Jackson's Garritano signs to play at Southeast

Thursday, February 7, 2008
Jackson senior Antonio Garritano signed a national letter of intent Wednesday to play football at Southeast Missouri State next season. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

coach Samuel said Garritano will play tight end for the Redhawks.

Joan Sanders still remembers when her son, Antonio Garritano, showed the first sign of his true dedication to football by dieting briefly after he joined the Jackson Area Youth Football League in fifth grade.

"He has always been taller than the kids, but he was just a little bit chubby and the bigger kids [were not allowed to] run the ball, so he dieted so he could run the ball," Sanders said. "He liked blocking, but he wanted to get in the action. ... He lost, I bet, 25 pounds so he could be under the weight to carry the football.

"He was so much taller than every one else, he still didn't get to carry it much, but he got a lot of passes, so he was OK. ... How many kids in sixth or seventh grade would go on a diet?"

Garritano signed Wednesday to play football at Southeast Missouri State after receiving a full scholarship offer from the program. He also received offers from Southern Illinois University, Indiana State and Central Michigan.

Jackson senior Antonio Garritano rested after an exercise Tuesday at Shock Performance Enhancement. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

Garritano, listed at 6 foot 5, 240 pounds, most recently helped the Indians to a 10-0 regular season and an appearance in the Class 5 state semifinals this past fall.

He was named to the all-region honorable mention Class 5 football team as both a tight end and defensive lineman. And he was selected to the SEMO North all-conference first team as a tight end.

His dedication to working out, lifting weights, dieting and learning the ins and outs of football since he was about 12 years old are the reasons he has become a Division I athlete, his teammates and family said.

Jackson senior running back Cody Randen also remembers when Garritano dieted to become a skill player. He said Garritano has been a "work horse" ever since, best reflected by a team honor he recently received.

Garritano was voted the Jackson player with the top work ethic by his teammates after this past season.

Former Southeast Missouri State All-American Ray Goodson, who Garritano trains with, said that Garritano is ready to take the step from high school to college.

"His work ethic is second to none," Goodson said. "Nobody outworks him, and no one is going to beat him mentally. I've known him now for about two years and have been training him for about two years, and we train about four days a week even when he's in football and basketball. For him to be that dedicated at that young, it is unbelievable.

"He'll fit in perfectly at Southeast, and he'll be 10 times better than I ever was. He's got that mentality, and he's way ahead of what I was back then. He'll blow me out of the water. He'll probably break all my records at tight end."

Working out

Sanders said when her son would have a birthday or Christmas approached, he always would ask that his gifts be workout related, so over the years his presents included an abdominal lounger, a medicine ball, ankle weights, punishing bags and free weights.

"Those were always his gifts instead of regular gifts," Sanders said. "We've got a whole gym when you go to my basement."

Garritano has been lifting weights since he was about 12 years old.

He moved to Jackson from Chicago when he was in the third grade, and he began attending Indians football games soon after that.

"The games would be on Friday nights, and after the games, I would go back to my house and lift weights and run and stuff," Garritano said. "And during the summer, I would sit there and lift weight all summer."

Garritano has a rigid workout routine. He uses free weights five or six days a week for about an hour and a half to two hours each day.

He also does agility and running with Goodson two to four times each week for about an hour and a half to two hours.

Power cleans and bench presses are the two most important lifting exercises for him as a football player, he said. He can bench about 335 pounds.

"We would lift all the time and do these bench-press competitions since we were in eighth or ninth grade," Randen said about working out with Garritano. "He always wanted to be the biggest, the strongest person. That was his goal."

Sanders said her son also refrains from soda, all sweets and maintains a healthy diet. She added that he always has pushed himself, whether shooting 100 shots after basketball practice or doing 100 sit-ups before bed.

Working on his receiving skills

Garritano said the Southeast coaching staff has given him the option of playing tight end or defensive end, and Garritano favors playing tight end.

His weekly workout routine also often includes practicing his receiving skills, like working on passing routes four or five times each week.

Garritano said Jackson quarterback Marcus Harris will sometimes throw to him, but he'll find anyone with a decent arm. He even worked out with his mother serving as quarterback when he was younger.

"Probably two or three times a week during the summer when I was younger, and before I had someone to throw it to me, I'd run up a straight hill and she'd throw me the ball," Garritano said.

Garritano did not have too many passes thrown to him at Jackson because the Indians' offense was focused on the run. He was more of a blocking tight end in high school. But he said he can catch the football and continues to work to improve that part of his game.

"I think I'll do pretty good at receiving because I've got pretty good hands," he said. "And usually to prepare myself for passes, I just find any quarterback or anybody who has a good arm and just go out and work on routes and catching. I also use a tennis ball because it's real small, and I throw it against the wall and catch it with one hand to get better."

Southeast coach Tony Samuel said he plans to use Garritano as a tight end.

"We're going to look at him as an offensive player," Samuel said. "And actually he's a bonus. He's a very capable long snapper, so he's a kid we would project as helping us next year in some form or fashion. I think he's got good enough hands to catch the ball, and he's another one of those kids with the reputation of hard work. He'll catch a ton of balls between now and fall camp, and I'll predict that he'll show up ready to go."

Another Southeast recruit, Kris Cottner of Perryville High School, said he thinks Garritano will fit in well.

"I have seen him play football and basketball, but I've never met him personally," Cottner said. "We both kind of come from common backgrounds growing up here in Southeast Missouri and playing football in Southeast Missouri. I've watched him play, and he's a great athlete and he'll definitely help out the team."

Expectations at Southeast

Garritano said he will continue to work out this offseason so he can earn a role as a freshman next season at Southeast.

He said he chose Southeast over the other schools because he likes the coaching staff and also thought he'd enjoy playing close to home in front of family and friends.

"I know they've got some tight ends who are older than me," Garritano said. "I know [Brad] Crader and them guys. He's from Jackson and he's good. But I just know I've got to work my hardest during this offseason, spring and summer. And I'm going to do my best to get all the playing time I can. If not, try to start halfway through the season, and if I don't, just keep working hard."

Randen thinks Garritano will fit in well, but said he needs to work to become a little quicker.

Garritano plans to study sports medicine at Southeast, but his mother said she thinks he would like to coach someday.

"It's always been for me about winning and losing, but I also like the friends you make," Garritano said about his passion for football. "I'm really going to work hard and do my best, and hopefully make a name for myself in college by the time I graduate."

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