Garcia not suspended for first time

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- It's been a unique spring practice so far for Stephen Garcia.

He's made it through two practices without a suspension and he's South Carolina's lone quarterback with experience.

"It sure beats sitting at home," Garcia said Tuesday.

That's where the prized recruit spent his previous two rounds of spring drills, banned from the workouts because of run-ins with the law.

This time, Garcia says he won't let himself -- or the team -- down again.

"I'm just having fun out here, playing with my teammates for the first time in spring," he said with a smile.

Garcia was considered one of Steve Spurrier's top recruits since the coach took over at South Carolina after the 2004 season. Garcia was a top prep quarterback from Florida and he graduated high school a semester early to take full advantage of Spurrier's tutelage.

With a strong arm, a quick release, nimble legs and no shortage of confidence, Garcia had Gamecocks fans fantasizing about Southeastern Conference titles and Bowl Championship Series games.

Instead, Garcia's career was waylaid by his own immaturity.

He was charged twice by law enforcement during his first weeks in town, leading Spurrier to ban Garcia from the spring workouts he enrolled early to experience.

A chastened Garcia spent 2007 as a redshirt and had a sideline view when South Carolina's rise to No. 6 in the country at 6-1 collapsed into five straight losses, a .500 record and no postseason.

Garcia figured to have a role in last spring's quarterback race with more experienced players Tommy Beecher and Chris Smelley. But after one practice, Garcia was in trouble again, this time when police charged him with underage drinking. Garcia was kicked off the team and told not to return until August.

The university lifted the ban two weeks early so Garcia could go through summer camp. But it was not an easy season.

Garcia went through Spurrier's shuffle-'em up rotation, along with Beecher and Smelley. Against Arkansas, Garcia and Smelley alternated nearly every play.

The most notable moment for Garcia probably came last October when he was knocked down in the LSU game by a shoulder-first hit from umpire Wilbur Hackett Jr. that became an instant YouTube hit.

Garcia finished the season as poorly as South Carolina did. He threw three interceptions in a 31-10 Outback Bowl loss to Iowa as the Gamecocks closed with three straight defeats to finish 7-6.

For the season, Garcia completed 53.3 percent of his passes for 832 yards with six TDs and eight interceptions.

But Garcia is South Carolina's No. 1 by default right now. Beecher transferred to Liberty and Smelley gave up football to join Alabama's baseball team in his home state.

Behind Garcia are sophomore walk-on Zac Brindise and redshirt freshmen Aramis Hillary and Reid McCollum -- none of whom has taken a snap for the Gamecocks.

Spurrier took some steps this offseason to speed Garcia's development. G.A. Mangus, a former Florida quarterback and assistant to Spurrier, was brought in as someone versed in the head ball coach's attack.

"He's really been a friend to us," Garcia said.

Mangus said Garcia has been attentive and eager to put his past behind him and become an effective offensive leader.

"He's much more curious and I think he knows it's his time," Mangus said. "All in all at this stage, no complaints, but they all have a lot to learn."