Aug. 27, 2008
By Tim Booth
The Associated Press
SEATTLE -- No one would have argued with Juan Garcia if he had kept sulking. After overcoming academic problems and two years of injuries, dealing with three different coaches and enduring countless losses, Garcia bypassed the NFL draft for one more chance to help resurrect the Washington Huskies.
In April, days after severely injuring his left foot during a meaningless spring practice, he seemed to be wallowing in pity about a promising career as a talented offensive lineman that seemed to be finished.
"I kept thinking everything I had done was over," Garcia recalled. "I came back for the year and it was just a waste. I kept thinking 'Why? Why me?"'
Then he got mad. And determined.
Mad at the roadblocks he kept encountering since he arrived at Washington under the impression Rick Neuheisel would be his coach.
Determined that the foot injury wouldn't derail his hopes.
With help from others, Garcia channeled the anger and frustration at the Lisfranc injury to his left foot, redirecting his fury toward rehabilitation that maybe, just maybe, would enable him to play one more time for the Huskies.
Four and a half months after his injury, Garcia will be the Huskies starting center Saturday night in their season opener at No. 21 Oregon.
"It's a miracle," teammate Jordan White-Frisbee said. "It's incredible he's back out there. He is our leader."
At best, Garcia should only be halfway through his recovery. Lisfranc injuries are joint injuries to the top of the foot and are often mistaken for sprains, when in fact a small fracture or dislocation has occurred.
The injury got its name from a field surgeon in Napoleon's army who discovered the joint.
Surgery is the easiest remedy. That's the path former Washington quarterback Isaiah Stanback chose two years ago when he went down with a similar injury during a game against Oregon State.
But Garcia balked at the idea of surgery. His Lisfranc injury was less severe than Stanback's, so he and head athletic trainer Rob Scheidegger devised a recovery plan that did not involve going under the knife.
"No one has given this kid a chance from the beginning, whether it be academic eligibility or just the physical stuff he's had to deal with," Scheidegger said. "If he had a chance to do it (without surgery), he is the type of guy. If there were one out of five guys that make it, he's that one guy because he knows how to put the work in to get it done."
The next step was a rehabilitation program that would allow Garcia to stay in the best shape possible. Scheidegger said every method of treatment for soft-tissue injuries and bone healing was used, along with hours of basic physical therapy and time in the swimming pool to keep Garcia in condition.
"We used all the resources we have to try and keep him conditioned and keep him off that foot," Scheidegger said.
In early July, Garcia was off his crutches and out of a walking boot, racing past the initial timeline doctors estimated. Soon thereafter, he was using an exercise bike, followed by an elliptical machine and, perhaps his most beneficial piece of physical conditioning, a swimming pool treadmill.
By the time Washington started camp this month, Garcia was able to participate in some segments of practice. His workload increased daily, although he was often relegated to conditioning work, climbing the deteriorating steps of Husky Stadium during two-a-days.
Last week, in the Huskies final scrimmage of fall camp, Garcia estimated he took 80 percent of the snaps at center and made it through without issue. Not bad for someone who just hoped to take one more snap.
Garcia said he "might just tear up," when he hears his name introduced in the starting lineup.
Surgery certainly is still not out of the question and would likely be the next step if Garcia aggravates the injury during the season. Scheidegger's research has convinced him that no interior offensive lineman has ever returned to the field from a Lisfranc injury without having surgery first.
Garcia's recovery has inspired his teammates.
"I think, first of all, to the football team, it tells them how important Juan thinks the team is and the game is," Washington coach Tyrone Willingham said. "In this day and age. that's always something that is in question, how much value does something carry to the individual next to you.
"When you can really see an example of that, it has to impress you."