For a division one — er, FBS — player making a move to a new school (and in the case of Max Garcia, from a conference afterthought to a national powerhouse) the initial feeling of excitement can be fleeting.
Soon after the decision is made official, the joy of knowing a new and potentially prosperous move is on the horizon gives way to reality — you’re going to have to sit this season out.
However, for the 6-foot 4 offensive line transfer from Maryland, playing the Saturday role of spectator wasn’t as bad as some might think.
“Honestly, when we’re winning, it wasn’t really hard,” Garcia said on Tuesday. “With a great season, you’re just happy to be part of the team, happy to contribute … I was really excited; it wasn’t really a burden on me, I was just really happy to be part of the team.”
Garcia’s enthusiasm waned slightly when he reflected on Florida’s season, noting how tough it was to watch the team struggle at times, thinking he could be a boost. In terms of his daily duties however, Garcia was pleased with the recognition he received for helping the team prepare for each weekly foe.
“It was good getting recognized at the end of the year as the Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year,” Garcia said. “You know that the hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.”
The hard work has also been noticed this spring, as Garcia continues to be a name that is met with positivity from those around the Florida program.
Despite fighting a sore back— “natural wear and tear” Garcia said of it after admitting to being “fine” — the mammoth offensive guard is hoping to bring a stable force to a line which struggled at times last season, specifically in pass protection.
“We emphasize (pass protection) as much as we emphasize run-blocking.” Garcia said. “That is something that we talked about a lot during the off-season. We got in, we watched some extra film during meetings … Definitely emphasized communication this year.”
Communicating seems to be something this edition of the offensive line has grown adept at, as the big uglies have formed a close bond both on and off the field.
“I can just tell you with my experience this year, everybody’s talking,” Garcia said. “We’re all hanging out on the weekends together. We’re all doing the same thing. We’re all on the same page, all taking care of our bodies. We’re doing this together … You have to be as an o-line, you have to be.”
While Florida’s line has a handful of hardened SEC veterans, the Gators will showcase a number of younger players this year — some with limited league experience (D.J. Humphries), and some with none at all (transfers Garcia and Tyler Moore).
In the case of Humphries, Garcia openly stated his excitement in the sophomore tackle’s presence alongside him — a sentiment many would share at the thought of a 6’5 280-pound partner in crime.
“He’s a great player,” Garcia said of Humphries. “I was like ‘wow’ … the things that he does is just incredible. His footwork is just crazy.
“It’s really encouraging just playing next to him, getting to see him grow, and get stronger, get bigger, I’m just really excited to play next to him next year.”
Like Garcia last season, the Nebraska-transfer Moore is getting adjusted to his brand new surroundings. Moore opted to sit out the football season last year, concentrating on obtaining his associates degree in order to be eligible this fall.
In his first return to football action in quite some time, Moore is trying to quickly acclimate himself to life in the SEC, with Garcia lending a helping hand.
“When he first got here, I was like I’m in the same position pretty much that you are, in that we’re both new here. I’ve had six months to adjust to the team and everything, so if you need any help, you can come to me with whatever,’” Garcia said.
“We’re in the same position, so I understand what he’s going through.”
While Garcia may be able to empathize with Moore’s situation, there is one nuance of SEC life that he may find difficulty in expressing.
“The competition level is just crazy,” Garcia said.
“Going against Sharrif [Floyd] everyday, going against Lerentee [McCray] everyday, going against [Dante] Fowler everyday … you take that intensity at practice and take it to the game, it’s going to be crazy out there.”
“I know SEC ball is the best in the nation. I understand that.”
Even though he is yet to play in a live-game scenario, hailing from Norcross, Ga., Garcia has already experienced a glimpse of SEC-level competition — playing in an area which routinely sends athletes the conference’s way.
Coupling his prep experience with his two years at Maryland, Garcia is keenly aware of what to expect along the lines.
“The trenches, it does get dirty from time to time and that’s just something that’s part of the game.” Garcia said. “You just gotta do what you gotta do to get the job done.”
Garcia admitted to getting a nasty streak going at times, but in the end, his central focus is completing the task in front of him: “I try to keep my composure and get my job done,” he said.
In what seems to be almost customary this time of year, the offensive line has been shorthanded this spring. Florida already had a number of linemen out for the month-long session of practices, but the Gators have continued to see numbers at the position dwindle.
“What’s really hurt us is on the offensive line,” Will Muschamp said on Tuesday. “Right now, we’ve got six healthy guys.”
The lack of healthy bodies is an obvious concern to the Florida coaching staff, but according to Garcia, the remaining stable of blockers will continue to move forward.
“This spring is tough with just the numbers that we have … but at the end of the day it’s going out there and doing what we need to do,” Garcia said.
“We’re the O-line, we’re the backbone of the team. We just got to keep pushing forward and just got to get the job done.”