- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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DESTIN, Fla. -- It’s been one of the worst-kept secrets in the SEC over the past few weeks.
In fact, it was almost as if South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier had been trying to prepare everybody for it with hints along the way as he spoke to different booster club organizations.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Stephen Garcia, albeit on the strictest version of double-secret probation, is back with the team and able to participate this summer in voluntary workouts.
Having racked up five suspensions during his career, Garcia is getting one last chance.
A big part of his return centers around his successful completion of an alcohol rehabilitation program. Garcia admitted to Spurrier that he had been drinking prior to the latest incident when Garcia was asked to leave a mandatory leadership seminar after becoming disruptive.
We could debate for the next several months whether or not Garcia deserves another chance.
The reality is that if he were a third-team offensive lineman, he would have been gone a long time ago.
But experienced quarterbacks in this league who’ve won are at a premium, no matter how many boneheaded decisions they’ve made off the field or how many times they’ve been suspended.
The interesting question now: What happens next?
Does this decision to partially reinstate Garcia backfire on Spurrier and the Gamecocks?
Can Garcia finally become the leader for this team that he’s never really been?
Do his teammates rally around him, or do they see him as a guy who cares more about the party scene at Five Points than he does about winning an SEC championship?
And, finally, does Garcia beat out sophomore Connor Shaw for the starting job?
Of all the questions, that last one is the most intriguing.
Despite what some may think, Spurrier isn’t just going to hand the starting job back to Garcia. In fact, if the competition is even close this August, South Carolina fans might want to brace themselves for the fact that both Garcia and Shaw are going to play.
And if that happens, Spurrier is perfectly content to let it play out on the field.
Maybe this whole thing has a happy ending for the Gamecocks and Garcia makes the most of this last chance.
He’s third all-time at South Carolina with 6,753 passing yards and 43 touchdown passes. He’s never been shy about taking on defenders of all sizes when scrambling for extra yardage, and he possesses that gunslinger mentality the fans love.
In a lot of ways, Garcia is a throwback. He plays hard on the field, but plays just as hard off the field.
What the Gamecocks need is for him to keep playing hard on the field and play smarter both on and off the field.
If he does that, maybe the next party Garcia attends will be one to celebrate a championship.
2dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
3dTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney