Thirteen days after guaranteeing that he had made his last misstep as a college athlete, South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia was suspended from the team indefinitely, putting his future with the Gamecocks in doubt.
The rising fifth-year senior showed up Tuesday night for a Southeastern Conference-mandated life skills event smelling of alcohol and was asked to leave, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
Neither head coach Steve Spurrier nor athletics director Eric Hyman, who announced the suspension Wednesday, would say what led to the quarterback’s fifth banishment since arriving at USC from Tampa, Fla.
“We have expectations for our student-athletes and we make them aware that there are consequences for their actions,” Hyman said in a statement released by the school. “Stephen has exhibited behavior that is unacceptable for one of our student-athletes.”
Garcia did not return a message left on his cellphone Wednesday. He told The Associated Press that the suspension did not involve an arrest nor was it drug- or alcohol-related.
Spurrier said he, Hyman and USC president Harris Pastides were involved in the decision to suspend Garcia. He will not return to football activities this semester and his status with the team will be determined later, the coach said.
“We are where we are,” Spurrier said. “If he’s back, he’s back. If he’s not back, it’s really the same thing as maybe a guy getting hurt, a guy going pro or whatever. Players come and go as we all know, and this incident should never have happened but it did.”
He did not answer when asked if he wanted Garcia back next season to defend South Carolina’s SEC East title.
Asked if there was there a limit on suspensions for a player, he said: “You need to ask somebody else that.”
Teammates went online to express support. “No matter what Garcia does I am still going to (play) with him the long way. That my dawg,” Alshon Jeffery posted on his Twitter account on Wednesday. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore said after practice that he did not think Garcia has a problem with drinking or an issue in controlling himself.
“He’s a good kid. He just made a bad decision.” Gilmore said. “We try to tell him to do the right thing. (But) Garcia, when he gets out on his own, he’s going to do his own thing. He’s a grown man. He’s just got to take (the) consequences.”
Connor Shaw, a sophomore backup from Georgia, will become the starting quarterback in Garcia’s absence.
“It’s a team sport and you have to be team guys, when one (player) is down somebody else has to pick up,” defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “And hopefully Connor will rise to the opportunity he has now and lead this team.”
Raymond Harrison, South Carolina’s director of academic services and life skills programs, is the person in charge of implementing the athletics department’s character education programs.
“Leadership is what we try to preach all the time with our student-athletes,” Harrison said. “In order for us to do well, we have to have leadership across the board. It’s unfortunate that one of the student-athletes who is in the position of leadership has chosen not to make the right decision. It’s unfortunate that some student-athletes put themselves in bad positions. I don’t know if it’s the pressure. I have no idea.”
Tuesday night’s event was part of the Mentors in Violence Prevention program that was mandated by the SEC three years ago. The football team’s topics on Tuesday night were leadership and the power of language.
Garcia, who is third in South Carolina history in passing yards (6,753) and passing touchdowns (43), is coming off his best season on the field. He threw for 3,059 yards and 20 touchdowns with a 64.2 percent completion rate.
However, his off-field troubles haven’t stopped. Garcia has now been suspended twice this spring alone. He missed the first week of spring practice after being suspended by Spurrier for a violation of team rules during the team’s bowl trip in December.
Garcia was found with girls in his room during a routine bed check the night before he threw three interceptions in a 26-17 loss to Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
“I have to be smarter, that is the bottom line,” Garcia said on March 24. “Nothing bad is going to happen again. That is a guarantee.”
Garcia said at the time that Spurrier gave him a list of a dozen things to do to stay in the coach’s good graces.
“I talked to coach Spurrier a few times about (the suspension), and that was the main thing that he wanted to put in my mind, that it is a privilege to be on the team,” Garcia said, “and it definitely has sunk in.”
Video: Steve Spurrier post-practice Wednesday