During South Carolina’s first practice, Stephen Garcia showed off a strong arm, chemistry with receiver Jason Barnes and escapability.
With a crowd of reporters waiting Tuesday night, Garcia left through a side gate at the Bluff Road practice fields before anyone could stop him. After a sports information official retrieved him from the locker room, Garcia explained he did not realize media members wanted to speak with him.
But as he begins camp for the first time as the Gamecocks’ clear-cut starter at quarterback, Garcia should prepare to get a lot of questions from interested parties — his teammates included.
“You have your whole confidence up, and the team looks at you if they have any questions,” Garcia said of starting drills No. 1 on the depth chart.
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“It’s never been like that for me, because I’ve always been asking them questions. I asked (Chris) Smelley questions or (Tommy) Beecher questions. Now the young guys are asking me stuff. It feels good, especially for my confidence.”
With Smelley gone to Alabama to play baseball and Beecher at Liberty for a post-graduate year of football, Garcia is in the spot he has been gunning for since graduating from his Tampa, Fla., high school a semester early in 2007.
And while it was one practice in shorts and helmets, the early signs were encouraging. If nothing else, Garcia demonstrated to coaches he put in the throwing work this summer they said was crucial to his development.
During a 7-on-7 passing drill, Garcia checked out of the called play at the line of scrimmage based on the secondary’s coverage and uncorked a bomb that Barnes caught in stride for a touchdown.
“It was nice to see them actually connect because the springtime, those two just couldn’t — for whatever reason,” first-year quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus said. “That shows me, too, I know those two did spend a lot of time together over the summer. And I’m hoping that’s going to pay off. That was a good start tonight.”
Garcia pointed to another play from the 1-on-1 drills as evidence that he and Barnes are on the same page. Garcia said the two have been working on the back-shoulder fade route “pretty much the entire summer,” and went to it when Barnes lined up across from free safety Chris Culliver.
“We kind of knew what each other were thinking, and it worked out and he caught it,” Garcia said. “Hopefully we’ll do a lot of that in the red zone, and third downs and stuff like that.”
While Steve Spurrier was characteristically low-key in his comments about Garcia — “He looked OK, they all looked OK,” he said — Mangus liked the way Garcia carried himself in the huddle.
“I think there’s a definite confidence level. Should be. He’s got a chance for it to be his time, and I expect him to carry himself that way,” Mangus said.
Mangus recruited the Tampa area while at Middle Tennessee and knew Garcia from visiting his high school. Garcia said he considers Mangus a friend, and the two talk nearly every day.
During those discussions, Mangus has encouraged Garcia to play up his confidence.
“I want to see him do it ... and kind of have a little swag to him. I think you have to to be a good quarterback, but understand the line of arrogance and humility,” Mangus said. “It’s a fine line and I don’t want him to cross that line, but I want him to approach it.”