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Garcia puts behind injury-riddled past, finds health, stardom at Concordia

By Jacob Knabel on Jun. 27, 2016 in Football

You would have to cut my legs off to stop me from playing football. That’s what Jared Garcia told his mother Tracey while sitting at the doctor’s office following the third tear of his right ACL.

“Four-and-a-half games,” Garcia repeated on several occasions in a sit-down interview. That’s all his varsity career amounted to in his time at Dawson High School in his hometown of Pearland, Texas. Any time he experienced a bout of good fortune, the positivity was soon replaced by feelings of despair. In a September game during his senior year in 2012, Garcia returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and then quickly found the end zone on Dawson’s first offensive series.

A recruiting website had just featured the then 6-foot-2, 185-pounder that week in writing, “One player who will not be overlooked by opponents, and soon enough college recruiters, is wide receiver Jared Garcia.” Having already been plagued by injuries, Garcia knew he needed to finish his senior season in good health. It just wasn’t in the cards.

“I can’t lie and say I didn’t get down,” Garcia said. “I think the second one was probably the hardest. I fought back really hard from the first one and I felt like I was good. In a matter of one play I was out. It was unexpected. I think I took that one the hardest. I never thought about quitting. I can’t say that, but I did get down on myself.”

The frustrations were understandable. At the time Garcia had recently talked to University of Texas co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, who seemed to have genuine interest. Of course college recruiters were drawn to Garcia’s teammates in James White, who landed at Texas A&M, and another receiver who went to LSU. Those high-level teammates helped Garcia gain exposure. But when yet another injury bit, it was easy for college recruiters to ignore Garcia. Says Garcia, “That was a big detriment to my recruiting.”

Now looking forward to his third season at Concordia, the soft-spoken Garcia has not missed a single game as a Bulldog. A big and physical presence, Garcia made an immense impact immediately, breaking a school record with 11 touchdown catches as a freshman. In two years he’s hauled in 85 passes for 1,363 yards and 19 touchdowns as one of the top receivers in the GPAC.

“Jared’s a guy defenses are going to focus in on game plan-wise,” said head coach Vance Winter. “They want to try to take him away right from the start. We see a lot of different coverage looks and things that we wouldn’t normally see. There aren’t too many corners that can match up with him one-on-one.”

As a prep, Garcia always envisioned himself playing at the NCAA Division I level. He wanted to make a name for himself at the highest level. A 17-year-old Garcia didn’t feel like a school like Concordia, roughly a 13-hour drive away from home and a member of the NAIA, fit his profile. So he accepted a walk-on offer from NCAA Division I FCS Stephen F. Austin. Still fighting back from injury, Garcia went almost unnoticed. After one semester he left.

It was time to give that school in Nebraska a shot. “The first thing I did was contact Coach (Corby) Osten,” Garcia said. “They hopped on board immediately. There was no second guessing. ‘Hey Coach are you guys still interested?’ ‘Yes, what are you doing?’ They contacted me and let me know what they could find me for a scholarship. I accepted what they gave me and I honestly do not regret it at all.”

Concordia coaches made sure to appoint quarterback Von Thomas as host when Garcia made a campus visit. The two became close friends and still joke about their first meeting. Garcia’s Valentine’s Day visit to Concordia prevented Thomas from taking his girlfriend on a date. “That was pretty funny and he doesn’t let me live it down,” Garcia said. “He was a great host. I built a relationship with him that is unbreakable. I still talk to him to this day. We just talk about living life.”

Not surprisingly, Garcia quickly became Thomas’ favorite target in 2014. In just Garcia’s third career collegiate game, he caught three touchdown passes from Thomas in a home victory over Midland. “I actually threw him some of the worst balls on purpose just to see what his limit was,” Thomas said. “Everything I threw bad to him he caught. I’m still trying to figure out what footballs he can’t catch.”

The sure-handed Garcia has high aspirations. Says Garcia without flinching, “My big personal goal is to make it to the NFL.” Garcia possesses measurables that are off the charts for NAIA football. In high school he was timed at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He now has a 39-inch vertical to go along with his ideal size that dwarfs opposing GPAC defensive backs.

Back in the late 1980s, Concordia’s Clarence Woods burned the opposition while catching passes from Phil Seevers. Woods ended up being invited to camp with the New Orleans Saints. You may have to go back that far to find a reasonable comparison for Garcia among Bulldog wide outs.

“From the day he showed up he impressed us physically,” Winter said. “He does some great things route running. He’s very good at one-on-one balls. He’s an explosive leaper and he’s also faster than we thought. He’s very, very talented.”

All Garcia needed to blossom was the right school and a better run of fortune health-wise. Even he admitted he didn’t know exactly what he could contribute as a freshman. At that point he had spent more time watching football from the sidelines than actually playing the game.

“I didn’t know what I was capable of,” Garcia said. “I played four-and-a-half varsity games in high school. I wasn’t recruited heavily. I just had a lot of doubts in my mind. When I came here I wasn’t big headed. I didn’t know what I could do. I had to prove myself to myself.”

Consider that done.