PRESS DEMOCRAT STAFF WRITER
Last Modified: Friday, December 4, 2009 at 8:04 p.m.
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Makana Garrigan isn't Casa Grande's fastest, biggest or strongest player. But Gauchos coach Trent Herzog has another category for his team's jack of all trades: The best.
For those wanting to get a good look at Garrigan tonight during second-seeded Casa Grande's visit to No. 3 Montgomery in the North Coast Section Division II semifinals, don't bother checking the sideline.
Garrigan, a wide receiver, safety, punter and holder on placekicks, only exits the field when Casa Grande kicks off. The rest of the time he's busy displaying the skills he began developing 10 years ago on Petaluma's Pop Warner Mighty Mites.
As a result of his decade on the gridiron, Herzog says the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Garrigan, a junior, is like a 16-year-old with a mind of a grizzled veteran.
Instincts? Football IQ? Herzog says Garrigan is off the charts.
“He's got eyes in the back of his head and he's got eyes in the side of his head,” Herzog said. “... He's as good a football player as we've had. Usually our defense is a group effort and it still is. But he's different. He's special. He could play any position and be great at it.”
Garrigan, who says he's played everywhere but on the offensive line since his Mighty Mite days, has done just about everything but fetch Gatorade this season.
At his safety positions — he plays both free safety and strong safety — he's set a single-season school-record with 11 interceptions, collected a team-high 111 tackles (9.3 a game), recovered three fumbles and caused two others. As a wide receiver, he shares the team lead in catches (35), ranks second in touchdown receptions (6) and third in receiving yardage (419). He's thrown a 40-yard touchdown pass, carried the ball five times (for 29 yards), returned seven kickoffs and 13 punts, averaged 33.9 yards on 34 punts and kicked off on five occasions.
How does Garrigan feel after a game? He laughs, “I feel like I don't want to move,” he says.
Garrigan's performance didn't come out of nowhere — he was a second-team all-Empire pick as a sophomore — but on a team headlined by quarterback Nick Sherry and running back Kahlil Keys few expected Garrigan to do so much of the heavy lifting.
In a 25-14 win against Healdsburg, Garrigan caught a 40-yard touchdown pass, had 13 tackles and added three interceptions. He returned one pick 47 yards and returned another 38 yards.
“He truly has surprised me,” Keys said. “I knew he was good, but I wouldn't have guessed he'd be as good as he's been. Against Healdsburg, he pretty much brought us into that game and then he kept us in it. I had no idea he'd be such a great player.”
The first evidence of Garrigan's potential was revealed at least seven years ago. As a 9-year-old he finished second at the regional level in the NFL's Punt, Pass and Kick competition and competed during halftime of a 49ers game at Candlestick Park. Two years later, he finished second again — just missing an opportunity to advance and compete against a national field at an NFL playoff game.
Ask Garrigan about his instincts — his ability, for example, to sense where a pass will be thrown — and he struggles to explain it. But he allows that it has a lot to do with playing the sport for about as long as he can remember.
“It's just there,” he said. “Whenever I'm on the field I just can kind of sense what might be happening next.”
Colleges haven't yet taken notice. Garrigan says his only recruiting mail consists of a questionnaire sent by UCLA. But that might be changing soon.
Coaches from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Sacramento State visited Casa Grande practices recently and both asked about Garrigan, a player they didn't come to see.
Of course, imagining Garrigan playing in college isn't hard.
The biggest challenge: What position will he play?