Willie Garner doesn’t need to brush up on the legacy of Sam Mills. In fact, the standout two-way lineman from Brick Memorial is quite intimate with the back story and endless list of intangibles that made the legendary Long Branch linebacker so iconic.

Uncles that grew up in the same neighborhood as Mills and occasionally participated in his rigorous workouts shared tales of his passionate drive and the high standards he himself to upholding, traits that carried him through Montclair State into the NFL and deemed worth emulating. Certainly, the lessons were valuable wisdom, but Garner could also relate to the five-time Pro Bowler with the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers, on a far more personal level.

Measuring Garner solely on his rugged 5-9, 240-pound frame is to miss the point. A far better gauge resides in his soul, from which his fast, physical, tone-setting style emanates, much in the same fashion as Mills.

“I have a high motor and I’m always grinding,” Garner said. “I never stop. I never quit. Sam Mills was the same height as me and he was tough. I’m tough and out to prove height doesn’t matter. It’s all about heart.”

Heart. Like Mills, there is no mistaking how much Garner puts into every snap, playing each like it may be his last. Perhaps, it's why when the Ocean County coaching staff convened prior to the 41st All-Shore Gridiron Classic, he was their choice to be the team's recipient of the prestigious Sam Mills Award.

Garner was recognized for his work rate in practice, endless enthusiasm - which seems to come naturally - accountability and character throughout the week leading up to the contest, won by Monmouth County, 28-14.

"I was surprised and blessed to receive the honor," Garner said. "I just wanted to go out there and represent Brick Memorial as best I could."

Such accolades for Garner, whose next stop is Lycoming College, come as no surprise to Brick Memorial coach Walt Currie.

"One of the things Willie does is exude greatness as a human being," noted Currie. "That’s where it starts and it’s those kinds of things that Sam Mills did. He was an energetic, charismatic guy and Willie is cut from that same mold. He is one of the hardest working kids I’ve ever coached and a high-character guy. You talk about all those intangibles...he displayed them on a daily basis and people gravitate to him. He’s magnetic as far as personality goes."

Garner is a team guy, best exemplified in the fourth quarter. With Ocean County trailing, 28-7, he lined up as a fullback in a fullhouse set, twice taking on defensive linemen with crushing lead blocks in a goal-line package, the second creating the perfect seal to spring Manchester running back Jalen Glenn into the end zone from three yards out.

"That is the kind of person he is and the kind of man he will be," Currie said. "When his football days are over, he will never back down from anything and is destined for greatness."

 

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