Garcia Moving Forward

After serving a week-long suspension from an incident that happened in Atlanta prior to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, quarterback Stephen Garcia returned to the practice fields this week. Thursday Garcia spoke out for the first time.

South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia has had an up and down career on and off the field in his Gamecock career to say the least. While the senior quarterback is third in school history in passing yards (6,753), completions (903), and passing touchdowns (43), he has also had three dismal bowl performances that led to losses to Iowa, UConn, and Florida State. He's also had his fair share of off field problems.

"It's been a kind of bumpy five years since I've been here," Garcia said after Thursday's practice. "I've got to stick with ( the team) - they've stuck with me throughout this five years for the most part."

Garcia's latest bump in the road occurred prior to last season's Chick-fil-A Bowl against Florida State. It has been well-documented - and often blown out of proportion - what happened with Garcia and back-up quarterback Andrew Clifford in Atlanta during bowl week that led to a suspension for the first week of spring practice.

"Last week was rough," Garcia said. "It's tough not being part of the team. I talked with Coach Spurrier a few times and that was the main thing he wanted to put in my mind - how it was a privilege to be on the team. That definitely sank in."

Garcia emphasized that the issue had nothing to do with his bowl performance, saying "the turnovers killed us. That's why we lost that game."

Garcia and Clifford knew of nothing until last Monday, the day before spring practice began, and weren't told of their suspension until the day spring practice was to begin. It was a decision that seemed to crush Garcia.

"We had a team meeting on Monday and he talked to me and Clifford and told us he was going to talk to the coaches and figure out what he wanted to do," Garcia said. "He called me Tuesday morning. When I got that voice mail, I had to let it sink in. I couldn't talk to him or call him back because I was so distraught. I talked with him later that night and we talked about it."

As news spread of Garcia's suspension it was understandably not received well among the Gamecock fanbase. Some questioned why the suspension wasn't announced during the winter. Others were ready for Garcia to be dismissed from the team. The message from the team was heard loud and clear from Garcia. They were still there for their quarterback.

"That's why I love this team," Garcia said. "Everybody has support for everybody on this team and I've got a hundred-thousand phone calls from everybody on the team saying don't worry about and we're going to be ready for you next week. It's a family here and I'm very happy to be here."

Last week, quarterback coach G.A. Mangus challenged his quarterback, saying that he has nine months to 'put the pedal to the metal.' Garcia said the message is loud and clear, something he's already doing.

"Eat, sleep, drink, think nothing but football," he said. "That's what I'm doing. I worked hard in the offseason and in the winter workouts. The players voted me one of the leaders on the team so we're ready to get the 2011 season started."

While that may be true, it's not the first time fans have heard that from Garcia's mouth. What will make this time different? No one knows for sure, but Garcia claims that this will be the last off the field issue he will face at Carolina.

"I just have to be smarter," Garcia said. "That's the bottom line. The last time I got into trouble was three or four years ago. It was a bad decision on my part down in Atlanta. Nothing bad will happen again."

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