SEATTLE – The two boys played rough at their family’s home in Lynnwood, Washington, where Myles Gaskin grew up three years younger than brother Ivan.
They played football in the yard, pounding on each other until it was time to play something else. Basketball, maybe. Or, more likely, wrestling.
Actually, hold on, Ivan clarifies. It’s called ‘rastlin’. There is a difference. Make sure you spell it right.
“Rastlin,” Ivan says. “With an R.”
Those who grew up fighting with siblings – so, those who grew up with siblings – are likely familiar with this spirited, lawless form of combat.
“Just boys being boys,” Ivan said, laughing.
As they grew, they pushed each other, and now both can claim significant achievement: Ivan is nearing graduation from Morehouse College, a small, liberal-arts school in Atlanta that he attends on scholarship (he majors in computer science with a minor in mathematics). And as the Washington Huskies prepare to finish the 2015 season with Saturday’s Heart of Dallas Bowl game against Southern Mississippi, Myles is perhaps the most proven embodiment of the Huskies’ hopeful future.
As a true freshman, he rushed for 1,121 yards – most ever by a UW freshman – and 10 touchdowns in 12 games. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry and became the first UW freshman to rush for 100 yards in consecutive games – he actually eclipsed that mark seven times, including two separate, three-game stretches. ESPN named him to its true-freshman All-America team. By any measure, he was the team’s most pleasant surprise, and also its most consistent offensive player.
He was a pleasant surprise, anyway, to those who don’t know him.
“In all honesty,” Ivan said, “watching his preparation, knowing him, knowing where he comes from, as far as the work ethic my mother and father instilled in us, and that hustle … I wasn’t surprised.”
Their parents, Scott and Robbie, also taught them humility, and so Ivan is reluctant to accept any kind of credit for what Myles has become. But you should know that Myles watched his brother, studied him, learned from him, mimicked him. If he lost a ‘rastlin’ match – that happened a lot during their younger years, Ivan says – Myles wanted to know which move Ivan had used to whip him. Then he’d use it, too.
“He does some stuff to you, winning a fight or something like that, then you try to do it to him the next time you fight, and that translates to everything,” Myles said. “You see your older brother do something that worked for him, you try to take it and make it yours and just get better at it.”
His brother, Myles said, is observant, and he is rational. Ivan played running back and safety at O’Dea, just like Myles.
“One of those people that waits and sees what everybody else is doing, and just being very observant in all sorts of things in life,” Myles said. “And just try to put that into football, family life, school, everything – just observing and taking it all in before you act on anything.”
And maybe that’s how Myles developed his most valuable trait as a football player. Ask anyone with a vested interest in the Huskies’ success for an assessment of their starting tailback, and invariably they point to the same thing.
He is so, so patient. He understands blocking. He knows he has to wait for a crease to appear before bursting through it, that full-speed-ahead is not a viable strategy for a running back in the Pac-12.
So Myles picks and prods, and accelerates only when the time is right. Ivan doesn’t necessarily agree with the idea that his brother acquired this trait from watching him play – “I did play sports, but was not that kind of athlete,” he says – but whenever he’s asked about his football skills, Myles brings the conversation back to his brother.
It’s obvious he revered him as a kid. Wanted to be like him. Wanted to play with Ivan’s friends, because it was apparent early that Myles was too talented to seek competition within his own age group. That led, inevitably, to little brother taking some lumps.
“He didn’t really win too much when we were younger at all,” Ivan said. “I think that taught him a lot. He has a very unique work ethic.”
Ivan says his brother is “very intellectual” – Myles describes Ivan the same way – and the collision of two young, sharp minds often produced banter that evolved into physical confrontation.
“A lot of times, the root of the rastlin’ got started with a fairly intellectual conversation we could not agree on,” Ivan said, “and may sort of turn into some sort of semi-conflict.”
That is perhaps what Ivan most wants you to know about his brother – that as much natural talent as he might possess, Myles has worked and studied hard for what he has, and that his dedication to being a great running back has never wavered.
In high school, he stayed up all night before games, watching YouTube highlights of other running backs – Jacquizz Rodgers, Jahvid Best – trying to pick up a move that he might use against O’Dea’s opponent the next day.
At practice, O’Dea coach Monte Kohler says, “whatever coaches asked, he did, and then he always did more. If we were doing a drill taking the ball 20 yards, he’d go 40 yards. He just always wants more. He’s disappointed if other kids won’t push him or work hard.”
He was part of a group of three players who were the first four-year lettermen in O’Dea football history – and O’Dea has a fair bit of football history. As a senior, Myles rushed for nearly 1,567 yards and 25 touchdowns, and averaged 14.4 yards per carry. He was a track star, too, winning the State 3A championship in the 100-meter dash as a senior with a time of 11.02 seconds, and also ran the 200, the 400 and a pair of relays, in addition to the shotput.
A “relentless” approach to the weight room, Kohler said, allowed him to build the kind of frame that has been able to withstand the burden of carrying the football 201 times against Division 1 opponents.
“People want to make Myles out to be just this talent,” Ivan said, “but Myles has been a student for longer than anyone gives him credit for.”
At first, Myles said, he marveled at how much faster college players move than the high-school kids he used to run past at O’Dea. In his collegiate debut, he rushed for only five yards on five carries in UW’s season-opening loss at Boise State, and says now that he was “all jumpy, eyes wide open. I can only imagine, just looking at myself.”
But he quickly learned how to adapt. This, in part, is how he describes the adjustment, and it provides an interesting glimpse inside an analytical mind: “I think you can kind of see the defense pursuit angles. So, say you break a big run. You probably know who’s coming next, like a linebacker’s going to be on your heels, or a backside corner, or you can probably get somebody to overrun you sometimes, so you cut back on them. Just knowing how fast everybody is and just being able to kind of gameplan for it before it actually happens.”
The highlights began to accumulate. Did you see that jump-cut he made at USC? That juke he used to score UW’s first touchdown at Stanford? That quick, subtle move he used to slide past an oncoming defender before he sprinted for a 72-yard touchdown run against Oregon?
Myles himself brushes off the accolades: “All the records, I really give to the o-line.” And that’s befitting his laid-back personality. Hanging out at home with his parents is among his favorite activities. He returned to the O’Dea campus a couple of times during the season, just to visit. His roots are important to him.
“He’s never big-timed anybody,” Kohler said. “He loves people. When he was a senior, he would talk to the freshmen. Just a great kid. Always had a smile on his face, very respectful, appreciative of everything that he has.”
With a bowl game still on the schedule, Myles says he isn’t yet thinking about what the future might hold for the young Huskies offense, which returns a core of promising freshmen and sophomores next season.
Instead, he’s focused on Southern Miss, the next team tasked with trying to ‘rastle’ him to the ground.
They might want to consult Ivan on that one.
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