NEW CANAAN — Garrett Braden did not build up a reputation as a strong-armed thrower. He is not a stud lineman that stands out by towering over all of the other players on the field.
New Canaan football coach Lou Marinelli had a short but spot-on description of Braden, his outstanding and ofter overshadowed linebacker.
“He’s just a football player,” Marinelli said.”
A very good one.
Braden last month became the fourth member of the Rams to give a verbal commitment to a major Division I program when he announced his intention to play at Rice.
“I think it was the visit,” Braden said of the factor that sealed his decision. “It clarified everything I already knew. How good the coaching staff is and how much I love the south and the campus, academics and every aspect of the school. Everything about it just seemed right.”
Braden may be one of the FCIAC’s most underrated players, especially if you discount the Rams’ locker room and opposing coaches. Braden led the team a year ago with nine sacks and was third in tackles.
“He’s coming off the edge at 225, 230 pounds, he’s really hard to block but he can also play in space, so drop him back and he’s a big target to throw around or over and that really helps,” Marinelli said. “We may even use him as a fullback and some good old-fashioned I. Let him be the fullback and kick people out.”
On another team, Braden’s name would be atop the marquee. With the Rams he shares it with quarterback Drew Pyne and tackles Jack Stewart and Jack Conley. In an unprecedented day, the three announced commitments, respectively, to Notre Dame, Michigan and Boston College.
“He’s a sleeper,” Marinelli said. “He goes underneath the radar. He’s a quiet kid. He just shows up and plays and he’s a really good leader for us. He’s a wonderful kid. He fits into the mold of what our captains have been.”
Typical of his humility, when asked about being the fourth Division I recruit, Braden said, “It shows how hard we work. It’s not just the sports. And it’s all 96 kids on the roster not just the four of us.”
Rice is not a typical landing spot for players from this area. The Owls have a freshman from Iona Prep, but unsurprisingly most of their roster comes from Texas high schools.
Braden said he saw a perfect fit.
“There’s one thing that you won’t really hear about in the papers or newsletters or anything, if you look at the studies it has the No. 1 best student life on campus, meaning the happiest students, the kids that most enjoy going there,” Braden said. “That really speaks about the university. It’s all about the kids, not just as athletes but the students as well, which is really big.”
Marinelli said he could tell early on that Braden had the ability and intangibles to become a coveted recruit.
“You knew he was but when you have two tackles like we do it was a little bit slower to get it all together,” Marinelli said. “There was a lot of interest from sophomore year on. He kept working hard. He had some scary moments there where he thought no one was going to offer him. He got hurt last year. Through his film and then he went to a couple of showcase things which helped him. I think he’s very happy with his decision.”
Like the league’s other top prospects, Braden said he wanted to make a decision by the summer.
“Just knowing what my future kind of holds is nice, and it’s especially nice to focus on the present and the senior season with this team right now,” Braden said. “We have a really good group. Being able to be 100 percent on us is really nice. It’s a good feeling heading into the season.”
New Canaan is already getting hyped with the official start of practice still six weeks away. Having four top recruits will make the bullseye even larger.
“Yep and we love it,” Braden said. “We know we’ve always got the target on our back, whether four D1 prospects, no D1 prospects, zero wins; whatever you want to call it we’ve always had that target on our back in New Canaan. Here in Connecticut we are Lou Marinelli’s football team and going into the season we are excited.”