SPARTANBURG, S.C. – South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia is officially back on the Gamecocks — again.
Coach Steve Spurrier said Monday that Garcia had completed the obligations he was asked to do for returning to the team after the fifth suspension of his college career. "We think he's going to do what's right," Spurrier said by phone. "Sometimes, it takes some guys a little longer, I guess."
Garcia was banned for all team activities in April after displaying what athletic director Eric Hyman called "behavior that is unacceptable for one of our student athletes" during a life skills meeting. However, he was given the green light in May to attend offseason workouts on a probationary basis.
Spurrier praised the changes he saw in Garcia at last week's media gathering. "He has changed his lifestyle almost completely," Spurrier said then. "He's been on time. No goofing around. He's very serious. He's shown a commitment we haven't seen before. Hopefully that will continue and I expect that to continue. I expect him to be a different person."
Then again, Spurrier has said that before.
Garcia came in one of college football's top quarterback recruits, enrolling early in January 2007 to go through spring practice and grasp Spurrier's system. But Garcia was arrested twice his first six weeks on campus and was suspended that spring.
Garcia was ticketed for underage drinking in March 2008 and was again suspended until just before that year's fall practice began. Garcia's fourth suspension was handed down by Spurrier this past March, docking his starting quarterback a week of spring ball for a undisclosed transgression during South Carolina's stay in Atlanta at the Chick-fil-A Bowl last December.
Upon his return, Garcia pledged things would improve and said upon his return, "Nothing bad is going to happen again — that's guaranteed."
Less than two weeks later, Garcia was in trouble again.
Spurrier thinks Garcia will show a focus that could help the Gamecocks repeat as Southeastern Conference Eastern Division champions. He threw for 3,059 yards — the most of all SEC returning quarterbacks — and a career best 20 touchdowns. His best showing may have come in South Carolina's 35-21 win over then No. 1 Alabama last October when Garcia was 17 of 20 for 201 yards and three touchdowns.
Garcia has started the past 28 games for South Carolina and stands third alltime at South Carolina in passing yards, completions and touchdowns. He gives the Gamecocks a stellar group of frontline offensive stars with SEC preseason first-teammers in receiver Alshon Jeffery and tailback Marcus Lattimore. Garcia was selected as the second-team all-SEC quarterback.
The Gamecocks were picked to return to the SEC title game at last month's league media gathering.
Spurrier has liked what he's seen of Garcia since April. The 23-year-old graduated with a sociology degree in May and Spurrier said from what he's heard, Garcia took the lead in voluntary summer workouts.
Spurrier said Garcia will have to compete with rising sophomore Connor Shaw for the top job once camp begins. "But he'll be out there," Spurrier said. "We'll see what happens."