SAN DIEGO — The irony of it all is that if Jeff Garcia was entering this year’s NFL draft, with his style of play, and with teams looking for that more mobile, athletic quarterback, he’d surely be taken in the first round. As it happened, when Garcia entered the draft in 1994, more than 200 players’ names were called and none were his.
But that didn’t stop the 6 foot 1 inch, 190 pound quarterback from going on to have an 18-year professional career in the NFL.
On April 25, several hundred more young hopefuls will enter this year’s draft all intent on hearing their name called to begin their professional football careers.
But even before that, those same hopefuls will have the chance to make an impression with their potential employers at the weeklong NFL Scouting Combine beginning Feb. 20.
Garcia, with his Test West Football Academy and their newest partnership with Velocity Sports Performance Center, is helping to prepare those young players not only physically, but mentally for what may or may not happen on their road to the NFL.
“I had hopes of being drafted,” Garcia said. “It was a long day of sitting around and not getting a call,” he said. What made it more embarrassing, he said, was that The Gilroy Dispatch, Garcia’s hometown paper in Gilroy, Calif. shadowed him that day to see if anything would happen.
“And it didn’t happen,” Garcia said. “I didn’t get signed as a free agent. At the time, I believe there were 28 teams…and not one of them saw me as a fit, even as a free agent quarterback and so that’s why I had to go up to Canada and really prove myself up there.”
After four years in the Canadian Football League and winning the Grey Cup (the CFL championship) with the Calgary Stampeders, the NFL took notice of Garcia and in 1999 he was signed by the San Francisco 49ers.
Though Garcia didn’t participate in the combine when he emerged from San Jose State as a record-holding quarterback, he said it wasn’t nearly the same as it is today, especially with all of the TV coverage and marketing efforts.
“The game has just become so big, so large that everything is getting promoted,” Garcia said.
Not only is the combine a chance for players to show what they can do, but, Garcia said, for the 32 NFL teams, they’re deciding whether the young men are worth making a tremendous investment in.
“To play at the elite level, you have to have the physical tools. But they (NFL teams) also want to see mental and emotional stability. They want to see that a young man can handle this transition and how is he going to deal with it.
“Is he going to be a problem in the community or somebody who’s going to be responsible and bring positive things to the community,” Garcia said.
That’s something, that with Garcia’s years of experience in trying to find positives in a life riddled with adversity, he can talk to the players about.
“I’ve lived it,” he said. “My life — I had so many trials and tribulations and learning experiences — very difficult experiences to overcome, especially as a child.”
When he was 7 years old his younger brother died in a drowning accident and more than a year later his younger sister was killed in an auto accident.
Questioning the “Why?” and “How?” he could lose his siblings in such a way, Garcia leaned heavily on sports to help prevent him from going down that wrong path in life.
Having that daily distraction, to get him to focus on something else instead of focusing on what their family had just gone through helped, he explained. “And I had a love for sports. I was passionate about it. But what sport has taught me is how to deal with people better; how to work as a team; how to commit myself to something, how to learn how to work through adversity.”
It isn’t hard to feel positive after talking with Garcia, the 42-year-old Rancho Santa Fe resident, grandson of Mexican immigrants and son of a football coach.
“Being a quarterback, it’s great working Jeff,” said Ryan Katz, the 6 foot 1 inch, 210 pound quarterback from SDSU, who will participate in this year’s combine. “He’s been in the league for 18 years, he’s got that experience and that’s something, a young guy coming up, that’s what I’m looking for…to guide me through this process.”
The process includes helping players to realize that they are their own brand and how to interact with the media, too.
“There’s nothing that bothers me more than seeing an athlete in front of a camera who does not know how to speak to the camera, or how to represent himself,” Garcia said. “You may not think it’s a big deal as an athlete, but people are judging you… It’s important to have a certain manner about you; a certain character about you that is exuded in how you speak and what you have to say.”
For Katz, he said from a young age he was taught that he was his own brand. “Everything I do is going to be seen and heard,” Katz said. “So you just try and stay positive and do the right thing.”
He’ll try to make his mark during the combine with his energy and focus, he said. “Intelligence is going to be a big thing, and just doing the right thing. These guys (scouts) are looking for positive young guys to come into their organization and give a good vibe, and that’s what I’m trying to do,” Katz said.
“I think that players are becoming more aware that they are a brand,” Garcia said, adding “that they have an opportunity to build their brand if they represent themselves in a positive way, if they promote themselves in a positive way. But if you’re not promoting yourself to the public in a way the public embraces you, then why would anybody want to market you or to be associated with your brand.”
Speaking of helping build brands, Garcia will soon begin working with New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, whose 2012 season could be described politely as “difficult” and that resulted in his benching to a rookie in the final two games of the season. Garcia said he’ll also start working with fallen quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the 2007 first overall draft pick on a “last shot,” “comeback” type of deal.
Russell is a guy who is extremely talented, but mentally, just did not grasp and understand what he needed to do, but is still young, is still very capable and can we help him, said Garcia. “Well, we’re going to find out. We’re going to find out if he wants to be helped, and that’s the key. You have to want to be helped in order to be helped,” Garcia said.
Once the combine has come and gone this year, Garcia still looks to keep active in reinvigorating sports training in San Diego with their new sports complex (the partnership is only months-old and are still looking for sponsorship help. Sponsorship inquiries may be made to Nadia Abdala at [email protected]).
What Garcia looks to do is not only cater to the professional athlete, but also to the high school students involved in all sports to help them get better and instill a commitment in something, including how to overcome adversity. Something Garcia happens to know all about.