It’s strange that a career that ended so badly is still so fondly remembered.
But that’s always been the case with Stephen Garcia – despite the numerous missteps that led to his downfall at South Carolina, it’s nearly impossible to dislike him.
“I talk to coach (Steve) Spurrier during the offseason all the time,” Garcia said on Thursday, before he spoke at a meeting of the Columbia Touchdown Club. “We have a much better relationship than we did when I was playing for him. I don’t think I’m going to take as much time between visits from here on out.”
It’s Garcia’s first game back since his career abruptly ended in October 2011. He said he’ll be recognized on the field Saturday when the Gamecocks host UCF, and he’s already begun catching up with old friends (Andrew Clifford came with him from Tampa, and they’re staying with graduate assistant coach Seth Strickland).
He was set to speak at USC’s Thursday practice, and he’s already spoken to quarterbacks Perry Orth and Lorenzo Nunez. Nunez, about to make his first career start, has been counseled by Garcia about how to harness his athleticism and make it work for the team.
“I talked to him on Twitter the past two days and told him just to play fast, that’s what this game’s all about,” Garcia said. “And just stay confident.”
Confidence is something Garcia’s always had, and what he’s using as he continues his post-football life.
He’s noticeably slimmer, a father for the second time with 15-month-old Celia (son Memphys turns 8 in October) and still pursuing his dream of playing professionally. Stints in the CFL and arena league didn’t work out, so he’s spent his time tutoring quarterbacks in the Tampa area and throwing during NFL tryout camps.
“I think I’m going to give it one more year,” he mused. “I turn 27 coming up, so time is ticking. I actually threw for the Panthers, Patriots and Eagles. I threw great and the coaches said, ‘How are you not on an NFL roster?’
“It’s stuff like that that keeps me wanting to play.”
He says his arm feels the best it ever has and if he doesn’t get a pro shot, he doesn’t know what he’ll turn to. In the least surprising news ever, Garcia said he would never feel comfortable in a 9-to-5 cubicle.
His journey back to Columbia is about reconnecting and enjoying himself. Expect a standing ovation when he is introduced on Saturday – fans still love him and remember the greatest game he ever played (a dethroning of No. 1 Alabama).
“We walked across (the street) and went to Bojangle’s and as soon as I stepped out, some guy’s looking at me, ‘Garcia!,’” he said. “I was like, ‘That didn’t take too long.’
“I’m excited. It’s my first game back, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Garcia not a fan of rotating QBs
South Carolina dabbled with rotating Perry Orth and Lorenzo Nunez in and out on every snap last week at Georgia. Nunez will start this week, but Steve Spurrier said that Orth and Michael Scarnecchia may play.
Does the rotation on every snap work? Stephen Garcia said no.
“Not at all,” he said. “I don’t know how those guys are – I talked to Perry about it and he wasn’t too excited about it. Personally, I hated it.”
Garcia and Chris Smelley did it in back-to-back games in 2008. The Gamecocks beat Arkansas 34-21 and were blistered by Florida.
“I think the last time we did that we lost 56-6 in The Swamp,” Garcia said. “I’m not a huge believer in it, but I’m not the head coach.”
-- David Cloninger