NEW ORLEANS — Florida Gators football players learned the day after Christmas that Max Garcia would not be allowed to make the trip with the team to the Sugar Bowl.
NCAA rules prohibit transfers from traveling with the team in their first semester at a new school.
A series of tweets ensued, including a few with the hashtag #FreeMax.
Florida offensive guard Jon Halapio, via his @Jhalapio67 account, tweeted, “Dumb NCAA rules holdin my dawg @Macweez73 from going to the Sugar Bowl!!!!!”
@Macweez73, of course, is Garcia, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound junior and former starting left tackle at Maryland who announced his plans to transfer to Florida in late April. Garcia, along with a few talented recruits, have coaches salivating about the potential of next year’s offensive line.
When teammates learned Garcia would not make the trip, they were hot about it.
“Man, that made me so mad,” fifth-year senior James Wilson said. “That’s our boy. He’s going to have a great year next year.”
Some say he played a major role in the defense’s success this season, so it was disappointing when he couldn’t make it to in New Orleans.
“He was bummed out. We were bummed out,” Halapio said about Garcia being forced to stay home. “During the eight practices we had in Gainesville, he was just practcing that whole time with us so hard. It just sucks because the offensive line, we’re a unit and we saw how hard he worked this year.”
Garcia practiced all season with the team. He worked out on scout team and, by all accounts, gave the Gators’ defensive front ferocious battles each and every snap.
He was always spirited on the sidelines, bouncing around before kickoff like he was about to play and high-fiving teammates after they made big plays just like he was on the field with them.
“We thought he deserved to come out here,” Halapio said. “He made our defense better every day. He’s still a part of our team, so why can’t he come out? We understand it’s an NCAA issue, it’s out of the coaches’ hands and everything, but he should have been here.”
Even though he’s been on campus a short time, Garcia was able to bond rather quickly with the Gators — especially his fellow offensive linemen.
“He’s just like us — He’s one of us,” Wilson said. “Max is just a real guy. He’s awesome.
“He enjoys practicing and he makes practices fun to go to. He’s just one of those guys who you know is feeling the same way you do and even though he knew he couldn’t play (in games), he’s going to strap it on and go to work.
“That’s what this O-line is all about. He’s a great addition.”