Gamecocks move on without Garcia

As practice continues, the quarterback’s future at USC is still up in the air

jperson@thestate.com March 27, 2008 

A day after South Carolina’s three-man quarterback competition became a two-man scrum, the Gamecocks talked about moving forward while wishing the best for suspended freshman Stephen Garcia.

Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher took the reps during team drills at Wednesday’s practice, USC’s first since Garcia was suspended until Aug. 15 following his latest run-in with the law.

Garcia will be allowed to finish this semester at USC, but he is suspended from summer school and must comply with a number of stipulations, including drug testing and alcohol counseling, if he hopes to be readmitted to the university in August.

“Both me and Chris want him out here. He’s a good friend of both of ours,” Beecher said. “In a sense, there’s only two quarterbacks out here so there’s less pressure. But we’d like a three-quarterback battle.”

USC coach Steve Spurrier said he “stepped aside” and allowed athletics director Eric Hyman and university officials to determine Garcia’s punishment because he wanted him to be treated like “any other student.”

“I just thought it was their position. And I was going to agree with whatever they said,” Spurrier said at the Gamecocks’ pro day. “I just thought it was a decision that I shouldn’t try to influence. Now, I could have kicked him off for good. But we’re still hoping he can change his life around.

“We’re not giving up on Stephen.”

At this point, it appears Garcia is not giving up on USC, either. Though Garcia will not take another snap until two weeks before the Gamecocks’ Aug. 28 opener against N.C. State, Garcia has indicated he wants to return.

“He says he wants to come back,” Spurrier said. “We’ll find out if he can do all those things that’s going to be required in order to come back. That’ll be the test right there.”

Two of Garcia’s three criminal charges since last January stemmed from alcohol-related incidents, including an underage drinking citation this past weekend.

But Spurrier said he could not say whether the 20-year-old Garcia had an alcohol problem.

“I wasn’t around him at night, except the night before the games when he was OK,” Spurrier said. “I wasn’t out bar-hopping with him or in the dorms drinking beer with him, so I haven’t been around him.”

While Garcia mulls his future, Spurrier is giving a crash course to quarterback signee Aramis Hillary. The Strom Thurmond senior has attended several practices, including Wednesday’s, and sat in on Spurrier’s quarterback meetings this spring.

“He’s third man probably right now,” Spurrier said. “So I’m coaching him on the side when we’re doing our team stuff.”

But Smelley, who was 4-2 as a starter last fall, said there should be no confusion about which quarterback is No. 1 — with or without Garcia.

“I kind of always felt like it was my job out here, anyway,” Smelley said. “As a quarterback, you have to come out believing you’re the best and you’re going to be the guy to lead the team.”

Former Gamecocks quarterback Blake Mitchell can relate to what Garcia is going through. Mitchell was suspended for a game in 2006 after his arrest for punching a bouncer at a Five Points bar — a charge that was later dropped.

“He’s not a bad kid. He just got caught in a bad situation. It’s just one of those things that happened,” Mitchell said. “He’s just going to have to learn from it, keep his head up and take his punishment and go on.”

Extra points. Offensive lineman Heath Batchelor was held out Wednesday as punishment for his underage drinking arrest with Garcia and walk-on quarterback Zac Brindise, who returned after missing Monday’s practice. ... Left tackle Jamon Meredith took reps at guard. ... Defensive tackle Ladi Ajiboye (illness) and tailback Mike Davis (class) missed practice.

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

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