SDBR Q-A: The Next Nick Hardwick?

When Nick Hardwick announced his retirement last week, the Chargers officially added "center" to their list of offseason needs. One man who could fill that void is Max Garcia, the durable and versatile offensive lineman from Florida. We recently caught up with Garcia to learn more about what he could bring to San Diego.

When it comes to the center position, the one trait the Chargers are looking for more than any other is durability. San Diego famously started five different centers in 2014 as injuries absolutely ravaged the hub position. One of those five centers, Chris Watt, is penciled in as the starter going into next season. But he had an up-and-down rookie year during the short time he was on the field, struggling with all the responsibilities of the center position after spending his college career at guard.

As for the other centers, Rich Ohrnberger and Doug Legursky are both scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, while Trevor Robinson will be a restricted free agent. Ohrnberger and Legursky both ended last season on injured-reserve, which is why a durable prospect like Garcia makes a lot of sense.

Garcia arrived at Florida in 2013 after transferring from Maryland. Injuries forced him to play all over the line that season, starting eight games at guard and four at tackle. He took over another another new position as a senior in 2014, when he started every game at center.

In 2013, he was one of just two Gators to start every game for the team (the other, Jonotthan Harrison, is now a starter with the Colts). In 2014, he was the only member of the offensive line to start every game at the same position.

“That’s a huge asset to have,” said Garcia of his durability. “My history is pretty clean for the most part. No surgeries, no torn ligaments or anything like that, so that’s a blessing in itself. That’s what you need in the NFL. You need durability and you need guys who are versatile, as well.”

That versatility is another big selling point. Offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris is a big believer in cross-training all of his players, so a blocker like Garcia who has starting experience at every position on the line holds a lot of appeal.

While his versatility certainly provides added value, his comfort at the center position is what makes him such an ideal fit in San Diego.

“I played center most recently, so that’s what I’m most comfortable with,” he said. “But wherever the team needs me to play and whatever I get drafted as, I’ll be more than happy and be ready to get the job done.”

Garcia is doing everything in his power to prepare himself for a successful transition to the NFL. He is working out at GATA Training alongside La’el Collins (LSU), Shaq Mason (Georgia Tech) and Amarlo Herrera (Georgia). The training center is in Duluth, Ga., just 20 minutes from his home.

Garcia has particularly enjoyed working out with Herrera, as it has allowed him to relive the most memorable game of his college career. That came midway through the 2014 season when the Gators upset the Bulldogs, 38-20.

“That was just the pinnacle of my career,” Garcia said. “I’m a Georgia guy, so just being able to play those guys and beat them and say that I went out with a win, that was really special for me. And just the way we got it done, we physically assaulted them. We still talk about it every day. I kid around with Amarlo and he says, ‘Man, you guys just brought the juice that day.’ I don’t know what it was. We just played as a team and got together and did it as a family and as a team. I’ll always remember that victory and I’ll take it with me forever.”

The friendly trash talk continued at the recent Senior Bowl, where Garcia was one of the week’s big winners. He was only invited to the all-star game after three other centers had to pull out with injuries (Boston College’s Andy Gallik, Oregon’s Hroniss Grasu and Florida State’s Cameron Erving). But Garcia made the most of the opportunity and earned solid marks from scouts in attendance.

Garcia was strong at the point of attack and rarely lost a battle after he was able to get his hands on a defender. The week’s first practice was not his best, but he quickly improved as the week went along and gave his draft stock a big boost in the process.

He is not one to guess when he might hear his name called on draft day. He plans to spend draft weekend enjoying a small get-together for family and friends and avoiding stress as much as possible.

“Hopefully it’ll be a good day and I’ll get drafted as high as I can,” he said. “It’s all in the Lord’s hands; His plans are already made.”

Can Max Garcia be the next Nick Hardwick? Discuss inside the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the team. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 18 years and covered the team since '03. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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