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October 11, 2011

HURT: Garcia knew chances he took

There is nothing easier than making jokes about Stephen Garcia. The now-former South Carolina quarterback is the SEC's version of Charlie Sheen. I've called him that before. I've also said you'd have a more stable team with Jerry Garcia at quarterback instead of Stephen Garcia.

But now it is time to say a couple of serious things about the young man.

I didn't cover his career, except for a couple of games, but I did get to see what will probably end up being remembered as its pinnacle. Last year, in front of an ecstatic home crowd, Garcia threw three touchdown passes as South Carolina defeated No. 1 Alabama, 35-21. He completed 17 of 20 passes for 201 yards that seemed like 401.

Yes, he got help from his receivers, especially Alshon Jeffery. But Garcia was poised, even after he threw a bad shotgun snap out of the back of his own end zone, his only brain-freeze of the day. He even ran for a critical first down in the Gamecocks' decisive final drive.

Garcia went on to have other good days, but not consistently. Perhaps the stars were simply aligned for him that day. Perhaps his future inconsistency was a result of the off-the-field problems that saw him suspended repeatedly and, finally, dismissed by Steve Spurrier, the coach with whom he seemingly couldn't get along, on Tuesday. But he never seemed quite the same quarterback again after that glorious afternoon for the Gamecocks.

Why? Well, there are all sorts of reports that make his departure from South Carolina sound like Brian Jones being kicked out of The Rolling Stones.

Perhaps he wasn't into anything terrible. If his father's version of events is accurate, Garcia was kicked off the team midway through his senior year for having "a couple of beers." The problem, though, is that Garcia was on a zero-tolerance policy.

He knew the consequences of having that couple of beers, and he had them anyway. And it's the lack of control - because one has to assume that he wanted to keep playing, no matter how Spurrier might have grated on him - that requires one more serious point. I have no personal knowledge of whether Stephen Garcia is just a fun guy to be around, or whether he has a serious problem. But if there is a chance of the latter, he needs to get help. For all the jokes one can make, that's nothing to joke about. Too many lives - not just athletes' lives, not just entertainers' lives, but too many human lives - get wrecked in just these circumstances.

The Alabama game a year ago may very well be remembered as the greatest moment of Stephen Garcia's athletic career. There's nothing wrong with that. I just hope that it isn't also remembered as the greatest moment of his life.

Cecil Hurt is sports editor of The Tuscaloosa News.



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