Stephen Garcia hopes South Carolina fans will give him another chance, but he admits he almost didn’t give himself one.
The Gamecocks senior quarterback spoke with the media Sunday for the first time since returning from his fifth collegiate suspension and said that support from his teammates is the chief reason he returned to the team.
“It was a rough spring I had,” Garcia said. “I was thinking about transferring, but after I saw and heard what these guys were saying on their media sites (such as Twitter and Facebook), it put it all in perspective. I said, ‘I can’t leave these guys.’ That’s what it came down to, really.”
Why should the Gamecocks’ fans, who were promised two weeks before Garcia’s fifth suspension that his fourth would be his last, embrace the quarterback again?
“They have to, I guess,” Garcia said. “I am asking them to. Hopefully, they’ll take me back one more time.”
Head coach Steve Spurrier and athletics director Eric Hyman decided to take Garcia back on Aug. 1, and Garcia thanked them for that Sunday. Spurrier offered Garcia the chance to transfer with a full release, Garcia said, the same offer he made after a 2008 run-in with trouble.
“What I told him then and what I told him the other day is, ‘Coach I committed to play here, and I’m going to finish out my career here,’” Garcia said.
Alcohol has been linked to more than half of Garcia’s suspensions, but the quarterback quickly denied he has any issue with alcohol.
“Negative, no,” he said.
Garcia met with Dr. Timothy Malone, the school’s director of wellness, several times this offseason, but the quarterback pointedly said those were not counseling sessions.
“Just to chit chat really,” he said. “It wasn’t any sort of counseling.”
Spurrier and Garcia agreed the quarterback had the best summer workouts of his career. Garcia lost weight, watched more game film, studied his playbook more and is throwing the ball as well as he ever has, he said.
“Recognizing coverages a lot faster and getting the ball to the open area of the defense” remain Garcia’s top priorities, he said. “That has always been the main concern really since I’ve been here.”
Garcia should have plenty of time to focus on football this semester. As a graduate, he can take graduate level courses or electives.
“I am not taking graduate classes,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m taking a few online classes, a Navy SEALs warfare class that ought to be pretty interesting, and, I think, archery.”
Garcia briefly discussed the incident that led to his fifth suspension, an SEC-mandated character development seminar during which Garcia was disruptive and asked to leave.
“It got kind of crazy toward the end,” Garcia said. “The guy asked me to leave, and I left. I ended up getting ahold of the guy the next day and apologizing. I didn’t think it was going to be this kind of a deal, but it happened.”
Garcia expressed hope but no expectation that Sunday would be the last time he is asked to discuss the past.
“I’m sure that’s not going to happen,” he said. “I’ve been dealing with it since I first got here, my first month here. I have developed some pretty thick hide. I hope it has passed, but if it’s not, it’s not. It is what it is.”
Video: Lattimore, Garcia, Ellington, Jeffery
Video: Steve Spurrier
Video: Devin Taylor, Jadeveon Clowney, Stephon Gilmore