Oct. 17, 2008
by Benton Strong
In six years, a U.S. Senator can serve a full term, a Congressman three. A president can be voted in and out of office and a world war can be fought. Two head coaches can grace the sidelines, seven different guys can take snaps from under center and in this case, it can 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 game since the Huskies knocked off San Jose State to start the 2006 season.
After redshirting 2003, and missing all of 2004 and 2005 due to injuries, Garcia took over the reigns as the anchor of the offensive line and never let go. He has snapped the ball to the likes of Isaiah Stanback, Johnny Durocher, Carl Bonnell, Jake Locker and Ronnie Fouch. He has blocked for a host of running backs, all of whom sing his praises.
Pretty good for the kid from Yakima who never expected to even be here.
Garcia is Mexican-American and grew up in Eastern Washington -- two traits that tend not to coincide with a Division-I football scholarship and a college degree at UW. Growing up, Garcia understood that he broke the mold.
Mexican immigrants come to Washington and immediately hit culture shock in an area not equipped to support a non-Englishspeaking community. He went to school in a district that is over 60 percent Hispanic and has some of the lowest test scores in the state.
"My experience growing up was difficult," he said. "English is my second language. There is still a lot of racism in Eastern Washington. Going through that was a big deal. I never saw myself coming to a school like this because of the things I went through.
"Football has been good to me. I came in 2003. They had just come off the Sun Bowl. It was a great program with a rich tradition and being from Washington I knew everything about it. I couldn't believe I was coming to the University of Washington."
It took Garcia a few years to get on the field, however, much longer than the average player and certainly longer than any of the 11 true freshmen that have played this season.
In 2006, Garcia's fourth year at UW, he finally started in that game against San Jose State.
He's been there ever since.
That first year he led the charge for arguably the most athletic quarterback to ever play at Washington in Stanback. That Washington 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 added much responsibility to his plate. However, in Locker's rookie season the offensive line, and Garcia, thrived.
Louis Rankin became the first 1,000-yard tailback at the UW in 10 years and Locker set the Pac-10 rushing record for a quarterback with 986 yards of his own on the ground. Had he not missed the California game, Locker most certainly would've been the first 1,000-yard rushing quarterback in conference history and given 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," he said. "We hadn't had a running back rush for over 1,000 yards in a long time. It said a lot. We went into games and physically beat people up."
While the win-loss records in Garcia's years haven't necessarily shown that, the numbers the offense has put up have been impressive. Rankin is one of the top-10 rushers in UW history, and one of just three Washington tailbacks to have a pair of 200-yard performances in a season. The other two were Napoleon Kauffman and Corey Dillon.
"You have the game and the battle within the game," he explained. "Sometimes you lose a game, but win a battle and you feel better. Almost every game [in 2007] I could say that. It is something 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 times where I'd miss a block and he'd run for 15 yards and it wouldn't matter. I love blocking for that guy. He is a playmaker."
Garcia has seen a lot of those in his career at Washington, both on his own and on opponents' sidelines. As he ticks off the names he has played with, from Reggie Williams, to Stanback to Locker, and against, from Reggie Bush, to Matt Leinart, to Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart, he leans back and takes a deep breath. "I've been here a long time," he says.
"It's been a great experience at the same time off the field," he said. "I've met a lot of people. Sometimes I feel like I've overstayed my welcome here. I've been through a lot of injury stuff and overcome a lot."
And through it all, Garcia and his family are most proud of his accomplishments in the classroom.
"I got my degree from the University of Washington and that is something I can take a lot of pride in," said Garcia. "Everyone in my family is so proud of me because I am the only one in the family to have a degree. Being Mexican-American and coming from my background, I didn't have a lot of opportunities to succeed in life, so it 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 get easier after this. I've got a degree and I'll have to get a real job soon. I've been a football player all my life and it's frustrating to end like this.
"I've been here so long. [In 2006] we were 4-1, and a guy like Isaiah, who had been dogged by everyone, was having the season of his life before he went down. And now Jake, who we protect like a son.
"That kid is special," continues Garcia on Locker. "He could play for any team in the country. If you challenge him he will take your job. It's an honor for the university to have a guy like him. And then he goes down. You learn to be so mentally tough through this kind 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 I am a Husky. Whether we never win another game for the rest of my life I will always wear my colors with pride."
Garcia was named the John P. Angel Lineman of the Year in 2007 and won the Academic Excellence Award in 2006. Barring injury, he'll leave Washington having started 37-consecutive games at center. He played every single snap of the 2006 season - some 775 plays in 13 games. This from a guy who spent two years injured and suffered what was nearly a career-ending injury in the spring of 2008.
He's that guy that makes you think, "wow, how long has that kid been here?"
But a Husky for life.