, we talk about it, make sure he's staying focused," Candace said.
"He definitely has a good head on his shoulders, but even though he is mature, people have to realize he's still 17," she continued. "He just needs to be careful with his surroundings and it's magnified now because of who he is. Sometimes people take advantage of kids. So it's just making sure you're surrounded by the right people."
Garrett has found that in former Texas wide receiver Mike Davis. The two first connected, interestingly enough, through Instagram. But social media is the new networking tool and now Davis is serving Garrett in a role he never thought he would: mentor. For Davis, it's a chance to pay it forward after his pro career was cut short by injuries. It's about giving to someone else what he never had growing up at Dallas' Skyline High School.
"He's very coachable. A lot of guys think they know it all already," Davis said of Garrett. "And a lot of guys are big, strong -- maybe even fast -- but they can't run routes. They can't track the ball. That's what you have to do to be the best."
A lot of receivers Garrett's age -- and even some through college -- aren't elite route runners, oftentimes because they don't have to be. Garrett wants to be, which is a key distinction. His body control and change-of-direction is already terrifyingly reminiscent of Pittsburgh Steelers stud Antonio Brown. But if Garrett actually wants to be like Brown at the highest level, route running and separation are going to be his two most important areas of improvement. That, above all else, is why Brown is the best at what he does.
"There's nothing like having a guy who is a sponge, who is engaged, who is always asking questions," Davis said. "For a high school coach -- or anyone, even his mom and dad -- to have a kid who is engaged in everything that you're doing, is huge. Right now, I don't have to tell him when he messed up. He knows and he wants to do it again."
Davis directs Garrett not just about his technique, but how to take care of his body, too. It is, after all, his most important asset. It used to be that when Garrett was young, Candace would have to make sure he wasn't eating his favorite food -- burgers and fries -- the night before a game. Now, it's Davis in Garrett's ear telling him to eat his vegetables and stay hydrated.
"You can say things to your kids 10 times and then when someone else says it suddenly it gains credibility," Candace said. "So they are listening, but when it comes from someone else, especially someone else who's been there and is closer in age, they listen."
As a result, whether by genetic makeup or environment -- it's probably a combination -- Garrett has a determination and overall level of focus to do the little things right that you don't normally see in a high school senior. He's not wakeboarding at his favorite hangout, Lake Travis, because he doesn't want to do anything that will hurt his hands. "Those are my money maker," he said.
In five months time, Garrett will be done with high school and heading to Columbus.
He's still firmly committed to Ohio State in light of recent events that resulted in the termination of wide receivers coach Zach Smith and head coachof the 2018 season. "I'm still good as long as coach [offensive coordinator and acting head coach] Ryan Day is there," he said without hesitation. His family reaffirmed as much, too.
That's probably because Ohio State is more than a single coach to Garrett. It's about the relationships he's built with the community over the years. It's home to him.
The Wilson family bounced back and forth between Chicago and Dublin several times for Kenny's job, but the longest stretch the family spent in Ohio was from 2005-11. Growing up around the program, the family followed the Buckeyes intently throughout Garrett's youth as they won the 2003 BCS National Championship and played for two more in 2007 and 2008.
He still has family and friends in Ohio, too. Candace's brother, Charles, and his family are still in the area, as are two of Garrett's friends from his Dublin youth football team, Connor and Hayden. Every year, Garrett takes a trip back up to Ohio to reconnect. "They'll be lifelong friends, I think," Candace said.
For now, however, Garrett is trying to relish every moment he has left at Lake Travis. Graduating early means he'll miss out on things like prom and one final spring break with the friends he's made in Texas. He'll miss a few more months of just being a high school kid.
But going to Ohio State is what Garrett has wanted for years. It's why he's worked so hard and he can't wait to get there soon enough.
"I just want him to know that whatever he decides, it has to be his decision," Kenny said. "And Garrett has made good decisions."