NEW CANAAN — Garrett Braden had to be patient.
After seeing three of his teammates commit to Division I programs in a 24-hour period, the rising senior started wondering when his time would come.
It took a little while longer, but the 6-foot-2, 215-pound defensive end/outside linebacker has found a home with Rice University at the next level.
“With everything going on with my teammates and kids in the area it seemed like I was just sitting there waiting for it to start,” Braden said. “And things picked up quickly and after that I’ve been having contact with all the coaches and kept taking more visits and junior days and had a better feel for what I really wanted in a college.”
What he wanted — and what he found — was more than just a DI program.
“Rice offered and that was my best choice academically at the time,” Braden said. “When I took the visit it really opened my eyes a lot. Just being down in Texas, the area and the campus itself is beautiful and obviously the academics and football aspect it was a great situation with the coaching staff how passionate they are about Rice and how determined they are to make that program special.”
The academic and cultural aspect of the school was key for Braden.
As good as he is on the field — making 60 tackles, 13 for loss and recording nine sacks a season ago — coach Lou Marinelli thinks he’s even better off of it.
“He’s a tremendous kid, he’s a leader here, he’s one of our captains and he’s come a long way,” Marinelli said. “Aside from being a really good football player, he’s probably a better person. If you watch him with our young kids, he’s really a good role model for kids that look up to football players, he’s like a lot of the kids that have come out of our program that make you feel good about the future with people like that.”
That mentality is a lot of what Marinelli tries to bring to the New Canaan program. Not just gifted athletes, but gifted humans.
As far as Braden is concerned, Marinelli and the culture around the Rams has as much to do with is personality as anything.
“It’s incredible for such a small public high school with only 150 boys per grade to produce the talent this town does, but I think it’s the ultimate compliment to what coach Marinelli does and the program he’s created here,” Braden said. “He’s inspired us to work for what we want as not just individuals, but as a team, and once you work as a team you start to build as an individual. He knows what he’s doing, if I had any advice for kids going into the program it would be to trust him.”
The kids that have trusted him have been rewarded. New Canaan boasts a slew of players at the next level, but this 2018 team will have Drew Pyne (Notre Dame), Jack Stewart (Michigan) and Jack Conley (BC) all joining Braden in the DI ranks.
“I think they show you don’t have to go to a private school to get noticed,” Marinelli said.
With his college commitment behind him, and at full health after suffering a hand injury a season ago, Braden and the rest of the Rams have just one thing on their minds.
“The main goal this year is to be perfect,” Braden said. “That’s not just go undefeated, the thing that hurt last year was in-house issues that we had and that kept us from being a perfect team. This year it’s a tighter group and a more experienced group, a lot of kids that maybe weren’t on the field but were in the locker room, and this year the mindset is to keep your nose down and do whatever it takes to be perfect.”