The Christopher Newport sophomore quarterback's contributions on the football field can best be summed up thusly: He just wins, baby.
Garner, thrust into starting duty Oct. 1 at Methodist after junior starter Christian Woelfel-Monsivais left the game with a knee injury, completed nine passes in 15 attempts for 196 yards and a touchdown in the Captains' 26-14 win, including an 85-yard TD pass to Rudy Rudolph.
With Woelfel-Monsivais still sidelined last Saturday against Shenandoah, Garner went 14-of-23 for 183 yards and two touchdowns, overcoming a late interception that led to a game-tying score with a game-winning 9-yard TD pass to Kentel Noel in overtime in CNU's 27-20 victory.
That win ran Garner's record as a Captains starter to 3-0. He also won starts at North Carolina Wesleyan and against Greensboro last season as a freshman, with the N.C. Wesleyan victory eventually resulting in a USA South championship for CNU.
"He's a winner," Captains coach Matt Kelchner said. "… When he's had to play a significant role, we've been successful. People talk about all these stats and stuff. There's one stat that matters. The kid knows how to win."
At Essex High School in Tappahannock, Garner led the Trojans to a 13-0 record and a state championship as a senior, after going 12-1 and finishing as state runner-up the year before. The state, region and district offensive player of the year after throwing for nearly 3,000 yards and 41 TDs as a senior, Garner also won district and regional titles during his three years as the Trojans' point guard and two seasons as the baseball team's shortstop.
"He's not a big kid, and he was in a very small, rural area, so he kind of flew under the radar," Kelchner said. "A lot of schools talked to him, but you looked at him when he was in high school, and he was a skinny little guy. He's gotten a little bit bigger and stronger, but he's not a big kid. He's not extremely fast. He's fast enough. He doesn't have a great arm, but he's got a good arm. He just has a knack to make plays."
The 5-foot-11 Garner, 19, has bulked up to 170 pounds in his second year with the Captains, and it seems he's got the starting QB job until further notice. Kelchner said there was "no way" Woelfel-Monsivais, who didn't practice Monday night, could have played against Shenandoah, and that he is "totally in a rehab mode right now."
Garner, who is both unimpressed and unsurprised with his performances in relief of Woelfel-Monsivais, doesn't intend to give the junior his job back without a fight.
"It's going to be a battle once he comes back," Garner said. "I'm all about competition, so when he comes back, it's just going to be a battle for the position."
Garner's father and his uncles were also three-sport athletes, while his mom was a cheerleader and band member. He grew up immersed in sports to stay active and because he likes "being a team player. I like being around my teammates," he said. "I like seeing others get better, by me doing what I have to do. It just keeps me going. It keeps everything lively."
First-year CNU quarterbacks coach Ed Davis saw something in Garner in film from last year and in preseason practice.
"You could tell that he had a presence about him under pressure," Davis said. "There were a couple of times that we had receivers in positions they might not have planned to be in, but he was able to find them on crucial third-down situations."
That poise showed itself again last weekend, on the overtime TD.
"He was looking to throw the ball to the tight end. That wasn't open," Davis said. "He was on the move, and he had to see Kentel coming around the back side. He threw it and it got tipped, but it was headed in the right direction."
Both Davis and Kelchner want Garner, a quiet kid who mentions going to church as a favorite hobby and wears a gold cross necklace given to him by his grandmother when he turned 18, to be more vocal in the huddle, and Davis sees room for improvement in his mechanics. Kelchner is pleased, though, with Garner's levelheadness and smarts — and the fact that he has two full seasons of eligibility remaining after a sophomore year that is shaping up to be pretty memorable.
"He's still a young quarterback," Kelchner said. "It just takes a few games to get a feel of it. He's starting to settle into what we're trying to do. There's still some mistakes that he's making, but the upside is, he has a good attitude and he knows how to figure out how to win."
WHO: CNU (3-2, 2-0 USA South) at Averett (2-3, 1-1).
WHEN: 1:30 p.m.