GREEN TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Garrett Celek hasn't forgotten the time several years ago when he arrived at La Salle High School for a weightlifting session at 4:30 a.m.
Celek, a former NFL tight end, was a La Salle offensive tackle at the time. He was 75 minutes early to a morning workout club, so he decided to take a nap in his car outside of Lancer Stadium. But, because he fell asleep, he nearly missed the opportunity to lift.
That rigorous training and work ethic in high school helped set a foundation for his eight-year NFL career.
"I just remember my favorite thing was how hard we all worked in the weight room," Celek said. "Just some of the things that we used to do. Gosh, I just remember that we would get up super early in the morning. We created a lifting group and it was tough. It was really tough."
Celek, a 2007 La Salle graduate, never relinquished that toughness. He played with Michigan State University and then went on to play with the San Francisco 49ers from 2012-2019, including being a part of two Super Bowl teams.
After his retirement from the NFL in 2020, Celek is still considering his post-NFL career options.
He's heard his brother, former NFL tight end and La Salle standout Brent Celek, discuss the real estate market. Garrett has also considered the culinary arts.
But, after having a conversation with La Salle head coach Pat McLaughlin, Garrett Celek embraced an opportunity to coach high school football. La Salle namedCelek as the wide receivers coach earlier this year.
"I owe La Salle a lot," Celek said. "I wouldn't be where I am today without them. So anything I can do to try to repay that I will. And I think the best thing I can do at this time is just to give them my time and that's what I'm trying to do."
Celek, 33, has enjoyed being able to connect with the La Salle football program. He's shared his NFL wisdom but has most importantly enjoyed learning about the coaches and players.
"He has been outstanding when it comes to working with our young men, and our young men are definitely gravitating toward him," said longtime La Salle assistant coach Brian Heidorn, who coaches the tight ends, running backs and special teams. "I don't know if it's the NFL experience thing or his personality trait. I would definitely lean toward his personality trait because he's a very outgoing, positive want you to get better type of character when it comes to coaching football."
Celek said he spent a good deal of time in a sort of informal coaching role his final season with the 49ers in 2019 because of an injury. Still, he wasn't quite sure how the transition to the high school level earlier this school year would go.
"I was a little nervous going in because one, I've never really coached before, and, two, I wasn't sure how I was going to be working with high school students," Celek said. "You know, it took probably a couple of weeks for some of the guys to warm up to me. But, once it happened it was great. A couple guys were buying into me the first week and then a few more guys. I've already started to build up a good relationship with a bunch of them and it's been really fun."
La Salle senior wide receiver Garrett Patterson said he and Celek connected easily because of their same first names, but he added Celek has helped with technique in the weight room and offered guidance on the team's playbook.
"It's just crazy to see that we have a guy like that who has so much experience - more experience than probably any other coach we're going to ever have, so it's really great," Patterson said.
Patterson said Celek's experience will continue to help the La Salle wide receivers develop this summer as the team prepares for their season opener on Aug. 20 against visiting Colerain.
"He's been playing in the league for eight years, so me, as well as the other guys, we're just excited to get to know him better," Patterson said.
McLaughlin said the La Salle coaching staff has enjoyed hearing Celek discuss his extensive experience with an NFL playbook.
"I've learned stuff from him just about offensive play, and we talk to him about, 'This is how coach (49ers coach Kyle) Shananan did it, this is how they did it,'" McLaughlin said.
"Maybe we can or can't do that in regards to a route or tight end or release or some type of scheme, but he at least just says, 'Think about it,' and we pick his brain a lot, I'll say, just with some of the stuff we do and some of our zone stuff and schemes."
La Salle has a rugged upcoming season schedule, but Celek is impressed by the overall talent the Lancers have returning. He can't wait to have the opportunity to help the Lancers create memories of their own at Lancer Stadium.
"My goal is just to try to get as many players as possible to have scholarships for college," Celek said. "To use this as a vehicle to take the next step - that's my goal. I just want to help these kids out as much as I can. I definitely want to win, but my focus is on making each kid better and better every day."