Garcia earning Spurrier's praise

As the Gamecocks prepare to open fall practice tomorrow, quarterback Stephen Garcia will be under close scrutiny once again as he looks to lead the Gamecocks to a successful 2010 campaign. The QB will also try to continue to earn the praise of his head coach and keep a firm hold on the number one spot as freshman Connor Shaw challenges for playing time.

The career of Stephen Garcia at the University of South Carolina has been anything but easy. From off the field problems and on the field struggles, to his relationship with head coach Steve Spurrier, everything about Garcia's career has been subject of hot debate in Gamecock nation.

As he enters his second year as the number one starter at USC, he will now face pressure of a different kind as young Connor Shaw jockeys for playing time in his first season as back-up quarterback. And although his relationship with Spurrier has sometimes been described as less than perfect, Garcia is continuing to grow and mature, perhaps earning more praise from his coach heading into the 2010 season.

"I think Stephen has grown up a lot," said Spurrier at SEC Media Days. "He had all of his problems early there. He did have some problems. We believe he's matured, grown up, is a different person."

Now that Garcia seems to have cleared the off field hurdles that seemed to hold him back so greatly during his first couple of years in Columbia, the focus will once again turn to his play on the field. And after putting up some gaudy statistics in 2009, the Tampa native will look to continue his success as one of the most proven signal-callers returning in the SEC this year.

With a coach that has been notoriously tough on all of his quarterbacks, Spurrier said he tries to treat Garcia the same, and also credits his assistants with helping the development of Garcia.

"Oh, it's probably similar to some of 'em in the past," Spurrier said in describing his relationship with the QB. "I think I have a pretty good relationship with Stephen. I don't know how else to answer it. I left him alone this summer. I left him alone this spring pretty much, let him go play. We have a quarterback coach, G.A. Mangus, does a good job with all those guys. Sometimes our local media guys think I'm critical of him a lot. I'm just trying to tell -- express what he needs to do to help our team certainly. I'm just trying to tell -- express what he needs to do to help our team certainly. That's avoid the sacks and make better decisions. So I'm not critical of him. He may be playing the best he can. I don't know yet."

After saying that his team was working hard with full attendance in offseason conditioning drills, Spurrier added that of all the improvements Garcia has made, he still has to prove that he can be play at a high level consistently. As for Shaw, Spurrier made it clear that Garcia is his quarterback, but as always he will let the best player play.

"Well, I hope Steven has improved on a lot of things and I hope he's had a good summer working on his fundamentals, so forth, learning the offense a little bit better," said Spurrier. "Obviously he has to do that on his own. We're going to find out when he starts playing this coming year. But Stephen is our starter. He'll be our starter unless he's beaten out by the next quarterback."

With two years of eligibility remaining, Garcia has a chance to continue to build his legacy and establish what some hope to be the best era of football in South Carolina's history. With so much riding on his back, Spurrier said that Garcia will have to continue to grow, but will reach a point where he must put everything aside and simply win.

So Garcia moves forward into 2010, and all Gamecock fans he will be firmly looking forward, and not over his shoulder.

"At some point, players don't really make better decisions or play better, then that's the best they can be," said Spurrier. "That's all you can do. If you don't have another player to put in there, then you live with it. That's the way you go on. But we think we'll have at least another quarterback ready to play this coming season in case Stephen struggles. Stephen will have the first opportunity to go the distance for us."

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