Juan Garcia talks about commitment

He never saw it coming. For a humble kid growing up on the wrong side of the tracks in Yakima, Washington, Juan Garcia sure didn't see purple and gold in his future. But one thing was for sure; whatever his future would bring, it wouldn't be done behind bars or in a casket. And now, with his verbal commitment to the University of Washington, Garcia gets to fulfill a dream of being able to play D1 football for the team he loves.

"Coming out of middle school and into high school, I was with gangs and I hung around some bad people," Juan told Dawgman.com today. He was granted a fifth year of eligibility by the WIAA this year and has made the most of the opportunity. "And our family didn't have a lot of money to buy clothes, so I was embarrassed to come to school. And then the summer before my junior year was the worst in my life. I felt like dropping out. One of my best friends died. He got shot. And then it started hitting me. I don't want to end up like this. I don't want to end up dead or in jail. And Coach (Greg) Gavin, my former head coach, he told me to stay in school. I got my grades up and was working out and everything."

Speaking of Gavin, Eisenhower's current coach Dan Eyman let us know what the former Cadets Head Coach said about Juan's potential as a player. "Coach Gavin said, with all the players he's coached in 30 years, Garcia is the best," said Eyman. "That includes former Husky quarterback Cary Conklin. "When you see film of Juan, you'll see one focused kid. He works hard in the weight room. He's an incredible kid, very self-motivated."

The coaches' words encourage Garcia, but he knows he can't rest on his laurels. Even though he was first team all Big-9 on defense the last two years and first-team on offense this year, the 2002 Big-9 offensive lineman of the year isn't content. "I'm happy when I hear things like that, but I'm not a cocky person," he said. "I know there's always somebody out there who is better than me, so I always have to work harder to beat them. But I love hearing those words."

The 6-3, 275-pound Garcia wasn't always 6-3 and 275 pounds. "My junior year I was about 210 yards and we were playing Pasco, the year they took state," Juan said. "They had a middle linebacker (Doug Vincent) and he hit me so hard I got rolled. And I was getting my butt kicked the whole year. And until then I had been on top, so I was like, 'I want to be back on top again,' and from there on out I hit the weight room after school and I've been working on my speed and my grades and everything else. And I built myself up to 275. And I couldn't even bench 215 last year but now I can bench 300 pounds. I'm squatting 415."

"His strength is incredible," Eyman added. "When he comes off the ball and locks onto somebody, you know there's going to be some damage done."

Just when things were turning for the better in 2001, another setback tested Garcia's mettle. "I broke my foot the second game of the season and I was playing well, so it broke my heart. Everything was falling apart. I was thinking about dropping out. I didn't want to come to school and my dream of going to college was over. And this was after I had worked so hard. But the coaches told me to keep sticking in there but it was so frustrating. And then we were playing our hometown rivals (Davis) and I had a broken foot but I loved it. I missed it and I wanted a chance to come back and be with the guys."

And he also just wanted a chance to prove himself at the next level. "Last year, coaches were talking to me, but it wasn't too serious," Juan said. "But this year, Nevada offered me a scholarship, Fresno State was looking at me hard and WSU too and Eastern (Washington) had offered me too, but Washington's offer was the first real one by a major D1 school."

Brent Myers and Rick Neuheisel masterminded Juan's recruitment. "Last year I got some letters, but I wasn't sure if I was good enough. But we called them up and asked for tickets to go to a game and ever since then it's been like, everytime they call or write - I mean, U-Dub is the best of the best."

An unofficial visit to the Cal game just reinforced his thoughts about the Huskies and their program. "I was down on the field and the stands were packed and I was like, 'This is the place to play.' But then I saw the players and thought that maybe they were too good for me. So after that I was always thinking and wishing I could play for them, but I could understand if they didn't choose me, because they have some pretty big guys there."

His wish came true, and it hit Juan like a thunderbolt. "It took me totally by surprise," Garcia said of Neuheisel's phone call and offer. "I had just sent film in a couple of days before and when I talked to the Head Coach, Rick Neuheisel, it just blew me away. It was like a dream.

"He basically pulled the life back into me. All the hard work and everything that I have done has been for a reason. He told me that he's recruiting tough guys and he asked me if I was a tough guy. Of course I said 'Yes', and he said that he had a scholarship waiting for me and all I had to do was say the words and I said 'Yes'. I was so surprised."

Now the only business Juan needs to take care of is in the classroom, and he received some news this morning that will help him get to Montlake as a full qualifier. "I got the best news today," he said. "They were looking at the transcripts for my younger years and I retook some of the classes. They weren't being counted into my GPA. So instead of a 2.1, I really have a 2.44. I'm going to call Coach Myers today, because he wanted to hear this."

So in short, he knows what he needs to do. "I've been thinking about this a lot," Juan said. "Get the grades, stay in class, get the grades. Get the grades. Take my core classes."

Garcia will be taking an official visit to Washington the weekend of December 13th. And in the final analysis, there was one factor that played a huge part in Juan's decision to be a Dawg - the fans. "They are the best fans," he said. "They are crazy. I can't wait to get up there so they can be my fans. Other schools have been talking to me about my commitment, like Nevada and Oregon. And Portland State was talking to me about just not making a commitment yet, but those fans...they are the ones that did it for me."

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