Pierre Garcon is constantly on the rise.
Just five years ago, the Washington Redskins wide receiver was playing at a little-known Division III school in small-town Ohio. Now, after spending much of his time in the shadows of the Indianapolis Colts’ standout receiving corps, Garcon is facing the possibility of being a team’s go-to guy for the for the first time in his professional career.
Still, the potential new role and heightened expectations haven’t changed the way he approaches the game.
“Every time you’re out there on the field, you’re put out there to make plays,” Garcon said. “So that’s what I really do every time I get out there — even if it’s preseason, or when I was backing up Marvin [Harrison] or Reggie [Wayne] or in practice or things like that.”
The free agent signee flashed an unassuming smile last week at the mention of his rise to the top of NFL teams’ wish lists. That kind of modesty can easily be attributed to Garcon’s humble beginnings.
Garcon, who started just one season for his high school team, didn’t have the grades to be a top Division I candidate. Instead, he spent his freshman season at Division III Norwich University in Vermont. It didn’t take him long, though, to chase after an even bigger dream.
The football program at Mount Union — and its eight NCAA Division III championships — soon caught Garcon’s eye. He transferred in 2005 and went on to lead the Purple Raiders to two more national titles.
Garcon might not have competed with the best of the best during his pre-NFL days, but his Washington teammates are confident he’s more than qualified to do it now.
“Physically, he’s impressive,” quarterback Rex Grossman said. “He runs the routes extremely sharp, he’s fast, he’s strong. He’s got great body control. He’s able to run his routes and get in and out of his breaks, but yet he can also blow right by you.”
Garcon’s 4,380 career receiving yards and 60 collegiate touchdown receptions — good for the second most in Division III history — made him stand out to NFL teams. The Colts selected him in the sixth round of the 2008 draft.
During his rookie season, Garcon played backup to Pro Bowl receivers Wayne and Harrison. It wasn’t until 2011 that Garcon had his breakout season, recording 70 receptions for 947 yards and six touchdowns.
Garcon became a free agent in March and acknowledged that the process of selecting a team from the several that expressed interest was “overwhelming.” But on March 13, the first day of free agency, Garcon agreed to a five-year, $42.5 million contract with the Redskins.
Washington also hauled in receiver Josh Morgan that day, and the two, along with rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, will give a whole new look to the Redskins’ offense.
But coach Mike Shanahan isn’t worried about integrating his new offensive weapons.
“The receivers, these players have played in the National Football League, so they’re very familiar with defenses and the strain of the regular season and the competition in the National Football League and what it’s all about,” Shanahan said. “So when you do bring a player in or two players in that have played and played well, it’s a welcome addition to your football team.”
In fact, Garcon and Morgan are such welcome additions the pair could challenge veteran Santana Moss for starting roles come September. After years of playing second fiddle on the football field, being Griffin’s No. 1 target would be a whole new experience for Garcon.
But he’s used to coming out of the relative unknown.
“At the end of the day, it’s football,” Garcon said. “Every time you play in the league, there’s pressure — if you’re a sixth-round pick or if you’re a first-day free agent, it’s pressure no matter what.
“You just have to go out there and make plays, do your best and give it your all every time you play. And that’s all you really can do.”