MANHATTAN — David Garrett has never been able to make it through a football game without someone laughing at him.
When opposing players see the 5-foot-7 cornerback going through warm-ups, they chuckle and point. When they stand across from him at the line of scrimmage, they snicker and envision big plays. Even his own coach at Kansas State has jokingly referred to him as "a midget in size 16 shoes."
But none of that has ever bothered the 175-pound junior. He figures his size isn't a factor as long as that laughter turns into respect during the postgame handshake line. Lately, he's received more than enough of that from the skeptics.
"They all come to me and tell me good game," Garrett said.
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It's getting harder and harder to dismiss Garrett as a standout defensive back these days. Through 11 games, he leads the Wildcats with 82 tackles, 13 stops for loss and two fumble recoveries. He has broken up nine passes and grabbed an interception. He is rarely out of position, and his speed helps him make deceivingly hard hits.
"I just go out there and play football," Garrett said. "I know that they're running the ball to not take a big blow. And me being the size that I am, I'm coming at them with all my force."
He was most forceful last week in a loss to Colorado, when he made an incredible 16 tackles and established himself as the most consistent strength on a underachieving defense.
"You can't find too many guys like David with his heart and his spirit at his size," Freshman linebacker Tre Walker said. "David helps us a lot, especially from a leadership aspect. He keeps us level-headed and straight. During the game, sometimes you get down as a defense. The morale is not always there. David does a great job of keeping that up."
Garrett, much to his own surprise, has embraced the responsibility of leading K-State's much-maligned defense. The Wildcats have given up an average of 458 yards and 41 points in their last two games, back-to-back losses to Colorado and Missouri.
Already a leader by his play on the field, when coaches asked that he become a vocal leader off the field, he . wasn't sure how to handle it at first. But after getting over his initial reluctance, he found himself delivering a passionate speech in the locker room following the Wildcats' last defeat.
"It's never too late," he remembers saying. "We've always got this game, possibly a bowl game, and then we're always preparing for next year. We're a young defense. All of us are coming back pretty much."
His words had weight to them.
"Everyone was pretty upset, and he provided some great leadership after the game," said senior quarterback Carson Coffman. "We've got one game left, and after that everyone was like, 'OK, let's go get it.' "
No one was happier to hear the speech than the man who encouraged him to give it. K-State coach Bill Snyder has been impressed by Garrett's ability to make big plays in tough situations since he transferred from Fort Scott Community College last year.
"He's basically a relatively quiet young person, and he has stepped up and tried to promote some emotion and some spirit and has given some leadership to our defense and to our entire team," Snyder said. "I appreciate that, because that's really not his nature. He's putting himself out there and making a sacrifice to help his teammates."
The Wildcats need that kind of selfless behavior right now. At 6-5, they are likely headed to a bowl game regardless of what happens in Saturday's season finale at North Texas. But there are no guarantees. With a victory over the Mean Green, they can end all doubt, boost their bowl stock and all but clinch a spot in a postseason game with Big 12 ties.