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Last Update: 09/28/00
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*** AN ALL STAR HISTORY MOMENT ***
Jeff Garcia makes a living out of picking on defensive backs. But when the talented quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers was a high school player representing Gilroy in the Charlie Wedemeyer All Star Football Game, he had the opportunity to experience how the other half lives.
Garcia was one of three quarterbacks selected to play for the South All Star Team in 1988. But little did he know going into the game that he would be the odd man out. "I went into that All Star week of practice thinking I was going to be one of the starting quarterbacks," he added. "But there were three guys at the quarterback position, so right there I knew it was not going to allow much playing time." Garcia was joined at the quarterback spot by Dan Hall of Leigh and Hector Siqueiros of Independence. And it took a day or two of practice for him to realize that his playing time would be in jeopardy. "They utilized more of a running style quarterback, and I was more of a drop back passer," said Garcia. So South Co-Head Coaches Randy Zimmer of Leland and Jeff Borges of Silver Creek made a decision.
"After a couple of days, they asked me if I could play another position," said Garcia. "I told them I could play free safety, so I went over the defensive side of the ball." The position had to be rather foreign for Garcia. After all, his only experience with a defensive secondary prior to that game was studying it to attack its weaknesses. But as it turned out, that might have worked to his advantage.
"Being a quarterback gives you a complete knowledge of the game, both offensively and defensively," said Garcia. "So I approached the position more from a quarterback's mentality." The strategy must have worked. Garcia had a big game in the secondary for the South, and helped his club battle the North to the only scoreless tie in the history of the All Star Game. "It wasn't a very exciting game," he said, "but I was able to pick off a pass and get in on a few tackles. I got a chance to be the hitter instead of the hittee. I had a real fun week on the defensive side," he added. "It was fun for me to get an opportunity to play a position I hadn't played."
And he played it well enough that coaches from a couple of small colleges called him to see if he wanted to play football for them in their defensive secondary. But Garcia's future was set, at least in the short term. He was planning to play for his father, Bob Garcia, at Gavilan College. But the elder Garcia had no intention of putting his son in the secondary - Jeff was going to be the quarterback for the Rams. "I was pretty much set on going to Gavilan and playing for my dad," said Garcia.
It's difficult to say whether his experience in the secondary on a July night in Spartan Stadium made him a better quarterback, but Garcia was certainly an outstanding passer in the fall of 1989. He threw for 2,038 yards and 18 touchdowns on his way to winning a place on the Junior college All-American Honorable Mention list.
Garcia went on to become a three-year starter at San Jose State University. He left the Spartans as their all-time leader on total offense with 7,274 yards and ranked third in passing yards (6,545) and pass completions (504).
He played five seasons for Calgary in the Canadian Football League, leading the Stampeders to the Grey Cup Championship in 1998 and winning the Grey Cup Most Valuable Player Award.
Garcia was signed by the 49ers in 1999 to serve as the back-up to Steve Young. But when a season-ending injury sidelines Young early in the year, Garcia stepped in immediately as the starter for the 49ers. He responded by completing 225 of 375 passes for 2,544 yards and 11 touchdowns.
With the recent announcement of Young's retirement, Garcia is the favorite to be the San Francisco starter this fall. And there's little to no chance that the 49ers will ever ask him to play free safety. They did in 1988 at the Charlie Wedemeyer game, though. But Garcia didn't really mind. . .he was just happy to be there.
"For me, I was pretty fortunate," said Garcia. "I was coming off of a pretty good junior season - I was Second Team All-CCS and the All-MBAL Quarterback. But I fractured my elbow during my senior year." Garcia says he probably "rode my reputation" into the game, and he was glad he did. "I was honored to be a part of it," Garcia said of the All-Star experience. "It was a great feeling to be among the top athletes in the Santa Clara County."
"It was an exciting experience," he added. "Being around the other talented players brought out the best in everybody. It really elevated every player out there because they had to step it up a notch to hang with the other talent on the field."
And Game night was equally as exciting. "Being at that age, coming from what I was used to playing in, that was a big stadium," said Garcia of Spartan Stadium. "Coming down that ramp, it really got the emotions running high and got the excitement going."
Since that time, he has played in some rather large venues as a Spartan, a Stampeder and eventually a San Francisco 49er. . .but always as a quarterback, never a free safety.
Of course, if anything should happen to Lance Schulters. . .