When David Garrard was 5 years old, he fell in love with football. After watching older brother Quincy practice with his team, David knew that’s what he wanted to do when he grew up.
Garrard became a star quarterback for Southern Durham (N.C.) High School, and earned a scholarship to East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.
While at ECU, he led the Pirates to consecutive bowl berths, including the memorable GMAC Bowl in 2001.
The Pirates blew a 38-8 halftime lead over Marshall, and its quarterback Byron Leftwich. The Thundering Herd stormed back for a 64-61 double-overtime victory – still the highest scoring bowl game in NCAA history.
When the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Garrard in the fourth round of the NFL draft, his childhood dream had become a reality.
He was the No. 3 quarterback, behind incumbent starter Mark Brunell and his GMAC Bowl game nemesis, Leftwich.
Garrard played in just six games during his first two seasons. Then in the spring of 2004, his NFL career nearly came to an abrupt end.
Garrard had been complaining of stomach pains, but figured it was just an upset stomach. When the pain persisted, he saw the team doctor.
The diagnosis he received was an unexpected one.
Garrard had Crohn’s Disease, an ailment he didn’t fully understand.
"A lot of times it takes an individual many years to figure out what it is," Garrard said. "If you’re not having true signs or symptoms you can kind of write it off as irritable bowel. Luckily for me, I was able to get treatment right away."
Crohn’s disease is a form of inflammatory bowel disease, which involves chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract because of an overactive immune system. It’s an often-misdiagnosed disease, and if left untreated can become fatal, as the body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs to function.
Garrard approached his battle against Crohn’s like any other opponent.
"I wanted to defeat it," he said. "I couldn’t let Crohn’s take over my life. A lot of pro athletes think they’re invincible. This brought me back to reality. It gave me a gut check, literally."
His family was also confused, and began researching the illness immediately.
"They were very shocked and concerned because I’ve always had a clean bill of health," Garrard said. "Then I get diagnosed with Crohn’s, a disease they had never heard of. They tried to figure out everything they could do, research-wise."
Garrard, his two older brothers, Anthony and Quincy, and their younger sister, Adrian, had lost their mother to breast cancer in 1992, and were not going to let this disease take another member of their family.
Along with Garrard’s wife, Mary, his siblings found spiritual treatments, holistic treatments and all natural herbs as remedies for their brother.
"They were like, ‘We’re going to throw as many things at this that we can,’" Garrard said. "Maybe there’s something out there than can work. To already have lost one family member as important as our mother was, they just didn’t want to go through that again."
Garrard had a painful flare-up in April of 2004, and noticed blood in his stool. He required surgery to remove some of his intestines, which were blocked because of scar tissue.
"It can be very painful, especially in a full-blown flare-up," Garrard said. "Nothing passes through. You’re not able to get nutrients, and have to get a feeding tube. With that scarring, it’s hard for it to be removed without surgery. Some people have to resort to colostomy bags if it gets too bad."
Since his diagnosis, Garrard has become a spokesman for the battle against the painful disease, and the drug company Centocor began donating $10,000 for every Garrard touchdown last season. Centocor is the manufacturer of Remicade, the medication Garrard said has kept him symptom-free since 2004.
Garrard has six touchdowns this season following 17 a year ago. To date, Centocor has donated $230,000 through Garrard’s "In the Zone for Crohn’s" foundation to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation (CCFA).
"We need to increase that, and keep it going," said Garrard, whose Jaguars play host to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. "Hopefully we can get a cure to this disease. It affects a lot of kids, and the kids are the ones who are having the hardest time because in school, they have to deal with a lot. Other kids don’t understand what they’re going through. I’m trying to do as much as I can."
Garrard said the stomach pain associated with Crohn’s is much worse than anything he’s felt on the football field.
"It’s not like aches and pains of a football game," the eight-year veteran said. "Those I can deal with. The Crohn’s pain is definitely tough."
Garrard has also taken an active role in raising awareness of the disease, educating the public, and increasing funding to find a cure. He has traveled across the country, visiting Camp Oasis regional camps for children with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. He has also started a local chapter of the CCFA in Jacksonville.
Garrard saw action in just four games in the 2004 season, but considers himself fortunate that his flare-up occurred in the offseason. He said the disease drained him of his energy because his body wasn’t utilizing the food he had eaten.
When the Jaguars decided to name Garrard as the starting quarterback before the 2007 season, it raised some eyebrows.
Leftwich had been the team’s No. 1 quarterback since the end of the 2003 season, and remained as such entering 2006.
But when Leftwich went down with an ankle injury in week six of that year, Garrard took over. He was not flashy, but efficient in guiding the Jaguars to a 5-5 split the rest of the year.
Then came 2007, when Garrard threw an NFL-low three interceptions, was third in pass efficiency, and the Jaguars went 11-5 to earn a playoff berth.
Garrard missed four games that season with an ankle injury, but came back in 2008 to start all 16 games. He became just the second Jaguars quarterback to start all 16 games in a season. The Jaguars saw their wins dip from 11 to five, but Garrard said being on the field for every game allowed him to prove his durability.
"It actually felt good because I had heard that no Jaguar quarterback other than Mark Brunell had ever started all 16 games," Garrard said. "I’ve never really been a guy who’s had a lot of injuries, and I wanted to show that I can go through all 16 games, and lead the team. But I’d take a few games off for a winning season."
The Jaguars are in the same position they were a season ago, sitting at 2-3 after five games. They beat Denver in week six of the 2008 season, and will try to even their record Sunday against St. Louis. What Garrard hopes to avoid this year is the tailspin that sent them to a 2-8 finish last season.
"I wish I could put a finger on what happened," Garrard said of last season. "We just didn’t play as well as we could, and our record showed it."
Coming off what Garrard called an "ugly" 41-0 loss to Seattle, the Jaguars now prepare for the winless Rams. He said it’s business as usual.
"It’s just like any other work week," Garrard said. "It’s the NFL. You’re not going to dominate a team, and you have to be prepared. No team wasn’t to be another team’s first win. Every team is going to fight you tooth and nail to the end. We have to show up prepared and execute our game plan."
Sunday’s start will be the 22nd consecutive for Garrard, whose career nearly ended before it ever really began.
Keywords: NFL quarterback with Crohn's Disease, NFL players with Crohn's Disease, David Garrard Crohns, David Garard Crohn's, chrones, crones, cronhs