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September 19, 2007

With Garcia in no hurry, Ole Miss considers others

The following is an exclusive excerpt provided to Rivals.com from Bruce Feldman's new book, Meat Market. In the book and in the excerpts to follow on Rivals.com, Feldman gives an inside look at the recruiting process thanks to almost unlimited access to the Ole Miss coaching staff while they were recruiting the class of 2007.

Coming later this week:
Part I: QB dominoes fall
Part II: Looking for the best fit
Friday: Chat with the author, 10 a.m.
Click here to post a question

Stephen Garcia was amused about the following he was developing online, especially about his budding folk-hero status in South Carolina. Gamecocks fans even chanted his name when he showed up at their spring game. He said that he got a kick out of the crazy comments and added that "fan base will play a pretty big role" in his decision-making process.

His father wanted him to enjoy the recruiting process and not rush it, but he cringed when he heard that his son might be gauging a school's merits based in part on the comments posted on his blog. "I keep telling him, 'Don't you think that might be two or three different students writing in under different names?'" the elder Garcia said. And then he added, "I really hope his decision isn't going to be influenced by that stuff. He'll do his homework about it."

Stephen shrugged when asked about his dad's skepticism about the blog fan base: "I guess it's always a possibility, but I really don't think five guys would take all that time to post all that stuff. At least I hope not."

Posted by Julian Barker, Easley, SC, on 05/17 at 02:10 PM:

Yes congradulations on the offensive player of the year award. Im sure Plants defense is shaking in their shoes just like every SEC defense except the Gamecocks of course. I cant wait until you are apart of the Carolina exteded family. I have watched all of yours and Tebows film and he is a great talent, but i know you could beat him out at Florida, I know you have the talent, but we need you to be a Gamecock. Be part of something big. It will also be a great battle between you and Chris Smelley at Carolina. There is nothing like a top qb battle under the greatest colleage coach ever! I already consider you family, just show the rest of the world whos family your in. Comon to South Carolina Stephen.

For Stephen Garcia and every other uncommitted college hopeful in the South, the most important day in the off-season was Saturday, May 20. That was the date of the Nike camp in Gainesville on the University of Florida campus.

Hundreds of college coaches swarm the sidelines at such camps each May for an up-close look as kids compete against each other in a variety of drills. The camp is a one-day open casting call for sophomore and junior prospects designed to mimic the NFL combine, with an array of timed sprints and shuttle runs, and a test to see how many times they can bench-press 185 pounds. In addition, there are lots of one-on-one drills in which players are tested against each other.

This year, Notre Dame's Charlie Weis, Florida's Urban Meyer, and Louisville's Bobby Petrino were on hand in Gainesville to check out the class of 2007 and perhaps get a jump start on 2008.

Ed Orgeron was there too. He had spent the week evaluating players in Florida before joining Werner in Gainesville. The head coach went to scout the other positions and be noticed by the top players peeking at the sideline.

Werner's assignment was simpler: Focus hard on Garcia, and keep an eye out for other QB possibilities in case the Rebels have to go to Plan B.

Garcia's performance had the coaches on the sideline raving. Coaches could hear his ball whistling by. And he appeared to be having a blast. "He's got an aura," one of the coaches observed later. "I think players will want to play for him. He's got it."

Werner left Gainesville more convinced than ever that it was going to be a battle to land Garcia. But he also came away with the names of three other quarterbacks he liked.

Good thing, because the day Werner arrived in Gainesville for the Nike camp, Nick Foles committed to Arizona State.

The competition for Garcia kicked into high gear, and the object of it was having the time of his life. By the end of May, Garcia was saying in his blog that South Carolina and Florida were distancing themselves from Ole Miss, Alabama, and Louisville.


In reality, the differences among them seemed trivial. Did it really matter so much that Marve was 6'1" and not 6'2". Or that Borcky ran a 4.8 not a 4.6? Ask that sort of question in just about any recruiting war room at any college football program and the resounding answer you'll hear is "Yes! You damned right!"

Garcia's father continued to tell reporters how impressed he was by Ole Miss. He said that he and Stephen really had taken the "side trip" to Oxford after visiting Alabama solely out of respect to Werner, but they came away pleasantly surprised by the Ole Miss campus, the state-of-the-art facilities, and the coaching staff. Plus, he said, it's close to some great hunting, and for him that would be a nice bonus.

"Everybody keeps asking us, 'Why is Stephen listing Ole Miss?' " said Gary Garcia in early June. "But I'll predict right here and now that they are going to win big there. That guy Orgeron just flat knows how to recruit." But that was Gary Garcia talking, not his son, who made it pretty clear in his blog that just because Ole Miss was on his list didn't mean the Rebels were in his dreams.

On the plus side for the Rebels, they didn't have a hair policy. Seems Alabama had made clear to Garcia that he'd have to trim his long hair, and he didn't like the idea one bit. The last time a coach had taken exception to the length of his hair, Garcia said, was when he was thinking of trying out for the high school baseball team: "Coach said you have to cut your hair and shave. I said we can forget about that. I'm just not a very traditional guy."

The Rebels told Garcia he could redshirt his freshman year (2007), which would be Brent Schaeffer's senior season. Then, when the QB job opened up in 2008, he would be ready to battle Michael Herrick for the vacancy. At South Carolina, QB Blake Mitchell would also finish up in 2007, but Spurrier had just signed another blue-chip QB, Chris Smelley. And at Florida, the Gators had just signed Tim Tebow, a local legend who was being hailed as the perfect fit for Urban Meyer's spread-option offense.

The younger Garcia didn't worry about any of that: "Wherever I go, there's going to be competition. I'm not afraid of competition. So, it's like, 'Whatever.' "

At first glance, Robert Marve looked like the flip side of Stephen Garcia.

Both would end their high school career in 2006 as three-year starting quarterbacks, both were from Tampa (Marve went to Plant High School, Garcia to archrival Jefferson High), both were 17 years old, and both were fielding multiple scholarship offers.

But Garcia had been on the scouting radar since his sophomore season, when he led Jefferson to the state title game. In his two seasons as a starter, he had thrown for over 5,100 yards and 50 touchdowns. By the spring of his junior year, he'd received scholarship offers from most of the SEC.

Marve, on the other hand, completed just 44% of his passes in his sophomore season, as his team went 3–7. But Plant improved to 9–3 in 2005 and upset Jefferson, 26–23. Marve threw for over 1800 yards on the year, completing 54%. By the spring of his junior year, the 6'1", 195-pounder was sifting through scholarship offers from Kansas, South Florida, and Buffalo.

Werner liked what he saw from Marve in Gainesville. He liked the zip on his passes, and he liked his nimble footwork. He also liked his speed: Marve ran a more than respectable 4.65 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Garcia opted not to run. Werner came away with a Plan B taking shape in his head.

It helped that Marve had his own personal cheerleader working the sideline. Robert Weiner, Marve's high school coach, spent the day telling anyone who would listen that his player was a keeper. Weiner also handed out detailed information sheets that listed the courses his protégé was taking as well as his stats on the field and in the weight room.

"Robert is the hardest-working player on my team and any team I have ever coached," Weiner exclaimed on the information sheet. "His leadership skills stem from this work ethic and his charisma. Robert has a way of getting along with every player—black/white, rich/poor, good/mediocre, smart/not-so-smart. Robert has a way of reaching everyone. In the off-season, Robert's dedication is unparalleled, including coming to my office every single day to study film and to study our offense. He makes me quiz him on our offense weekly. He wants to know every nuance. He comes from good stock. His dad Eugene was an NFL linebacker for 12 years for the Bills, Chargers, and Bucs."

The genetics-on-his-side angle was a factor in the résumés of two other Plan B possibilities Werner pursued after the Gainesville camp, Joe Weatherford and T.J. Borcky. Weatherford, a spindly 6'2", 165-pound Floridian from Land O'Lakes was the younger brother of Drew Weatherford, the starting QB for the Florida State Seminoles. Borcky, a 6'4", 175-pound five-sport athlete at a small Orlando private school, was coached by his dad Tim, a former Buffalo Bills offensive lineman.

Marve, Borcky, and Weatherford were all later told by Werner that Garcia was Ole Miss' first priority. "It's tough," Weatherford acknowledged, "but I understand where they're coming from. My film isn't that great."

In reality, the differences among them seemed trivial. Did it really matter so much that Marve was 6'1" and not 6'2". Or that Borcky ran a 4.8 not a 4.6? Ask that sort of question in just about any recruiting war room at any college football program and the resounding answer you'll hear is "Yes! You damned right!" Fractions of inches and tenths of seconds are objective data, and that data becomes hard evidence when coaches make projections about how good a 17-year-old will be by the time he turns 21.

You can't see every prospect in game conditions or even on film. And no matter how hard you try, you can't look into the heart and soul of a kid to find out, definitively, if he has character. But you can find out if he's a 4.8 or a 4.6 in the 40.

All three of Ole Miss' Plan B quarterback hopefuls had a hectic summer ahead of them. They would bounce from campus to campus to show their talents in the hope of getting more offers. All the while, they'd be waiting for Stephen Garcia to make his move.

But the Garcia family was in no hurry to pull the trigger.

"My parents' advice has been to get the most information possible," Stephen said, "and not to let anybody else pressure me." On his blog he reported that he, too, was going to have a busy summer itinerary: heading up to Boston to see his older brother graduate from Harvard, competing for his high school in some 7-on-7 tournaments, and taking a family vacation to the Bahamas.

In the delicate push-pull world of college recruiting, the Garcias realized they had the leverage, at least for the time being. But you got the sense that they knew the clock was ticking.

Coming Friday: Chat with author Bruce Feldman, 10 a.m. ET
Click here to post a question for Bruce Feldman

Excerpted from Meat Market by Bruce Feldman (ESPN Books). Feldman is also the author of Cane Mutiny: How the Miami Hurricanes Overturned the Football Establishment.

His articles have been cited in several editions of The Best American Sports Writing, and he has won first-place awards in contests sponsored by the Football Writers Association of America. Meat Market can be purchased by clicking here.




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