On Oct. 11, 2011, the South Carolina football team parted ways with quarterback Stephen Garcia, ending his five tumultuous years with the team, but leaving behind a legacy -- both good and bad -- that people still talk about to this day.
It's hard to believe it's been one full year since Garcia was dismissed, but having a team with a number three national ranking has a way of making folks forget, or move on from, the past.
Garcia arrived on campus with plenty of fanfare in 2007. He was a four-star rated QB from Lutz, Florida who was one of coach Steve Spurrier's first big recruits. But he quickly made a name for himself for off-the-field issues, getting arrested for keying a professor's car and various alcohol-related issues
His reputation molded quickly into that of the Bad Boy of USC sports, and yet he hadn't even played one down of football. Garcia's father, Gary Garcia, went on to say that despite his son's legal woes, people would soon grow fond of his son. "I think over time, we'll all find out he's a great kid," Gary said. "People in South Carolina will love that boy."
Garcia finally got the chance to play in 2008 against the Georgia Bulldogs, but he threw an incomplete pass.
Weeks later, he started his first game against the LSU Tigers at Williams-Brice Stadium. It was a losing effort, but Garcia threw for 215 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Despite his off-the-field reputation, Garcia's on-the-field reputation began to morph into that of a warrior. His rough running style and gunslinger mentality was both applauded by fans and derided by Spurrier because of fumbles and interceptions.
In 2009, Garcia was named the full-time starter, and the Gamecocks went on to compile a 7-5 record and a loss at the PapaJohns.com Bowl, a game that many fans consider to be a turning point in the Spurrier era.
In 2010, Garcia continued to build his reputation on the field. While coach Spurrier often went public with his disapproval of Garcia's playing style, the junior quarterback silenced the Head Ball Coach for a short while thanks to several gutsy plays during the beginning of the season.
Six weeks into the season, Spurrier was shocked yet again by the play of his quarterback in the game against No. 1 Alabama. With ESPN College Gameday in town, a CBS live broadcast of the game, and many analysts burying USC's chances against the Crimson Tide, the Gamecocks shocked the college football world and defeated Alabama in convincing fashion. Garcia helped propel the Gamecocks over the Tide, throwing for 201 yards and three touchdowns.
But South Carolina fans quickly learned that even with inspired play, Garcia could still have a head-scratching play or two. In the week following the Alabama game, USC was down 31-28 during its final drive against the Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington when Garcia threw a game-ending interception at the Wildcats' 20-yard line.
The Gamecocks finished that season atop the SEC East that year (and beat Clemson), but lost to the eventual national champion Auburn Tigers in the SEC Championship.
In the weeks following the end of the 2010 season, Garcia was in trouble again and suspended from the team following an incident during a life skills seminar. The suspension didn't last long, and Garcia was reinstated just before the season started, but Athletics Director Eric Hyman, university President Harris Pastides, and coach Spurrier asked him to meet several goals throughout the season to remain playing.
With the hype of an SEC East title in their wings, fans hoped 2011 might be the year that Garcia finally made the leap into the upper echelon of SEC quarterbacks. For a game or two, it seemed he might.
While Spurrier crowned sophomore Connor Shaw the starter for the first game of the season against the East Carolina Pirates, Garcia made his presence known in the game.
ECU nursed a 17-0 lead heading in to the middle of the second quarter when Garcia was finally called to take back quarterback duties from Shaw. With his team down and a statement drive needed, Garcia took the snap and ran the ball for a 32-yard touchdown. That drive was just what the doctor ordered, and South Carolina won 56-37.
But Garcia's good will on the field did not last very long. Interception after interception put the quarterback on the bad side of a lot of fans and it all came to ahead on Oct. 1, 2011, when the Auburn Tigers came to Williams-Brice Stadium.
With Auburn quarterback Cam Newton no longer in the picture, analysts thought USC would easily be able to take care of the Tigers in a home game at Williams-Brice Stadium. But sloppy play from Garcia, including two interceptions, and a controversial touchdown from Auburn wide receiver Phillip Lutzenkirchen in the last two minutes of the game sealed the game for the Tigers.
It was be the last time Garcia played for South Carolina, but no one knew that until two weeks later.
After Shaw got the start for the Kentucky game and the Gamecock offense throttling the Wildcats at Williams-Brice Stadium, most fans seemed to think it was time for the Shaw era to begin.
Fans wouldn't even need that. Following a bizarre news conference where Spurrier refused to speak because The State columnist Ron Morris was in the room, USC announced that Garcia was dismissed from the team. It was later revealed that he failed a drug and alcohol test. Those tests were one of the caveats put into place before the season started when Garcia was reinstated to the team.
"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," said Hyman in a statement.
Garcia finished his career at South Carolina with 7,597 passing yards and a 57.7% completion rate, with 47 touchdowns, and 41 interceptions. He became the third quarterback in school history to throw for more than 7,500 yards in a career, and also ranks third on the all-time charts in pass attempts, pass completions and passing touchdowns.
The Garcia era was over, and Gamecock fans have moved on since. Following his dismissal, the team has gone 13-1.
Months after the 2011 season, Garcia spoke to a Tampa-area television station about his time in South Carolina, saying he was wrong to act the way he did while he was at USC.
"I would have listened more closely, more in detail to the higher-ups," said Garcia. "It wasn't anybody's fault, it was 100 percent my fault."
Garcia is now with the Montreal Alouettes, a Canadian Football league team. He has yet to play one down of football and remains on the 9-game injury list.
But fans are still hoping Garcia finds his way into a starting role somewhere. They're hoping the kid with boatloads of potential finally gets to show off what made him so special during the good games at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Maybe, just maybe, he will one day.
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