Nov. 4, 2017

by Kate Maw

Kirk Garner was not alone on his journey from Baltimore to Charlottesville. He had familiar faces from high school teammates Andre Levrone and Brendan Marshall and his family’s support system from back home. It was the support of all of those people that helped Garner find his way to Virginia.

“Just being able to know I could see my family every weekend or drive home was honestly the biggest seller,” Garner said. “And the education, obviously.”

Garner’s five years here have been riddled with tough injuries but he continues to embody the drive and perseverance that makes up Virginia Football. Earlier this year that played a big part in his decision to end his playing career but continue to contribute to the team as a student coach.

Garner and Levrone grew up together, went through the recruitment process at the same time and have emerged for their final season as Hoos together.

“I went to school with Andre and Brendan,” Garner said. “We had a couple other football players that we went to school with that went on to the collegiate level as well.”

Coming from Our Lady of Good Counsel High School and winning a state championship while they were there – these teammates knew how to play under pressure.

“Playing in high school was a really good experience for us,” Garner said. “Being one of the top high school programs in the nation, everybody doesn’t have that chance to play that level of football before going to college.”

Garner did not always know he was headed to Charlottesville to pursue his football career. His teammate committed first, and he followed shortly after.

“Andre Levrone was a big part of me coming here,” Garner said. “I remember we used to chill in his basement, and he would sell me the dream of playing here at UVA. I kind of brushed it off but somehow between him and my family, they persuaded me. Five years later we’re all here.”

These familiar faces were not the only factor that made the transition easier. He has a support system like no other coming from back home.

“At least one of my family members comes to every game,” Garner said. “I have one sister, Kiera, who comes to a lot. If they’re not here, they take pictures of me on the TV screen and send it to me.”

His family is also to thank for instilling the love for the game in Garner.

“I think I started playing football around the age of four or five,” Garner said. “My dad was my first head coach, so he got me into the sport, along with his brother. So ever since I was young, they really coached me up within the sport.”

After a devastating ACL tear in the 2016 season, Garner had to turn to his family and teammates.

“I tore my ACL, so that can take a lot out of you and your part in the game,” he said. “But I never really lost that attraction I had to football. Just being around the guys and having a common goal and trying to fight for that common goal is what really kept me in the sport.”

It was not easy to stay positive when his final season was on the line. He could rely on teammate Darious Latimore to relate to his situation.

“I tried to keep a happy face and not get down on myself,” Garner said. “Darious tore his ACL a little before me, so we would kind of go back and forth with each other. Kind of joking about our situation to get our spirits up.”

Garner’s perseverance transfers over into the classroom as well. He graduated undergrad with a degree in anthropology and is currently pursuing a masters in higher education.

“I have definitely matured as a man,” Garner said. “Going to college, realizing what’s important and what’s not important, where I should spend my time and just breaking through knowing that the real world is here. So I have to make a true game plan for my life.”

With his experiences through football, Garner shared a piece of advice for those who may be finding the road to be more challenging than expected.

“You can be great at multiple things,” Garner said. “You can be a great friend, a great player, a great coach and hopefully in the future, I’ll be a great husband and father. Just attempt to be your best at everything, no matter what happens.”

Five years later, standing alongside a few familiar faces from Baltimore, Garner can confidently say he has made the most out of his years here.

“It’s been a great time over these years,” Garner said. “They have flown by so fast. There’s countless memories I will take away from my time here. It’s good to finally be here for this fifth year and get things in motion how we always dreamed that we wanted to do. I just try to keep motivating the boys and make sure they don’t lose that fire to keep winning.”