Is JTO the next Jeff Garcia for 49ers?

As the 49ers began preparing in earnest Monday for their pivotal season opener against Arizona, the jury most definitely is out on new starting quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan. Nobody really knows what the guy can do. But those who worry where this team is going with JTO should consider where it went earlier this decade with a QB named Jeff Garcia, who followed a similar path to the starting helm.

Like Garcia, O'Sullivan grew up in Northern California as a 49ers fan, then went on to become one of the region's top college quarterbacks as a three-year starter playing for one of the area's second-tier college programs. Garcia strutted his stuff at San Jose State, while O'Sullivan was a record-setting starter at UC-Davis.

Like Garcia, O'Sullivan was not highly regarded by the NFL on draft weekend - Garcia, in fact, went undrafted out of college while O'Sullivan was a sixth-round pick of New Orleans in 2002 - and had to take the circuitous route to his first shot as a NFL starter.

Like Garcia, O'Sullivan got there the hard way - bouncing around between seven other NFL organizations over the past six years and playing one season in NFL Europa before finally getting his starting shot this year with the 49ers. After going undrafted, Garcia spent five long years as a star performer in the Canadian Football League before finally getting a NFL opportunity with the 49ers as a free agent in 1999.

Like Garcia, O'Sullivan is getting his shot during a time of losing turmoil for the 49ers when the team is trying to get back on track while also settling an uncertain quarterback situation.

SFI recently asked O'Sullivan if he was aware of the parallels between him and Garcia, a quarterback O'Sullivan saw play while O'Sullivan was growing up as a star quarterback at prep powerhouse Jesuit High in Sacramento.

"I kind of know his story a little bit with the (CFL)," O'Sullivan said. "But other than that, I haven't compared and contrasted timelines."

Now might be a good time to begin. The 49ers are hoping for a Garcia-like turnaround in their offense with O'Sullivan at the controls, and many who have watched O'Sullivan's smooth direction of Mike Martz's offensive attack this summer believe it can happen quickly. Garcia's individual success during his five seasons with the team translated into a quick - albeit temporary - resurrection for the proud franchise.

The difference here is the 49ers need results from O'Sullivan immediately. Garcia struggled at the start after taking over unexpectedly from Hall of Famer Steve Young in Week 3 of the 1999 season after Young's career was ended suddenly by a concussion during a Monday night game against Arizona.

After a rocky stint in the middle of that season - Garcia even lost his starting job for a while to Steve Stenstrom - Garcia finished the season strong, then blossomed into a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback over the next three years while leading the 49ers from the bottom of the NFC West back to the top of the division.

Other striking similarities between Garcia and O'Sullivan other than the proximity of their origins to the 49ers:

--- Garcia was 29 years old when he started his first game at quarterback for the 49ers in October of 1999 (a 24-22 victory over eventual AFC champion Tennessee). O'Sullivan turned 29 on August 25.

--- Garcia and O'Sullivan have the same player-agent, Steve Baker.

--- Garcia and O'Sullivan both were signed by the 49ers as unrestricted free agents, with neither expected to be a serious contender for the starting role when they were acquired by the team.

But now O'Sullivan is more than a serious contender. He's The Man behind center for San Francisco as the season begins. And with a better team around him, and an offense he knows well, he is in a better position to respond immediately than Garcia was in 1999.

Garcia made the hometown fans proud during his stellar stint in San Francisco, when he set several franchise passing records while throwing for 16,408 yards 113 touchdowns during his five seasons with the team. The yardage total makes him the fourth-most prolific quarterback in team history behind Joe Montana, John Brodie and Young.

Even more significantly, Garcia led a team that had produced a dynasty-killing 4-12 record in 1999 to finishes of 12-4 and 10-6 in 2001-2002. The 49ers won their last NFC West division championship in 2002, which also happens to be their last winning season.

O'Sullivan, who says, "I don't know (Garcia) very well, but I'm a fan of his obviously," would like to include those kind of parallels with Garcia on his ledger before the 2008 season is through.

"Growing up a Niners fan, I understand what this position is to the area," O'Sullivan said. "This is my job and I try to take it pretty seriously. This is going to be Year 7 doing this and I haven't cheated anyone at any time with my effort or preparation. I'm pretty focused on making sure I play well. I try not to be a roller-coaster guy. I'm always pretty jacked up. So I'm excited about the opportunity."

Which sounds a lot like the things Jeff Garcia was saying around this time at the beginning of this decade.

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