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March 25, 2008

3 strikes: Is Garcia out?

South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia is in trouble again, and university officials will decide whether the much-maligned freshman gets another chance.

-- TODAY'S UPDATE: Sources: Garcia to face counseling; football status uncertain

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South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia is in trouble again, and university officials will decide whether the much-maligned freshman gets another chance.

Garcia, 20, was one of three players cited and charged with underage drinking after police found them with coolers of beer outside East Quad dormitory at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, the first of two incidents involving Garcia in a five-hour span at the dorm that houses the majority of USC players.

Garcia, offensive lineman Heath Batchelor and walk-on quarterback Zac Brindise were cited for underage drinking by police responding to students’ complaints of loud noise in the courtyard between the East and South Quad dormitories, according to USC spokesman Russ McKinney.

Gary Garcia, 25, the quarterback’s older brother, is charged with transferring beer to a minor, according to tickets issued by campus police. Gary Garcia, who played football at Harvard, was in Columbia visiting his brother.

This is the third time Stephen Garcia has run afoul of the law since graduating early from his Tampa, Fla., high school and enrolling at USC in January 2007. He was suspended for spring practice last year following two arrests in two weeks.

Garcia was arrested for drunkenness and failure to stop on police command last February in Five Points before being charged with keying a visiting professor’s car on campus two weeks later.

USC coach Steve Spurrier said Garcia’s “fate is in the hands of the University of South Carolina.”

Asked to clarify, Spurrier said: “They’ve got a president. They’ve got an athletic director. They’ve got a dean. They’ve got a whole bunch of people over there. So if they say he’s here, he’ll be here, OK? His fate is out of my hands. Let’s put it that way.”

Spurrier said he would accept the university’s decision on Garcia, who was not at practice Monday.

“He’s had a lot of chances here,” Spurrier said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Garcia paid a fine of $257.50 in Columbia magistrate’s court Monday on the underage drinking charge, according to his attorney, Neal Lourie. Garcia’s driver’s license will be suspended for four months, but he will be able to operate his moped, Lourie said.

“He did not want to request a jury trial. He did not want to put the university, his teammates, the fans through an unnecessary, long, drawn-out process,” Lourie said. “He just wanted to get it over with (and) take responsibility.”

Attempts to reach Garcia were unsuccessful.

There have been seven USC players arrested or cited since Dec. 31, including five charged with alcohol- or drug-related offenses.

Batchelor, 20, and Brindise, 19, are due in court next month. Spurrier said Brindise would miss two or three practices, but he gave Batchelor a “pardon” after the returning starter convinced him he had been falsely accused.

McKinney said all three players would go through the university’s student disciplinary system.

Garcia also faces student disciplinary measures for Saturday’s second incident, which occurred less than five hours after he was ticketed.

After police and Columbia firefighters responded to a fire alarm at the dorm at 11 p.m., authorities discovered an extinguisher had been discharged in the third-floor hallway of the dorm. Garcia told police he discharged the extinguisher after noticing sparks coming from his stove, according to the incident report.

USC maintenance workers and firefighters cleaned up the debris from the extinguisher. Police said there was $100 in damages to the extinguisher.

Garcia is the only suspect listed on the report, but has not been charged. The incident remains under investigation.

Garcia completed a pretrial intervention program to have two of last year’s charges expunged from his record; a third charge was dropped.

Garcia, regarded as one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterback prospects, is competing with Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher for the starting job.

He said last week he learned a lot from the previous transgressions. “But I’m kind of glad it happened because I feel like I grew up a whole lot,” he said.

Spurrier plans to focus on his other quarterbacks until Garcia’s status is finalized.

“I’m not worried about him. We’ve got Tommy Beecher and Chris Smelley, and we know they’re going to always be here. They do everything we ask. Wonderful kids. And they can throw the ball. They can play,” Spurrier said.

“We’ll worry about Stephen if he comes back out here.”

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

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