I cringed the day he made his announcement on ESPN. They do that now. When a top football recruit makes up his mind where he will go, they make a big to-do out of it. The kid plays along while the grown ups in the room live out their dreams of stardom. Stephen Garcia committed to playing for the South Carolina Gamecocks five years ago. Some grownup felt he had to run his mouth and said something about Stephen playing on Sunday someday. That's when my heart sank. This kid had been let down and he didn't even know it. The damage had been done long before Steve Spurrier got his turn. And long before the countless blows he would take from SEC defensive linemen and linebackers.
Time went on. Stephen got in trouble right out of the chute for underage drinking and then vandalizing some professors car. His parents arrived on campus and pleaded for understanding. This is not the real Stephen they said. Maybe so. Lots of kids getting their first taste of freedom away from home get a little bit crazy. I was there once. Have I ever mentioned how cool a refrigerator looks in the rear view mirror as you drag it down a farm to market road on a clear moonlit night? Yeah, well I think Stephen would understand.
We ask our football players to compete in an unbelievably fast paced and violent game that requires a combination of skill, speed, toughness and killer instinct that none of us can comprehend. Then we are shocked when they break curfew and get in a bar fight. We worship them from the time they are twelve, and then the day comes that their best isn't good enough and our own sense of entitlement becomes the leviathan eager to dispense justice.
Stephen Garcia has the second most passing yardage of any South Carolina quarterback. He led his team to it's first SEC East division title last year. He's a wild man on the field. A warrior. He takes hit after hit from 300 pound linemen and gets up every time. His team mates love him unconditionally and don't think for second to blame him for their losses. He makes a lot of mistakes. He makes a lot of plays.
Now he's on the bench. This summer, he showed up to some required SEC sensitivity training with a beer buzz in full swing and let his wild side do the talking when the instructor zeroed in on him with a series of questions. There were hundreds of student athletes in that room by the way. None of them wanted to be there. Stephen was suspended and had to under go rehabilitation before he could be reinstated. He came back in the fall a changed man. He had cut his hair, was clean shaven, wasn't drinking, and had made we are told significant life changes. Only one problem; now he can't hit the broad side of a barn. That makes playing quarterback a wee bit tough.
Hang in there Stephen. You'll get your chance to come off the bench and do something yet. If I were one to give advice, I'd say stop shaving, grow your hair out and reinstate twelve ounce curls to your training regimen. But don't listen to me. I'm just one more old man with barely half a clue. Listen you your own heart. Most of all, listen to that twelve year boy who used to run around and play for fun before the grown ups started whispering in his ear.
title - paraphrased verse from Bruce Sprinsteen's Born in the USA.