With one 93-yard reception, West Virginia’s Travis Garvin managed to propel his team to an upset of No. 3 Virginia Tech and set a team record.
That’s not important to Garvin, a wideout.
For Garvin, 24, who played at Missouri from 1999-2000, the catch helped him honor the memory of his recently murdered older brother and helped shrug the bad memories that litter his troubled past.
It wasn’t a catch he wanted, as if he wanted to win the game. It was a catch he needed, because he said it was one more step to overcoming the mistakes of his past and putting his life back on track.
Regarding his past, Garvin knows he has several labels, some deserving, some not. There were four colleges since 1998. Being told he was too dumb. Too selfish. Too wild. Too outspoken. Too black. A waste of talent.
He said many emotions were surging in his mind, but one thought stayed with him: the thought of his dead older brother, who a week before was gunned down in their hometown of Bradenton, Fla.
“I’m taking life more serious because I know how quick it can be over,” he said. “My number can come up at any time. When they took him, they took a piece of me.
"I know now more than ever I need to get everything in my life straight.”
HIGH SCHOOL STAR
Long runs were expected from Garvin coming out of high school. A three-sport star at Bradenton Southeast, Garvin, then playing quarterback, amassed 1,131 yards in total offense and 19 touchdowns in 1998, his senior season. After football was done each season, he made a quick transition to basketball, where he averaged 22.4 points per game.
Schools came calling. Most said what Garvin knew was inevitable: to be a star on the collegiate level, he was going to need to move to wide receiver. Once he accepted that, his new mission was to catch as many passes as needed to propel him to the ranks of the NFL.
Enter Tulane. The private, academic-heavy school in New Orleans had finished a 12-0 season on the efforts of offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez and a virtually unknown quarterback, Shaun King, who would finish his career with the NCAA record for quarterback rating.
With King’s departure came the promotion of Patrick Ramsey, now with the Washington Redskins. He didn’t have the shifty legs of King but whose arm fit in well with Rodriguez’s spread offense, which would attempt 50.5 pass attempts per game in 1999.
Then the snag hit. Tulane had the same admissions standards for its athletes as it did for its students. Although the rest of the population averaged a 30 on the ACT, Garvin’s test scores fell short.
By that point, his options were more limited. One school would take him and give him a shot at a scholarship. After being rejected in the Big Easy, Garvin drove 628 miles north to Columbia.
ROCKY ROAD AT MISSOURI
Missouri coach Larry Smith was coming off Missouri’s first bowl game win since 1981, and its second appearance since 1983, but the departure of Corby Jones and Devin West made a third straight bowl spot unlikely. The Tigers’ offense needed to reload, and before summer camp was finished, Garvin won a starting spot as a freshman.
From there, much of the season was smooth sailing. He started all 11 games and caught 36 receptions for 608 yards, both team highs. He easily won the Big 12 Conference Newcomer of the Year award, and he could start to see a pro contract on the distant horizon.
That’s when things got rocky.
Relations between Smith and Garvin started to deteriorate in the offseason. Missouri receiver Darius Outlaw, a quarterback when Garvin was a Tiger, said Garvin was outspoken about not getting the ball enough under Smith’s conservative schemes.
“Coach Smith just didn’t like him because Travis always wanted the ball,” Outlaw said. “He wanted it more and more. He thought he was the best player on the team, and he didn’t hide it. The system Coach Smith had, run first, then pass, just didn’t fit Travis’ style.”
The relationship diverged further when it was reported Garvin was suspended for the first game of the 2000 season for failing a drug test. It wasn’t the first time drugs and Garvin were linked.
On Oct. 7, 1999, Garvin and teammate Cliff Young were picked up when someone called the police, saying they were smoking marijuana outside a residence hall. Although the police couldn’t find evidence, they arrested Garvin for an outstanding warrant of possession of marijuana in Pemiscot County.
On Sept. 25, 2000, Smith told the media Garvin wouldn’t play in that week’s game against Nebraska because of a knee injury. The next day, he announced Garvin’s dismissal.
Garvin said the team’s trainers originally diagnosed a partially torn left anterior cruciate ligament in him. It would require four to five weeks of rehabilitation, but when the receiver and the coach met one-on-one, Smith told Garvin he believed a regimen of a light scope, cortisone shots and taping could have him ready to play against Nebraska the next week.
Garvin said when he told Smith he was going to take the four to five weeks off, he said Smith cursed at him, called him a detriment to the team and told him to leave. He didn’t think he was kicked off the team at that point.
“The next day I read in the newspaper I was dismissed for violating team rules,” he said. “I was like, ‘What rules did I violate? Y’all are violating me.’ I understand now. His job was on the line. He needed me more than ever. He needed me to move the chains for him.”
Before he left Columbia, he didn’t mince words and made one last parting shot at Smith and his program: “I got gold teeth and I’m from Florida and they don’t need me.”
The next time Garvin resurfaced in intercollegiate sports, it wasn’t on the football field. He enrolled in Manatee Community College in Florida. He took a year off from football and concentrated on basketball, a sport in which he was All-State in high school.
It wasn’t the best year of his life (“I hit rock bottom. I went from playing in front of 75,000 people to playing in front of 300-400”), but it was necessary for nagging injuries to heal and to improve his grades.
That’s where the Tulane connection helped Garvin. After that 12-0 season, coach Tommy Bowden bolted for Clemson. It appeared Rodriguez was the heir apparent to the job, but Athletic Director Sandy Barbour hired Georgia assistant coach Chris Scelfo.
After Tulane’s win in the Liberty Bowl, Rodriguez left for Clemson, where he coached for two seasons before being offered the job at West Virginia.
The Mountaineers were looking at a weak receiving corps in 2002, something at odds with Rodriguez’s no-huddle, spread offense. When he heard Garvin was looking to break back into Division I football, he quickly offered him a spot.
Garvin entered the program expecting to make a big impact in his first year, much as he did at Missouri. He finished with two catches for 24 yards.
“I didn’t come to West Virginia to block,” he said. “I could’ve stayed at Missouri if I wanted to block all game. But last season was humbling.”
This year was supposed to be better. Garvin was going to play a bigger role for the Mountaineers, which played in a bowl game last season. He was inconsistent at the beginning of summer practices, missing time because of a bruised shoulder and because his 3-year-old son was sick, but returned and won a starting spot.
When the season began, Garvin started to live up to the potential he has waited years to show. Through the first five games of the season, he was leading the team with eight catches for 145 yards. He also was letting his older brother, Kerry Ducre, fresh off being released from prison for drug charges and trying to straighten out his life, stay with him in Morgantown.
When his brother decided to return to Bradenton, Garvin’s life was jolted again. According to police, his brother was gunned down in a shootout in a grocery store parking lot.
Garvin said he didn’t have much of a choice. Without much thinking, he flew to Bradenton to help arrange the funeral and he missed the Mountaineers’ game with Rutgers on Oct. 11.
When he was finishing the final strides of the 93-yard pass against the Hokies on Oct. 22, he said he felt the presence of his brother, to whom he is dedicating the rest of the season, with him.
He said the death of his brother jolted him. He’s quick to tell how more religious he has become. How he’s giving up the booze, the late nights and the women. How he hopes it has changed him for the better.
“It’s a reality check,” he said. “I’ve always been religious. I used go out and drink and party and have a kid and have sex outside of marriage, but that’s changing. I’m a simple man now. I don’t drink or party anymore. I’m trying to find a wife and settle down. I’m putting everything in perspective. I’m just trying to turn my life around.
“I can’t be the life of the party and keep living like this. I’m getting old.”