The chiseled 5-foot-9, 185-pound running back and linebacker proudly wears No. 42 on his black and orange jersey and a small decal of the same number with an American flag that's pasted on his helmet.
It's to honor his uncle, Pat Tillman, the former NFL safety who — in the prime of his career — enlisted in the Army after 9/11 and was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004. Tillman was only 27.
Garwood was a baby at the time of his uncle's death but has worn Tillman's retired Arizona State number since starting youth football at age 8.
"I just try to represent and carry on his legacy," Garwood said. "He's the
role model. He's everything."
By all accounts and every measure, Garwood has represented Tillman impeccably.
The third-year starter leads California's Central Coast Section in rushing (467 yards), yards per carry (13.7) and rushing touchdowns (10) for the section's third-ranked team during an abbreviated spring season due to the pandemic. The Wildcats (3-0) play their biggest game of the season Thursday at fifth-ranked Wilcox (Santa Clara).
His coach Mark Krail calls him the team's heartbeat for an unrelenting work ethic, authentic appreciation of teammates and desire to always be better.
"He's for sure the most dedicated player I've ever met," said junior linebacker
, a 6-3, 210-pound FBS prospect who Friday had 19 tackles. "He's a great leader. Very intense. He definitely leads by example."
Last week after practice, Krail was heading home but happened to glance out at the field. There was Garwood doing gassers. By himself. Again.
"He does them all the time," Ripp said. "Some of us will join him but he always outlasts us."
Said Krail: "He's always the last guy off the field. It's just him wanting to be great. He's the heart and soul of the team, but you'll never hear it from him."
Garwood doesn't talk much about his own accomplishments and rarely speaks about Tillman. Even though he plays the same positions, he didn't study Tillman's game film at Leland (San Jose, Calif.)
, Arizona State or with the Arizona Cardinals.
"Adam doesn't watch much," said his father Alex Garwood. "He's more of a doer."
A star football player himself at Leland and later at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, Alex Garwood earned All-American and conference Defensive Player of the Year honors as a linebacker.
He and his wife Christine, a soccer player and competitive dancer, were high school sweethearts at Leland and Christine's sister Marie married Tillman. The four were extremely tight.
When Tillman was killed, Alex quit his day job as a Silicon Valley software salesman and co-founded the Pat Tillman Foundation
, which according to its website was "born overnight in the wake of tremendous tragedy, and with determination to honor a man whose passion for life was contagious."
The foundation has raised more than $18 million to "unite and empower remarkable military service members, veterans and spouses as the next generation of public and private sector leaders committed to service beyond self."
Alex and Christine never pushed Tillman as a role model for Adam or their two other sons — Ryan, now 20, or Scott, 15.
"How could they live up to that? How could anyone?" Alex said. "Obviously, we've struggled with Pat's passing. He was just an incredible human being and everything you've ever heard about him, he was better than that. He was the best conversationalist I ever met. Best friend. Simply, an awesome, awesome person."
With dad working daily on the foundation for four years — he's now back to selling software — Tillman's life was prominent among the boys. His traits and actions naturally permeated and penetrated.
Adam Garwood told Ripp about running in one of the foundation's 4.2-mile "Pat's Run
," held annually in Tempe (Ariz.).
"He said he ran the entire way with a Navy Seal, and how cool he thought that was," Ripp said. "He told me all about that guy."
Alex Garwood said Tillman's influence was more off the field for his son than on the field. Offerings of hard work, being a good teammate and an example for others. Being well-rounded, interested, resilient, true to yourself and engaged.
Tillman left behind a blue print to live. Not to mention a Purple Heart. And a Silver Star.
"In that way Pat never stops giving back," Alex Garwood said. "But Pat wasn't perfect and we don't hold him up as a Norse God. We just raised our sons to be the very best versions of who they are. And they have. And we're so grateful for that."
Turns out. Adam shares a lot in common with his uncle on the field as well.
Tillman was considered too small growing up to play football. Instead, he was a two-way terror at Leland, rushing for 34 touchdowns as a senior in addition to leading the team in tackles and to the school's first section title in 1993.
"He wasn't about glory," a former Tillman teammate Rudy Perez told the San Jose Mercury News
in 2012. "He was the MVP of the championship game, but he never took the credit."
At 165 pounds, Adam Garwood was well undersized as a junior, but put up a team-best 1,260 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns to go along with 50 tackles and four fumble recoveries. He led the Wildcats to the program's 13th CCS title.
Since then, he's added 20 pounds of muscle, and utilizing a super speed treadmill at home, he's lowered his 40-yard time to 4.47 seconds while upping his top-end treadmill speed to 22 mph. Adam is getting FCS Division I recruiting looks, including Cal Poly, his dad's alma mater.
"Had he played in the fall, I think he'd have many more opportunities," Krail said. "He didn't complain about the time off or bemoan the pandemic. He made the most of the time away. He's considerably bigger and faster. Whoever gets him will be very pleased."
Not only for his talent or speed, Krail said, but also the impassioned, selfless intangibles that mirrors Tillman. Adam led the team in offseason workouts, for instance, and after every touchdown, he truly celebrates with the offensive linemen who paved the way. It's not simply a ritual.
"He'll sprint back to us and really let each of us know we did a great job," Ripp said. "He'll get to us as fast as he got in the end zone. And if you ask him how many touchdowns he's scored and it's always one less than he actually has."
Said Adam: "I definitely don't consider myself the heart and soul of the team. Every single person plays a role, senior or sophomore, two-way player or reserve. Every snap, 11 players have to do their job."
The entire Garwood family embraces that "all-for-one, one-for-all" football culture. Ryan, who graduated from Los Gatos in 2019, introduced it to Adam. And now, Adam displays it to Scott, who stars on the freshman team. The brothers are extremely close.
"Right, wrong or indifferent, we're a football family," Alex Garwood said.
Adam Garwood definitely shares that unbridled passion of football with his uncle. He's played with "intensity and fire" since he was 8, said Alex Garwood. It's the only area his dad would compare him to Tillman.
"Pat played like every play was his last," said Alex Garwood, who graduated from Leland in 1990, four years before Tillman. "He flew around and figured out a way to make a tackle or play. Adam does that, too."
And he does it with a joy that brings tears to his father's eyes. Before the team's first game this season, Adam led the team in warm-ups, then guided them to the sidelines, where he flailed his fists and roared to the skies, unleashing 15 months of pent up fury from no competition.
Or perhaps he channeled his uncle's favorite quote: "To err on the side of passion is human and right and the only way I'll live."
Or perhaps he just expressed the glee of playing the game he loves with his best friends.
"Football means everything to me," Adam Garwood said. "The relationship you build with teammates is hard to describe. It's a feeling that only we share, under the lights. It's beautiful."