The decision makers at South Carolina haven’t determined if Stephen Garcia will have the opportunity to return to the football team, athletics director Eric Hyman told The State on Thursday evening.
“Right now, football is a secondary issue,” Hyman said. “Stephen needs to concentrate on Stephen. That’s where the focus needs to be. Football is a secondary issue, and it could be a distraction for him.”
Hyman declined to elaborate when asked if he was concerned about Garcia’s health. The fifth-year senior quarterback was suspended indefinitely after a Tuesday night incident in which he was asked to leave an athletics department life skills event, a source with knowledge of the incident told The State. The event’s organizers also detected alcohol Garcia’s breath, the source said.
“We are going to gather the facts and really understand the totality of his situation,” Hyman said. “I am focused on Stephen concentrating on himself. Football, everything else is secondary. I am more concerned about him as a person.”
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The decision on Garcia’s future will be made by Hyman, head coach Steve Spurrier and university president Harris Pastides, Spurrier said Thursday.
“Something we can all agree on,” Spurrier said.
This is Garcia’s fifth suspension since he arrived on campus in January 2007 and his second this spring. He will be held out of football activities at least through the end of the spring semester.
Asked Thursday if five chances are too much for any player, Spurrier replied, “I don’t know.”
“I wish he’d behave a little more normal, but it is what it is.”
Hyman wouldn’t say if Garcia’s past would play into the decision about his future. There is no timetable to make the decision, Hyman said.
“We want to do what is best for Stephen, but in the same light, we have a responsibility to the University of South Carolina,” Hyman said.
Hyman spoke to Garcia on Wednesday but said he is unsure if the quarterback knows what is expected of him at this point. Garcia did not return a message left on his cell phone.
Garcia is third in school history in passing yards (6,753) and passing touchdowns (43). His backup is sophomore Connor Shaw, who was 23-of-33 passing for 233 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions last year while filling in for Garcia.
“Sure, he’ll be ready,” Spurrier said Thursday of Shaw. “He’s been here a year.”
Shaw pushed Garcia for the starting job during the fall but his candidacy for the job all but ended after he was thrust into a September game against Auburn in the fourth quarter and threw two interceptions in a 35-27 loss.
Shaw threw just 15 passes in the final 10 games of the season and eight of those came against Troy. His spring scrimmage statistics have been underwhelming, and Spurrier has been frustrated with his footwork and decision-making at times.
Quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus feels confident that many of Shaw’s issues can be fixed with experience.
“He has done well (this spring). He just needs to play,” Mangus said prior to Garcia’s suspension. “I am a big believer that you have to play. You can watch film, you can do all that, but until it happens out here with 22 guys moving around at the speed that they move in our league, that’s where the improvement all comes. He’ll get better with every rep, and he’s going to get a bunch of reps.”
Shaw, who is 6-foot-1, 202 pounds, appears much more comfortable throwing from outside the pocket and is a threat to run as well, which might not be a good thing if he runs before all his passing options are exhausted.
“That’s what he did in high school,” Mangus said. “Stephen used to like to take off all the time because that’s what he did in high school. It takes time to break habits. He’s only 6-1 so you drop back behind 6-6 linemen, it takes a while to get a comfort level with that. It is something he needs to work on, but he seems to be getting more comfortable every day.”
For most of Garcia’s teammates, Shaw appears to be Plan B, at least for now. Many of them came to Garcia’s defense Wednesday and Thursday, both in cyberspace and in the real world.
“It’s not a distraction for anybody but the media, it seems,” linebacker Damario Jeffery said after practice. “To us, whoever we’re going to play with is who we play with. We’re not worried about who’s starting and who’s not, who’s here and who’s not. We’re just here to play.”
The Twitter reaction was even more pro-Garcia, with several teammates ending their messages about the quarterback with “#TeamGarcia”.
“Nomatter what happens we gone ride for our Quarterback....,” defensive lineman Melvin Ingram tweeted. “Im on my Garica vibe rite now.... Minor set back for a Major come back....”
Senior wide receiver Jason Barnes had perhaps the most appropriate response, “I know you gon bounce back..You always do big dog,” Barnes wrote to his quarterback on Twitter.
“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone #TeamGarcia,” linebacker Shaq Wilson said.
Running back Kenny Miles was one of the most vocal defenders of the quarterback.
“Regardless of the media or anyone else Garcia, that fam, and we gonna have his back through whatever and thats real,100,” Miles tweeted. “Ppl talkin bad on my boi #Garcia... But I still Support my boi no matter what... #TeamGarcia.”
Offensive lineman Terrence Campbell tweeted, “We love Garcia bottom line.”
Fourth-string quarterback Seth Strickland used Twitter to address the team’s fan base.
“It'll be okay #gamecocknation...,” Strickland wrote. “It'll be okay.”