WOODLAND PARK - Caelen Garner might not have been the biggest, fastest or strongest guy on the Woodland Park High School football team this fall. But he was arguably the most durable.
In a season filled with injuries, Garner was the rock on the offensive and defensive lines, and somebody that Panthers coach Joe Roskam could count on.
“Some teams game planned for him,” Roskam said. “You know a guy’s a good player when teams run away from him.”
Garner, a senior, has been selected as the Courier View’s Football player of the year. A two-year starter, he led the team in solo tackles (30) while playing defensive end. He was also a key component in the running game at right tackle.
“Caelen is a worker,” Roskam said. “He just does his job. He’s a leader by example.”
Garner (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) was somewhat undersized at his positions for Class 3A, but he made up for his lack of size with intensity and a relentless desire to achieve.
“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work,” Garner said. “I liked defense the best. You get to fly around and hit people.”
Football has been Garner’s passion for a long time.
“I started playing flag football in second grade,’ he said. “As far as I can remember I was a lineman. In middle school I was a blocking back, and I played a little quarterback. But I should have been on the line. I was a better lineman.”
Garner, as much as any player on the team, had high expectations coming into this season. The Panthers were 5-5 in 2011. They won just two games the previous two seasons. They were 3-7 this season.
“I thought we’d be at least 7-3 this year,” Garner said. “We were working for a playoff spot, but sometimes things don’t play in your favor.”
Garner did all he could to keep a positive attitude as one teammate after another went down with serious injuries. In back-to-back games in the middle of the season, senior quarterback Jacob Censner and senior wide receiver/defensive end Joe Callahan broke their legs, and junior running back/linebacker Weston Shutts was lost for the season with a knee injury.
“You always expect to win,” Garner said. “You always have to have hope. You look for the brighter side.”
Garner is also a member of the school’s wrestling team. Last year, wrestling at 215, he finished fifth at regionals - missing by one spot of advancing to state.
“With wrestling you can focus on more on yourself than having to trust other people,” he said. “It’s still a team sport, but you wrestle for yourself.”
Garner would like to play college football.
“I definitely am hoping,” he said. “Maybe Division II?”