Falcons' athlete for all seasons as skilled off field as he is on it

Falcons' athlete for all seasons as skilled off field as he is on it

GIBSON CITY — Instead of spending his Friday nights with friends, Nathan Garard sometimes starts his weekends by doing his homework.

"He'll be up on a Friday night at 10 or 11 o'clock doing homework, so he doesn't have to do it later in the weekend," said his father, Chris. "He's just been super committed and driven."

And, in Nathan's own words, prioritized.

"It's understanding what needs to come first over what you would probably want to do," the younger Garard said. "You know, you might want to just sit on the couch, but sometimes that's not a good thing or the right thing to do."

Such dedication to his academics has allowed Garard to stay near the top of his 2019 graduating class — ranking No. 8 out of 78 seniors at Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley — while still juggling his responsibilities as a three-sport athlete — a standout one, at that.

The IHSA has taken notice, too, by naming Garard to its 2018-19 All-State Academic Team. Garard is one of 26 student-athletes — 13 boys and 13 girls — who will each receive a $1,000 scholarship and be honored at an awards dinner today in Bloomington.

The 17-year-old Garard is the first student from Gibson City's high school to be named to the all-academic team since the IHSA began it 26 years ago, according to his father, who serves as GCMS High School's principal.

"This group is the best of the best," IHSA Assistant Executive Director Stacey Lambert said. "They embody the IHSA's mission, excelling in the classroom, in addition to the multiple sports and activities that they participate in."

The recognition, the younger Garard said, "kind of lets you know that a lot of your hard work doesn't go in vain," but he noted that he expects it will not be "the plateau of what I'm going to do" academically or in life.

"It's just kind of a little achievement along the way. I'm not trying to downplay it, but it definitely can't be the highlight of what I'm going to do."

Of course, there are so many highlights already for Garard, who was the starting quarterback on the GCMS Falcons' 2018 Class 2A state champion football team, a key reserve guard on the Falcons' 2019 third-place Class 2A basketball team and the 2018 MVP as a utility player on the GCMS baseball team.

Garard's success academically — including his 4.062 GPA and his ACT score of 31 — helped land him a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to Eureka College.

Garard received the scholarship through the Ronald W. Reagan Leadership Program, which was founded by President Reagan during his first term in office. As a Reagan Fellow, Garard will have various leadership opportunities on campus and the chance to travel abroad.

At Eureka, Garard also plans to play both Division III football and baseball, as well.

While Garard is happy about his college destination and the opportunities it will afford him, Eureka wasn't his first choice. Since middle school, if not longer, Garard was working toward attending the U.S. Military Academy, also known as West Point.

Garard applied and received a letter of assurance that he would be able to attend the academy, only to learn later that he was medically disqualified because of his allergic disposition to cashews and because "one frequency in his hearing didn't meet military standards," his father said.

Garard was "very disappointed," his father said, but "he's handled the disappointment very well."

"That was a big part of my life for a long time, so for something like a hearing problem to kind of keep you from doing something that you feel you should be doing for the rest of your life is a big wake-up call," the younger Garard said. "But I know this Eureka opportunity is a great deal — it's a full scholarship and stuff like that — so there's no way you cannot be happy with that."


Will Brumleve is editor of the Ford County Record, a News-Gazette Media community newspaper. For more, visit fordcountyrecord.com.

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