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Tigers’ linebacker and former Kearney Bulldog Cale Garrett closes on Wyoming quarterback Tyler Van Waal during a game last season at Memorial Stadium in Columbia. Garrett will end his college playing career after this season.

KEARNEY — Cale Garrett remembers when it all started. His first preseason camp as a member of the University of Missouri Tigers was four years ago, months after he helped the Kearney Bulldogs claim a state championship in 2015.

The win ended Webb City’s dominating run through Class 4 that included 42 straight wins and five consecutive state titles.

Nearly a year later, Garrett found himself in Columbia, donning Tigers’ apparel after a late scholarship offer from the in-state school forced Garrett to take back his verbal commitment to the Naval Academy.

“We have a pretty talented group, I think, and we have some new additions. I feel there’s been a core group that’s been here for quite a few years that are ready to reap the benefits of our hard work together,” said Garrett as he prepares to enter his final season in a Tigers uniform.

Part of that group is junior offensive lineman and former Webb City Cardinal Trystan Colon-Castillo. The two go back and forth about the dramatic 2015 state final that ended 17-14 in Kearney’s favor inside the then-named Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

“Trystan and I were competitors and were almost like state rivals,” Garrett said. “He’s one of my best friends now and we get along great. We’d joke about it, but at the end of the day, he went to a really good high school and I was fortunate to go to a really good one as well. They both did a good job preparing us for this level and it’s showing.”

After the 2018 season, he was voted as a first team, all-SEC selection by Pro Football Focus and second team by the league’s coaches. He led the Tigers with 112 tackles, 6 1/2 tackles for loss, one sack and six quarterback pressures.

In his first year as a starter in 2017, he tallied 105 tackles, 10 for a loss, and two interceptions.

But those numbers aren’t important to Garrett. He’d prefer team success for the Tigers, who were picked to finish third in the SEC East by media outlets.

“You can be a good player on a bad team, but at the end of the day, that’s not as important as being the best you can be on a really good team and being part of something special,” he said.

Garrett returned to Kearney this offseason, assisting with a youth camp and providing words of encouragement.

“I just feel like for a program that’s been so good to me for so long, it’s nothing for me to want to come back and help out in any way I can,” he said.

“He’s a great individual to have promoting your program and for him to say he’s from Kearney,” said Kearney coach Josh Gray, who was Garrett’s defensive coordinator during their time in the program together.

“It’s great to see him as successful as he is. It’s not surprising. Everything he did in high school was all preparation. It was doing the little things right.”

And that’s what Garrett hopes to focus on in his final season with the Tigers.

“I’m one of the old guys now. I remember when I first got here,” he said. “It’s weird and seeing the football field, the stadium and the new south end zone facility, which is amazing. It’s just crazy that it’s starting to wrap up. This is the final chapter of my Mizzou story. But the good thing is that I’m the author and all of us here are in control of what we do.

“I’m looking forward to these next few months that I have left. I just need to put my head down and soak it all in, but not get caught up in missing this place. I just want to leave with good memories, but it’s all about making more these next few months.”

Sports Editor Adam Burns can be reached at adam.burns@mycouriertribune.com or 389-6643.

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