Commentary

Garcia spices up his journey to the NFL

Updated: February 6, 2009, 12:58 PM ET
By Harold Abend | Special to ESPNRISE.com

Jeff Garcia's hometown of Gilroy, Calif., located 35 miles south of San Jose, is the garlic capital of the world and hosts the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival.

Like the town, Garcia's rise to veteran NFL starting quarterback at Tampa Bay has a flavor of its own for this unknown prep to pro story.

His roots in football go back many generations. His maternal grandfather, Maurice "Red" Elder, was an All-American fullback for Kansas State in 1934.

After a short pro career that ended in Los Angeles, Elder became the coach at Gilroy High, where one of his Mustangs stars, Bobby Garcia, married Elder's daughter, Linda.

When Jeff became the quarterback for the Mustangs, his dad was coaching at Gavilan College, a junior college in Gilroy where also Elder had coached.

Although Gilroy employed a running attack handed down from Elder, Jeff had a solid junior year and, because of his family lineage, attracted some college interest.

"Even though they ran the ball, Jeff had a pretty good year as a junior. He was contacted by a lot of schools," Bobby Garcia said.

But three games into his senior year, Jeff broke his left arm in a game against Watsonville, and he missed the rest of the season.

"After he broke his arm, the colleges backed off," Bobby Garcia said. "I was coaching at Gavilan, so I said, 'You're coming with me.'"

In his one year at Gavilan, Jeff Garcia threw for more than 400 yards against one of the nation's top junior college programs, City College of San Francisco. His performances at Gavilan earned him JC All-American honors.

At the time, Stanford coach Dennis Green and his offensive guru, Brian Billick, were interested, and Garcia had the ACT and SAT scores to qualify for entrance. However, they wanted someone who could come in in the spring. Because Garcia didn't have a full year of junior college studies completed, NCAA rules at the time precluded him from joining a four-year school.

San Jose State was willing to wait until the fall, so Garcia became a Spartan.

"Jeff really wanted to go to Stanford, but when he couldn't, San Jose State seemed like a good fit and Claude Gilbert wanted him," Bobby Garcia said. "Then Gilbert was fired and Terry Shea redshirted him. They just couldn't get a staff together and had a different coach each year."

In Jeff Garcia's senior year, it was veteran coach John Ralston at the Spartans' helm and Garcia had a good enough season to make the 1994 East-West Shrine All-Star Game roster. He and his grandfather Elder are the only grandson-grandfather pair to appear in the game.

Although only a reserve, Garcia entered in the fourth quarter and threw three touchdowns and ran in the two-point conversion to give the West a 29-28 victory at Stanford Stadium.

"They really hadn't chosen him, but Vic Rowan from San Francisco State got him into the game and when it was over and they already had named the MVP -- they had to change it and make Jeff the co-MVP," Bobby Garcia said.

Even with the exposure, Jeff Garcia went undrafted by the NFL and landed with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League as a third-string backup to Doug Flutie and Steve Johnson.

With Flutie out with an injury and Johnson gone, Garcia became a starter in 1995. In his second start, he set a team record with 546 passing yards and six touchdown passes in a game against Edmonton. His work on the field that year set off an eventual quarterback controversy when Flutie later returned.

After Flutie left, Garcia took over and led Calgary to the playoffs in each of his three years at the helm, culminating in a Grey Cup victory in 1998 with Garcia named the game's MVP.

After the Grey Cup victory, Garcia was signed as a backup to Steve Young for his boyhood favorite team, the San Francisco 49ers.

When Young suffered a career-ending concussion in 1999, Garcia stepped in and kept the job for four more years, going to the Pro Bowl in three consecutive seasons (2000-02).

Although he has moved around -- playing with Cleveland, Detroit and Philadelphia since the 49ers released him after the 2004 season -- Garcia seems to have found a home in Tampa Bay.

Along the way (and not including his years in Canada), the 6-foot-1, 205-pounder has amassed 25,280 yards and 160 touchdowns passing and 2,132 yards and 26 TDs rushing in his 10 NFL seasons.

Not bad for a guy who spent his high school senior season wearing a cast and had to work his way through junior college, an unsettling college career and the Canadian Football League to get where he is today.

Harold Abend covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.