Sunday, February 4, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, February 4, 2001

49ers quarterback continues quiet climb to top in Pro Bowl

By Susan Shan
Special to The Advertiser

Iolani junior Susan Shan won The Advertiser’s Sportswriter for a Day contest. As part of her prize, she was allowed to interview NFL stars during the recent Pro Bowl practices, with her work being published in today’s Advertiser. She chose an in-depth interview with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia. This is her story.

As a scrawny redhead growing up in Gilroy, Calif., Jeff Garcia would often stare into the direction of San Francisco, 60 miles south.

As a young 49ers fan, Garcia grew up idolizing football greats Joe Montana, Dwight Clark, and Jim Plunkett. "It is important to have role models," Garcia said. "Where they are in their life is at the top of the pyramid, and not everyone is going to be there."

Not everyone will get there, but Garcia, the current San Francisco 49er quarterback, asserts that "if you shoot for those dreams, you are going to make yourself proud of what you are going to accomplish."

Garcia has accomplished what some would call an impossible dream.

Overlooked because of his unfootball-esque size at 6 feet and 195 pounds, Garcia was not drafted by the NFL after his career at San Jose State ended in 1994.

"(The media) wanted to knock me because of my size. If I wasn't facing that, it was another thing, but that never held me back from doing great things on the football field," he said.

Being put down just fueled Garcia’s fire. After high school, he encouraged himself to "make greater strides and started to search for different challenges and develop as a player."

Garcia spent one year at Gavilan Junior College, where his father was the coach.

Each year, Gavilan brings back alumni to speak to the student body. Bob, Jeff's father, said Jeff stood in the middle of a circle of boys sitting on the grass recently and said, "I was where you guys were a few years ago. All my life people said I couldn’t do it, but I had a dream. I never let anything deter me from my dream. Take advantage of the opportunities."

Garcia’s path started as a child born into a football family. After attending Gilroy High School and Gavilan Junior College, he spent four seasons - one of them as a redshirt - at San Jose State. He was co-MVP at the 1994 East-West College All-Star Shrine Game.

Despite his performance, the NFL didn’t draft him, so Garcia headed to the Canadian Football League. In 1998, he led the Calgary Stampeders to the Grey Cup Championship while earning MVP honors. During his five-year CFL career, he passed for 16,449 yards and 111 touchdowns.

Finally gets his chance

San Francisco 49ers general manager Bill Walsh noticed Garcia and signed him.

This year, Garcia blossomed. He passed for 4,278 yards and 31 touchdowns en route to his first Pro Bowl, which will be played today at Aloha Stadium.

"Jeff’s always looked at that other level," Bob Garcia said. "His desire was into the game. He wanted to play."

Bob Garcia said he contacted every four-year college in the west coast during Jeff’s senior year in high school, but "all the colleges said that he wasn’t big enough, he wasn’t fast enough, and he doesn’t have the arm."

"A lot of kids would have said that’s it, it’s over. But Jeff never lost sight of what he wanted. He said he wanted to play."

Jeff Garcia credits his accomplishments to his family.

When he decided to play football, his dad made sure that he had good coaching. "He wanted to make sure that if I was going to do it, I was going to do it right," Jeff said with a smile.

Garcia also draws inspiration and resilience from living through two family tragedies. When he was 7, his 6-year-old brother, Jason, drowned during a family vacation. The following year, his 5-year-old sister, Kimberly, fell out of the family’s company truck and died from massive injuries.

"I’ve been through many ups and downs in my life and I think that helped build a stronger, more determined me. I’ve experienced death close to my family and that’s the most difficult thing to ever go through."

Strong family support

"I tried not to shelter him and overprotect him," said his mother, Linda Garcia. "We are a really close family with a wonderful extended family. There are 150 people coming here just to support him."

Garcia has received support from everyone in his small Gilroy community. His father commends Garcia’s humble behavior as the result.

"Nobody else would take the time to stand (outside a restaurant in Gilroy) and sign autographs. He was the only one," Bob Garcia said. "And that’s what we always talked about: being humble. You have to be humble, no matter in victory or defeat. What comes around goes around. You’re in the limelight now, but you have to remember it’s these people who put you in the limelight. You’ve got time. Give a little time to these people."

From admiring to being admired as a role model, Jeff Garcia has come a long way on and off the field. In his first Pro Bowl trip, Garcia has realized a dream come true. He turned toward a reporter, an intense look on his face - a look filled with inconceivable confidence and passionate desire for the game of football. Lowering his voice, he confided, "Quietly, I just climb my way to the top."

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