Stephen Garcia received a few more cheers than the average student Saturday as he walked across the stage at Colonial Life Arena as a graduate of the University of South Carolina.
He hopes they are not the last ones he hears in Columbia. Garcia, the Gamecocks starting quarterback, is serving an indefinite suspension from the football team but said Saturday he feels good about his chances of returning to the team before the fall.
“Yeah, for sure,” he said. “We’ll see what happens, though.”
Garcia received a congratulatory call from Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier on Saturday morning, he said.
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“I am meeting with Coach Spurrier after this,” Garcia said. “He just called me and told me to come by his office after this to say congratulations and stuff, so I am going to go by and talk to him.”
Garcia received a degree in sociology, saying he pursued the major because it’s “interesting stuff.”
His football career, which has included 30 starts (28 consecutively), has left him third in school history in passing yards (6,753) and touchdowns (43) entering what would be his senior season. His current suspension is his fifth since joining the team.
“I came here in January of 2007, and it’s been a long, long journey,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s not over yet.”
Garcia joined more than 60 other South Carolina athletes in graduation ceremonies held Friday and Saturday. Sixteen football players were included in that group, including Minnesota Vikings linebacker Jasper Brinkley.
Brinkley has played two seasons in the NFL but returned to Columbia for the winter semester to take the one class he needed to complete his degree – psychology 330.
“It was one of the goals that I always wanted to accomplish, and it was one of the things my mama always wanted me to accomplish so once I got drafted, I promised her I was going to come back, and (athletics director Eric) Hyman, had to live up to my word,” Brinkley said.
Brinkley said he will now push his twin brother Casper, who played by his side on the field at South Carolina, to earn his degree.
“This day means everything to me, accomplishing one of my goals,” he said.
Raymond Harrison, the Gamecocks director of academic services, said he was delighted to see someone like Brinkley return because of the example it set for other collegiate athletes.
“You see this smile on my face,” he said. “It means a lot. He has had a chance to play at the highest level, but he understands the importance of getting his degree. It says to me that in addition to his family (pushing him to get his degree), it seems like the message is getting across.”
Video: Stephen Garcia's comments
Video: Graduation highlights
The USC student-athletes are set to graduate, along with their fields of study:
Alex Burrell, Computer Science
Brian Buscher, Psychology
David de la Chapelle, Political Science
Jose Mata, Sociology
Richard Royal, Mechanical Engineering
Brady Thomas, Nursing
Johndre Jefferson, Sociology
Sam Muldrow III, Sociology
Jewel May, Psychology and Sociology
Marah Strickland, Political Science
Chloe Gray, Marketing
Alex Foster, Management
Abigail Rohde, Marketing
Hailey Thornton, Retail Management
Jasper Brinkley, African American Studies
Ryan Broadhead, Economics
Terrence Campbell, Retail
Garrett Chisolm, Sport & Entertainment Management
Josh Dickerson, Sociology
Patrick DiMarco, Management
Stephen Garcia, Sociology
Matt Grooms, Sport & Entertainment Management
Dion LeCorn, Sociology
Cliff Matthews, Criminal Justice
Byron McKnight, Criminal Justice
Travian Robertson, Criminal Justice
Cedrick Snead, Management
Jay Spearman, Anthropology
Tony Straughter, Sociology
Alonzo Winfield, Sociology
Corinne Carr, Finance
Sam Arthur, Finance
Michael Lindsay, Management
Will Traynor, Sport & Entertainment Management
Maddy Kill, Biology
Kim Miller, Physical Education
Lindsay Small, Nursing
Ashley Chastain, History
WOMEN'S SWIMMING & DIVING
Shaylyn Blake, Accounting
Barbara Bowers, Exercise Science
Courtney Callahan, Sport & Entertainment Management
Bridget Halligan, Psychology
Stephanie Hellenga, Accounting
Kelly Kirchler, Management
Christine Thompson, Psychology
MEN'S SWIMMING & DIVING
Dominique Lendjel, Hospitality Management
Brett Sexton, Geology
Pedro Campos, Finance
Ivan Cressoni, Finance
Diego Cubas, Finance
Chris Sheehan, Finance
WOMEN'S TRACK & FIELD
Janica Austin, Criminal Justice
Amanda Barrett, Exercise Science
Kayla Blake, Retail Management
Ashley Evens, Biology
Staley Foster, Sociology
Laura Pramstaller, Finance
Tara Tae, Exercise Science
MEN'S TRACK & FIELD
Aaron Anderson, Technology Support & Training Management
Steven Hunsaker, Religious Studies
Quentin Moore, Biology
Obakeng Ngwigwa, Technology Support & Training Management
Antonio Sales, Sociology
Andrew Vaughan, Biology
Bridget Dorman, Sociology
Megan Laughlin, Management
Meredith Moorhead, Management