For Garcia, perseverance is the key

It's been a long road for Husky C Juan Garcia. He came from a life full of gangs and violence in Yakima and made it into the University of Washington on a football scholarship, but even that road was full of potholes. Now he's on the precipice of starting for the Dawgs, but the last thing he wants to do is talk about it.

"Right now it feels good," Garcia told after a recent workout. "Last year I got hurt on the 14th (of August) so leading up to that I was kind of nervous because I had never done a long stretch of football so when the 14th came this month everybody was like ‘hey, congratulations you made it' and I was like ‘I don't even want to talk about because I might jinx myself' and now nobody wants to talk about it."

Garcia has been through the ringer when it comes to injuries.

In 2004, Garcia suffered a gruesome ankle dislocation during spring practice that many thought might end his college career before it started. Then last year, a week into camp, Garcia suffered leg and shoulder injuries that sidelined him for the second straight season. Now fully healthy, Garcia is showing the potential that made the Huskies offer him as a senior at Eisenhower High School.

"I think from the standpoint of what he brings to the line, it's physical toughness and mental toughness," offensive line coach Mike Denbrock. "He's been through a lot of obstacles in his time with us and he's overcome all of them and on top of that, he's got the ability to be a very, very good offensive center. I like the direction he's moving in.

"He's one of those guys who hasn't played a lot of football so there are things out there that happen that still surprise him from time to time and we need to get those cleaned up here in the next couple weeks, but I love the toughness and I love the work ethic that he brings."

Head coach Tyrone Willingham mentioned Garcia's leadership as a quality he has shown every day during practice.

"His position, very much like the quarterback position, is a position of responsibility," Willingham noted. "What is wonderful about Juan is he has worked to show people that he deserves that responsibility and he wants to be the type of leader that you need in the center of the line and that is very difficult to do.

"He's still growing and he's still learning. He doesn't have a ton of experience to call on. I mean, he's spent probably as much time watching the game as he has playing it. He's growing, he's learning and he's getting better every day."

Garcia doesn't think his lack of playing time has hurt his credibility with his teammates and he had an example to prove his point.

"Ever since I got here I've been working hard," Garcia said. "Like lifting twice a day or doing whatever I have to do and a lot of my teammates have seen that and this one time during the offseason one of the guys was kneeling down when we were doing conditioning and I was like ‘man you need to stand up' and he thought some other guy said it and he said ‘shut up'.

"I thought he said it to me and I went back at him and I said ‘don't you ever tell me to shut up' and he was like ‘oh, you can tell me whatever you want because you work hard'. That's when I knew I had credibility with my teammates."

Now heading into his fourth year with the program, Garcia is very cognizant of the fact that the Huskies haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher since Rashaan Shehee did it in 1997. He said the line, the tight ends and the fullbacks are aware of that stat and they plan on changing that this year.

"Coach Denbrock always lets us know about that stuff," Garcia said with a smile. "He reminds us constantly and it makes us want to get that goal.

"A couple of days ago me and Mark (Palaita) were talking about that and to us, we don't get that much recognition, like Isaiah (Stanback) win or lose he's going to get a lot of attention and stuff like that, but we won't and that's fine.

"Our joy comes from the fact that we know we blocked for a 1,000 yard rusher and that's what we want to do this year so I can say that I blocked for whoever – Kenny James or Louis Rankin – that he rushed for 1,000 yards and I had something to do with it. I don't get the credit, but I don't care because I know in my heart that I had something to do with it.

"The pressure is on us and we know it, no we just have to go out and do it. We need to stop talking about it and just do it. If we do that, the fans will be happy, the coaches will be happy and most of all (the players) will be happy."

When Garcia looks back at where he's come from, he reflects on how one wrong turn could have meant he was never able to realize his dream's of playing college football and getting his degree. Now, two quarters shy of his degree and obtaining a fifth year of eligibility, Garcia said it's almost surreal for him.

"So far everything I've been doing, it feels like a dream," Garcia said humbly. "I don't know when I'm going to wake up from it. Camp is two-a-days and it sucks, but still it's like I'm doing stuff, when I look around the locker room I realize I shouldn't be doing the stuff I'm doing because if I would have taken a different turn here or there I wouldn't be here right now so I just thank God and I feel real blessed."

Another blessing that Garcia is hoping for includes his mother getting Saturdays off from her job so she can make the three-hour drive from her home to watch her son play this year.

"The first game of the season my mom is going to make it, but she has to work on weekends so it's tough," Garcia said. "That's the thing that's killing me right now. I'm going to have to talk to her boss or something and tell him ‘you've gotta let her off on Saturday's sometimes' because I really don't care if my whole family comes, but I want my mom to come and watch me."

If the past is any indication, Garcia's perseverance will pay off in that regard as well. Top Stories