|NT Antonio Garay: Hardened by Fire|
by Brian Ducoffe of SDSuperChargers.com, November 10, 2012 at 3:38 pm ET
Antonio Garay Profile
The road to the NFL was not smooth for NT Antonio Garay.
He is not a household name, but it is hard to miss Garay on and off the field. Standing at 6-foot-4 and 320 pounds, you can find Garay cruising through San Diego in his Hello Kitty Smart Car. On the field, the head-turns keep coming. How do you spot him on the field? By looking for the bright colored hair that changes color and design each week.
Now in his sixth season, his fourth with San Diego, Garay has suffered season-ending injuries a total of five times in his career. He has managed to stay positive and upbeat throughout his career by using humor and comedy. But that wasn't always the case.
Garay was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 2003, but it wasn't until 2006 that he got his first true opportunity with the Chicago Bears. However, it wasn't long until it was quickly taken away. In a game against the Washington Redskins, Garay was illegally tackled. A chop block to his lower legs resulted in a broken right leg and a shattered right ankle. The injury took two years to fully heal.
"At that moment, it was like a culmination of all these injuries, and now it's another one. I could care less about why or how it happened. Always my mentality was let's get back to where I need to be," Garay said.
The next two years were dark for Garay. The Bears cut him. Many believed his injuries were career ending. No one was willing to sign him for the 2008 season. He spent the next two years rehabbing at his home in Rahway, NJ, working with his former high school wrestling coach. They created workout videos, which he posted online for NFL teams to see. The work paid off when in 2009 Garay seemed to beat all the odds. The New York Jets called offering a spot on their practice squad.
Later that season, the Chargers signed Garay and offered him a spot on their 53-man roster. Limited that season while learning under veteran NT Jamal Williams, Garay went into the 2010 season as the starting nose tackle for the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL. Garay played in all 16 games for the first time in his career and started in all but one. His performance earned him a Pro Bowl alternate spot.
Garay has always been a prankster. In 2011, he bought himself a Smart Car. Why? Because he always wanted to drive one. The dealer happened to only have one left, a black and red Hello Kitty edition with the character's face on the side of the doors. He purchased the car with the hope that the team would get a couple laughs out of it. And they did. And so did the rest of the country. Since then, he has bought a second Smart Car, which he drives to practice every day.
San Diego fans often look forward to Sunday not only watch the Chargers play, but to also see what Antonio Garay's hair will look like. Garay is most known around the league for his wild hair styles. He's had blue, yellow, green, orange, purple and pink hair. Often times intricately designed images are shaved into his head, including a lighting bolt, a jack-o-lantern on Halloween, and after the passing of former Chargers LB Junior Seau, Garay had Seau's face shaved into the back of his head.
"Football's my life. It's all I want to do. And I make sure that I enjoy every moment of it."
Garay faced another injury this year, sidelined all season with an ankle injury. He played in his first game last week against Kansas City, recording two tackles. Now healthy again, Garay is ready to help the Chargers defense yet again.
"Adversity is something that has always made me," he said. "It just causes me to work that much harder. A lot of people have got to deal with adversity every day of their lives. You have to find a way to have a good day."