Garcia: 'I've learned from my mistakes'

Stephen Garcia knows his reputation is in need of serious repair. Permanently dismissed from the South Carolina football program last year for drinking alcohol after five prior suspensions, the quarterback is intent on proving he deserves another chance.

"I want to meet with the NFL and prove that I'm not an alcoholic," Garcia told Scout in a telephone interview. "I've learned from my mistakes."

"I've learned how immature I really was. I just didn't know exactly how important everything was until after I made all of those mistakes. I was trying to be like every other college kid, but you can't do that as a starting quarterback for an SEC team. Looking back, it sucks. I have nobody to blame but myself."

Garcia, 24, said he no longer drinks to excess.

And he insists that he doesn't have a drinking problem or any other dependency issues.

"I try my absolute hardest to not be around people drinking," said Garcia, who has a four-year-old son named Memphys. "If I'm at home with my girlfriend, I might have a glass of wine or a beer with dinner, but nothing like before when I was at school.

"As bad as it sounds, I was recommended to go see somebody about it and sit down with a therapist and talk with him and see if I really have a drinking problem. And I really don't. I don't want to give off that kind of impression."

Garcia played in the Battle of Florida all-star game and recently took part in an NFL regional scouting combine in an effort to qualify for an NFL super regional combine March 30 at the Detroit Lions' Ford Field.

The 6-foot-2, 232-pound former blue-chip recruit from Lutz, Fla., is awaiting word this week of whether he was chosen to advance to the super regional, which is expected to be attended by representatives from nearly every NFL franchise.

Garcia said he's also being allowed by South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier to participate in the Gamecocks' March 28 campus Pro Day workout.

In the past, Spurrier and Garcia had clashed over the length of Garcia's hair, his shaggy beard and, of course, Garcia committing multiple violations of team rules.

"Obviously, we had our head-butts in the past," Garcia said. "Looking back on it, I was a hard-headed kid. I wish I would have listened to him about the little things like shaving and wearing the right clothes and looking the part. I didn't do that stuff and that pissed him off.

"It was really tough. He's a great coach. He's won a ton of games. He's turned the South Carolina program around. He's obviously done a great job. I still stay in touch with him, and I got a Happy Birthday text from his wife. They're great people."

Garcia had an extremely rough senior year, completing only 51.7 percent of his throws for four touchdowns and nine interceptions.

As a junior, he completed 64.2 percent of his throws for a career-high 3,059 yards, 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. And he passed for 2,862 yards, 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a sophomore.

At the time of Garcia's dismissal, Spurrier released the following statement: "We all feel like we've given Stephen numerous opportunities to be a student-athlete here at South Carolina. Obviously, he has chosen not to follow the guidelines of his reinstatement contract. We wish him the best."

Garcia was reinstated to the team last August after being suspended for the fifth time last April for misbehaving at a life-skills seminar. Under the guidelines of his agreement, Garcia was required to not consume alcohol.

"Being a student-athlete at the University of South Carolina is a privilege, not a right and we remind all of our student-athletes that there are consequences for their actions," South Carolina athletic director Eric Hyman said in a statemet. "Unfortunately, Stephen has not been able to abide by those guidelines and therefore forfeited his position on the roster."

Garcia started 34 career games, four last fall before being demoted and eventually dismissed.

He led the Gamecocks to a Southeastern Conference Eastern division title as a junior and went 20-14 as a starter overall, passing for 7,597 career yards, 47 touchdowns, 41 interceptions and rushed for 777 yards and 15 touchdowns.

However, he got suspended for a week of spring practice last year for violating team rules during the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Then, he was suspended again for his actions at the life-skills seminar.

During his first semester on campus, Garcia was suspended twice after being arrested for public intoxication and for keying a professor's car.

The charges were subsequently dropped after Garcia paid for the damages and completed a pre-trial intervention program.

One year later, though, Garcia and two teammates were cited for underage drinking. He also admitted to police that he pulled a fire alarm and discharged a fire extinguisher in the dormitory after noticing sparks coming from his stove. No formal charges were filed, but his actions led to a suspension.

Garcia was later reinstated and became the starting quarterback as a redshirt freshman.

"I want to explain myself and try to get rid of the negative perception," Garcia said. "I've matured. I have a four-year-old son, and I'm living with him and my girlfriend. Being a full-time parent has made me grow up faster."

Garcia said he's been training three times per day for the last few months and working out six days per week.

Former Arena Football League quarterback John Kaleo has been assisting Garcia with his mechanics.

"He's revamped everything," Garcia said. "I've improved a lot. My arm feels as strong as it's ever been, and my accuracy is much better. I just want a shot at this. I know I can get the job done. My accuracy and my decision-making are so much better now.

"It's kind of stressful because I don't know where the hell I'm going to be. Hopefully, I'm playing in the NFL in the fall. Nothing's guaranteed. It's a waiting game. Nobody likes waiting around, but it is what it is. My head is clear. I'm more focused, and I'm ready to take on this next step in my life."

During the Battle of Florida all-star game, Garcia talked with a scout from the Atlanta Falcons as well as several other teams.

During his conversation with the Falcons scout, all of Garcia's transgressions at South Carolina were discussed. And Garcia said he didn't leave anything out, to the scout's approval.

"I went down the list and he said he appreciated the honesty," Garcia said. "He told me to stay on that track, and I will. I just wish I had changed earlier. I didn't fully understand until it was too late. I'm doing everything I can to do things the right way."

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