When it comes to the art of the takedown, Boston College senior Antonio Garay prefers to keep it simple. "I like to slam people," the 6'4", 281-pound defensive end says with a shrug. Garay goes beyond the ordinary lineman's zeal for violence. Although he's the recipient of a football scholarship, Garay is also a two-time All-America heavyweight wrestler. "I'll use certain moves with my hips and hands to control my opponents," says Garay, who had six tackles, including two sacks, last Saturday in BC's opener, a 34-10 win over West Virginia. "I treat every down as if it's a wrestling match: Either you win or you lose."
After tearing the medial collateral ligament in his left knee on the first play of the 2000 opener against West Virginia—he was recently granted a medical redshirt year for 2000 by the NCAA—Garay used last winter's wrestling campaign to try to regain full mobility in the joint for football. In March, with his healed knee protected by four layers of padding, he reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament. Four days later he was punishing tackling dummies in spring football practice and is now pain-free. "The mental toughness needed in wrestling definitely carries over," says coach Tom O'Brien, who was so impressed with Garay's physical condition that he moved him from tackle to rush end. "Then there is simple, God-given talent."
The eldest son of Antonio Sr., a former Hofstra defensive end who was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in 1971 but didn't play as a pro, and Marsha, a former Hofstra tennis captain, Garay was encouraged to play sports the way some kids are urged to finish their vegetables. As an 85-pound second-grader, he was deemed too heavy to play midget football by Pop Warner officials, so wrestling became his favorite sport. However, by the time he reached Rahway ( N.J.) High, for which his father and three uncles had been football-wrestling standouts, Garay was upholding both ends of the family tradition, earning state and national wrestling titles as a senior and collecting 38 career sacks and gaining all-state recognition in football. Of all the football recruiters that came calling, O'Brien was the only coach who promised Antonio that wrestling, a nonscholarship sport at Boston College, could take priority over off-season football conditioning.
Nevertheless, during wrestling season Garay still squeezed in football workouts before classes and got in his lifting before wrestling practice. He considers himself one of the luckiest guys in the world. "I'm inspired all year long by those guys," says Garay of the wrestling team, which will lose its athletic department funding after the 2002 season in a budget-cutting measure. "Their love for their sport is so pure." The first wrestling All-America in Eagles history, Garay, it appears, will also be the last.
Although wrestling coach Rod Buttry says his top performer has Olympic potential, Garay is pointing to the NFL. Still, next winter he will take one last shot at the NCAA wrestling championships, during which he could run into the next great Garay—younger brother Dan, a 6'1", 225-pound freshman at Hofstra. Regardless of the opponent, Garay figures that a wrestling match can't be half as tough as facing, say, Miami's offensive line, as he will on Nov. 10. "I spend five months out of the year taking on two or three guys at once," says Garay. "No way I should let one little guy beat me."