Juan Garcia: Well-Centered

Oct. 17, 2008

by Benton Strong

Six years.

In six years, a U.S. Senator can serve a full term, a Congressmanthree. A president can be voted in and out of office and a world warcan be fought. Two head coaches can grace the sidelines, sevendifferent guys can take snaps from under center and in this case, itcan be nearly one-fourth of your life.

Such is the Husky playing career of Juan Garcia.

A rock on the UW offensive line, Garcia has started every gamesince the Huskies knocked off San Jose State to start the 2006season.

After redshirting 2003, and missing all of 2004 and 2005 due toinjuries, Garcia took over the reigns as the anchor of the offensiveline and never let go. He has snapped the ball to the likes of IsaiahStanback, Johnny Durocher, Carl Bonnell, Jake Locker and RonnieFouch. He has blocked for a host of running backs, all of whomsing his praises.

Pretty good for the kid from Yakima who never expected to evenbe here.

Garcia is Mexican-American and grew up in Eastern Washington-- two traits that tend not to coincide with a Division-I footballscholarship and a college degree at UW. Growing up, Garciaunderstood that he broke the mold.

Mexican immigrants come to Washington and immediately hitculture shock in an area not equipped to support a non-Englishspeakingcommunity. He went to school in a district that is over60 percent Hispanic and has some of the lowest test scores in thestate.

'My experience growing up was difficult,' he said. 'Englishis my second language. There is still a lot of racism in EasternWashington. Going through that was a big deal. I never saw myselfcoming to a school like this because of the things I went through.

'Football has been good to me. I came in 2003. They had justcome off the Sun Bowl. It was a great program with a rich traditionand being from Washington I knew everything about it. I couldn'tbelieve I was coming to the University of Washington.'

It took Garcia a few years to get on the field, however, muchlonger than the average player and certainly longer than any of the11 true freshmen that have played this season.

In 2006, Garcia's fourth year at UW, he finally started in thatgame against San Jose State.

He's been there ever since.

That first year he led the charge for arguably the mostathletic quarterback to ever play at Washington in Stanback. ThatWashington team rolled to a 4-1 start before Stanback got hurt.Then Locker arrived and Garcia's job got that much harder.

Incorporating the spread offense and regular shotgun snaps addedmuch responsibility to his plate. However, in Locker's rookie seasonthe offensive line, and Garcia, thrived.

Louis Rankin became the first 1,000-yard tailback at theUW in 10 years and Locker set the Pac-10 rushing record for aquarterback with 986 yards of his own on the ground. Had he notmissed the California game, Locker most certainly would've beenthe first 1,000-yard rushing quarterback in conference history andgiven the UW its first 1,000-yard rushing duo ever.

'Our record didn't show it, but I took a lot of pride in that,' hesaid. 'We hadn't had a running back rush for over 1,000 yards ina long time. It said a lot. We went into games and physically beatpeople up.'

While the win-loss records in Garcia's years haven't necessarilyshown that, the numbers the offense has put up have beenimpressive. Rankin is one of the top-10 rushers in UW history, andone of just three Washington tailbacks to have a pair of 200-yard performances in a season. The other two were Napoleon Kauffmanand Corey Dillon.

'You have the game and the battle within the game,' heexplained. 'Sometimes you lose a game, but win a battle andyou feel better. Almost every game [in 2007] I could say that. It issomething I take a lot of pride in.'

He also says that having a talent like Locker only made him better.'It's way more fun,' he said. 'That guy is going to make plays.He has saved me so many times. There have been so many timeswhere I'd miss a block and he'd run for 15 yards and it wouldn'tmatter. I love blocking for that guy. He is a playmaker.'

Garcia has seen a lot of those in his career at Washington, bothon his own and on opponents' sidelines. As he ticks off the nameshe has played with, from Reggie Williams, to Stanback to Locker,and against, from Reggie Bush, to Matt Leinart, to Dennis Dixonand Jonathan Stewart, he leans back and takes a deep breath.'I've been here a long time,' he says.

Six years.

'It's been a great experience at the same time off the field,' hesaid. 'I've met a lot of people. Sometimes I feel like I've overstayedmy welcome here. I've been through a lot of injury stuff andovercome a lot.'

And through it all, Garcia and his family are most proud of hisaccomplishments in the classroom.

'I got my degree from the University of Washington and thatis something I can take a lot of pride in,' said Garcia. 'Everyone inmy family is so proud of me because I am the only one in the familyto have a degree. Being Mexican-American and coming from mybackground, I didn't have a lot of opportunities to succeed in life, soit is a big accomplishment for me and for my family.'

Still, he says, the football part has been frustrating.

'I have been through so much here that it only seems to geteasier after this. I've got a degree and I'll have to get a real jobsoon. I've been a football player all my life and it's frustrating toend like this.

'I've been here so long. [In 2006] we were 4-1, and a guy likeIsaiah, who had been dogged by everyone, was having the seasonof his life before he went down. And now Jake, who we protectlike a son.

'That kid is special,' continues Garcia on Locker. 'He couldplay for any team in the country. If you challenge him he will takeyour job. It's an honor for the university to have a guy like him. Andthen he goes down. You learn to be so mentally tough through thiskind of stuff.'

You also find out who is a dedicated, life-long, true Husky.

'I bleed purple and gold,' Garcia said. 'For the rest of my life Iam a Husky. Whether we never win another game for the rest of mylife I will always wear my colors with pride.'

Garcia was named the John P. Angel Lineman of the Year in2007 and won the Academic Excellence Award in 2006. Barringinjury, he'll leave Washington having started 37-consecutivegames at center. He played every single snap of the 2006 season -some 775 plays in 13 games. This from a guy who spent two yearsinjured and suffered what was nearly a career-ending injury in thespring of 2008.

He's that guy that makes you think, 'wow, how long has thatkid been here?'

Six years.

But a Husky for life.

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