Things were going relatively well for Gillette native Orah Garst.
He had enjoyed a music career as a drummer in the Christian rock band Black Pajent before becoming a football coach and defensive coordinator while a student at Trinity Bible College.
He didn’t play high school football and most of his experience was from being exceptionally good and thoughtful about playing the NFL football “Madden” video game franchise. He would draw up football plays on the tour van while he was still in the band.
He had success nonetheless in real-world football, and Garst was named the National Christian College Athletic Association Assistant Coach of the Year when he was 21 years old.
He studied to become a pastor while at Trinity, but changed his goals. So Garst went to Texas in 2016 to study communications and digital media ... and coach football at Southwestern Assemblies of God University.
Something changed while Garst was in Texas one day while jogging when he had his first panic attack.
“I went for a run and my heart would just not slow down. I was like, ‘I’m dying,’” Garst said. “I just had this thought that I’m dying and I couldn’t really shake it.”
Garst said he was a nervous wreck for about two years and could hardly function because of the panic attacks. He was afraid to go to class and even walking into a gas station was a personal battle for him. The health problems made him quit what was his passion at the time: coaching football.
“If I wanted to go to a grocery store I would hyperventilate,” Garst said. “My head was a mess. I had to stop coaching. I couldn’t even function. I would have a panic attack 10 minutes into the game.”
He looked up his symptoms on the internet and learned that it was almost impossible for him to recover from the situation of intense and never ending anxiety he was in.
But somehow Garst slowly got over the anxiety attacks, pointing to his Christian background. He interned at Texas Christian University before taking a job as the visual media specialist at Baylor in 2018. The anxiety still crept up at times over the last two years, but he’s somehow managed to fight it off.
He landed a dream job this year and accepted his new position as the director of Football Creative and Engagement with the University of Nebraska.
“If you want to talk about God,” Garst said. “I was nervous to go into a gas station and now I’m running around with (Nebraska Head) Coach (Scott) Frost at Big 10 Media Days in Chicago.”
“I’m only saying that because if that doesn’t brag on God, I don’t know what else will,” Garst said. “I never took a medicine. … I learned to take control of my thoughts.”
At Nebraska, he controls all of the social media and media content involved with recruiting efforts at the football-crazed college. Garst is the first director of Football Creative and Engagement the program has had, and the job has become so important to college football that his office is right across the hall from Frost’s.
“From afar, watching (Frost) at (University of Central Florida), I was just enamored with what he did from a football standpoint, and from the outside just how much he loved his players,” Garst said. “I said, ‘If I ever get a chance to work with coach Frost, I’m going to take it in whatever role.’”
For Garst, it was as simple as finding an application for the job online. He simply applied and got the job.
He makes videos, photos and other types of media for the Cornhuskers, pumping up the fan base and helping with recruit photo shoots. The videos that he and his group of eight undergraduate interns have create have garnered national attention.
“Frost has a culture of he’s not going to micro-manage, so they hired me to do the job and they just trust me and they let me go on with it,” Garst said about how much freedom he has in the role. “He’ll give me a few suggestions here and there, but he really wants his staff to just flourish in their roles.”
Checking out the videos on social media, it looks as though Garst and the undergrads could start their own production company in Hollywood.
He said two film classes at Campbell County High School set him on the path to his now.
The best thing he’s made in his job so far, he said, was a video of the football team doing training with U.S. Navy SEALs. The 2-minute, 20-second video looks like a scene from “Saving Private Ryan” and is masterfully edited with music and a speech in the background, while video of the players working out with oars and rafts is displayed.
The video has hundreds of thousands of views and former NFL running back Reggie Bush even shared it on Twitter.
He’s been creative all of his life, from beating on the drums in his Christian rock band to using his creativity to turn around a small college football team, but now his official job title centers completely around being creative.
“I’ve just always done so many weird things,” Garst said. “I’m unique. It’s not that I’m better than anyone. I’m just different, and in this industry you have to be different.”
He said he was very close to having a completely different life.
“I was six credits away from being an ordained pastor, and then I moved down to Texas and started film school,” he said.
The daily grind of his creative job isn’t all fun and games, however, and Garst said he always feels like he has to keep one-upping himself and other football programs with new content.
“This (football) staff is so competitive. So I want to bring that same energy,” Garst said. “So when I see another school create a cool video, I give them respect. I’m like, ‘Well done.’ And then I get really mad and I’m like, ‘Our team’s got to bring it.’”
Garst wouldn’t give away much about how the Cornhuskers are looking for the upcoming season, but his optimism comes through.
“The buzz around the building is unreal,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”