COLUMBIA -- Stephen Garcia isn't just a veteran on the football field by now. The South Carolina senior quarterback has also evolved into a veteran of apologizing for bad behavior and working to move past it.
Sunday provided yet another opportunity for a Garcia mea culpa, the 23-year-old explaining -- albeit not in great detail -- the April incident that caused the fifth suspension of his college career.
"That little seminar, it got a little crazy toward the end," Garcia said, referring to an outburst at an SEC-mandated meeting for athletes about violence prevention. "The guy asked me to leave and I left."
Garcia said he called the speaker the following day and apologized.
Still, that wasn't enough to keep him from the summer-long punishment. After completing a list of university-dictated requirements, Garcia was officially reinstated last week, just before the start of camp.
When the Tampa, Fla., native was hanging in limbo, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier presented to Garcia the idea of
Spurrier presented to Garcia the idea of transferring for his final season of eligibility. Garcia admitted he entertained the notion, to escape what he called a "fishbowl" in terms of attention. His teammates, though, are actually what kept him at USC.
The other Gamecocks came to Garcia's defense on social media websites. They said they wanted him back for a run at the school's first conference title.
"It was a rough spring I had," Garcia said. "Thankfully, I had Marcus (Lattimore) and Alshon (Jeffery) and the rest of the players on the team. It really put it in my head that I love these guys a lot. I'm very thankful to still be here."
Garcia has become a divisive person in USC culture, splitting fans who support him -- or say he should have been gone years ago for his shenanigans.
"They have to, I guess," Garcia said, uncomfortably laughing when asked why fans should trust him at this point. "I'm asking them to ... to take me back one more time."
Spurrier has been very positive this summer about Garcia, which is fairly uncharacteristic for the Ball Coach with any QB -- let alone one who has been such a regular in his doghouse.
"We're in good shape at quarterback," Spurrier said, offering a taste of that positivity.
Garcia said Sunday that his relationship with Spurrier right now is as good as it's been since he was initially recruited. Spurrier has repeatedly said Garcia has made overdue "lifestyle changes."
"I can tell he's just got a better commitment level," Spurrier said. "He's not goofing around as much as he used to. He's not goofing around at all, really. He's trying to really play the position."
That's a good sign for the Gamecocks, if true. Garcia has played quarterback well enough already to be the school's third-leading passer -- and he's 3,200 yards behind Todd Ellis' record.
He said he's not all that concerned with the record. But, really, he said it's pretty amazing he has a shot at it, considering all that's gone down in five years' time. His college career flashed before his eyes in 2008, when he was suspended for the summer after he had alcohol on campus as a minor.
It did a second time this year, when he was hit with his second suspension of the spring. The first one, for the first week of spring practice, was related to a party in his hotel room during bowl week.
All but one of the incidents that led to suspensions have involved alcohol in some way. Sources have consistently said Garcia was required by USC to go through some sort of outpatient alcohol treatment program before he was reinstated. But Garcia denied that Sunday.
"I talked to the team doctors sometimes, just to chit-chat really," he said. "It wasn't any sort of counseling."
Later, when asked point blank if he has a problem with alcohol, Garcia's response was concise.
"Negative," he said. "No."
Spurrier's wife, Jerri, has become a closer friend and guide to Garcia throughout this particular comeback. She spent a fair amount of time with him in the summertime after he was reinstated on a probationary basis in June, so he could work out with his teammates.
Garcia, who graduated in May, said he has enrolled in a few classes, to fulfill that requirement. The choices are interesting. Included: Navy SEAL warfare and archery.
"I've learned a lot since I've been here," Garcia said. "I've learned the hard way, which I've tended to do over the course of my life. But I wouldn't have it any other way. It's made me who I am today. You only live once."
Garcia has proven to have quite a few lives, though, when it comes to his college career.
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