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July 23, 2010

BLOG: Positive Vibes Everywhere On Garcia

Hoover, Ala. -- I haven't watched a single summer workout (only because we're not allowed, I assure you) but I know Stephen Garcia has had an outstanding summer as he prepares for his redshirt junior season.

How do I know? Even Steve Spurrier said nice things about him Thursday afternoon during SEC Media Days, praising Garcia at different times for his talent, work ethic and development as a person and player.

As important as Garcia is to USC's hopes this season, the comments by Spurrier and the three USC players accompanying him have to be music to the ears of USC fans.

As Spurrier said multiple times on Thursday when talking about the team in general, "we really feel like we're heading in the right direction at South Carolina."

For most Gamecock fans, hearing positive news about Garcia is like music to their ears. And I'm not talking about speed metal either.

Here are some of the things Spurrier said about Garcia on Thursday in Hoover:

-- When talking about who the starting QB would be: "Stephen is our starting quarterback right now and will be our starter unless somebody beats him out. . .Stephen will have the first opportunity to go the distance for us."

-- When talking about how well Garcia has played: He had some "good games" and a "lot of good plays" in 2009 but also struggled at times with his decision-making.

-- When talking about summer workouts: "Stephen has been to all of them and he's doing everything we've asked."

-- When talking about his relationship with Garcia: "I think I have a pretty good relationship with Stephen."

-- When talking about Stephen's maturity level: "Stephen has grown up a lot. He had all of his problems early there. He did have some problems. We believe he's matured, grown up, is a different person."

What has made the difference for Garcia? Clearly, he's feeling the heat from Connor Shaw. Right now, he probably doesn't fear losing his job to the true freshman. But he knows that could change quickly if he doesn't perform up to Spurrier's standards.

Spurrier has been equally praiseworthy of Shaw, saying things like he was "going to be ready to play this year" and "we'll definitely have two quarterbacks ready to play when we come to the ballpark."

And, for the first time that I can recall, Spurrier speculated about the consequences to USC if Garcia suffered a catastrophic injury.

When we spoke with Patrick DiMarco, who is rooming with Garcia this summer, he contributed to the positive vibes about Garcia, saying the redshirt junior QB has made a concerted effort to facilitate relationships with all of his teammates and developing his leadership skills.

Garcia and DiMarco have periodically hosted teammates, even those on defense, this summer with barbecues at their apartment in Columbia. Didn't know Garcia was a pretty good cook, did you?

When you add in DiMarco's statements about Garcia putting in additional work this summer, you can't help but think Garcia is building the foundation for an All-SEC caliber season.

"He's matured a lot," DiMarco said. "I've seen a huge change since he's come to campus. He's busting his butt, putting in the extra effort. He's working on his own with the receivers this summer, things that haven't been done before.

"Two or three times a week he's been going to the indoor facility and throwing to the receivers. He's been watching film on his own. Hopefully, that will translate to the field and he'll have a breakout year this year. With a year under his belt, he'll hopefully see receivers downfield he didn't see last year."

Knowing Spurrier has a viable option behind him with Shaw, and that he won't be afraid to put him into the game, has motivated Garcia to diligently prepare for the 2010 season, DiMarco said.

"We have so much depth (at QB) this year," DiMarco said. "He understands that it's to a point where if he doesn't do his job we have Connor Shaw there. It's been kind of a motivating factor and pushed him more. It's forced him to get into the film room and running a few extra sprints."

Did a lack of competition from the backups hurt Garcia last season? Yes. But Garcia is hardly alone in relaxing when he knows there's nowhere else for the coaches to turn. It's called human nature.

"He really didn't have anybody pushing him last year and telling him that if you don't do this we're going to put the backup quarterback in," DiMarco said. "We didn't have anyone the coaches felt comfortable throwing in there against a SEC team. This year, if Connor continues to step up and play the way he has been, he can do it."

Even defensive stars Cliff Matthews and Shaq Wilson praised Garcia for his preparation this summer. "He's been doing the extra work he needs to do," Wilson said. "He's becoming a great quarterback. I like what I see."

Without a doubt, Garcia's focus and preparation this summer is a good start. But, we won't know the final grade until USC starts playing games on Sept. 2 and beyond. The first two games are on national TV.

Hopefully, the country will soon see what his Gamecock teammates have seen from Garcia this summer.



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