By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
Published October 28, 2005
TAMPA - There was little chatter on the bus ride home from Gainesville last December after Jefferson's 42-21 loss to Jacksonville Bolles in the state final.
Some players cried.
Others simply stared out the window.
Quarterback Stephen Garcia, who went 4-of-14 with two interceptions and by his own admission had his worst game of the season, sat quietly and kept to himself. At first, he tried to dissect what went wrong, but before long he had shifted his attention to the future.
"I was just thinking about redemption," Garcia said. "That was the one thing in my head. During the offseason when I was lifting, I'd think about the 42-21. When I was doing anything, I was trying to get better because that was one of the worst feelings I ever had and I didn't want to have it again."
From that nightmare of an afternoon, Garcia has responded like few his age can. Now a junior, he has been the driving force behind a high-powered Jefferson offense that has scored 40 or more points in four straight games. The Dragons (7-2), who finish the regular season tonight against Plant (6-2), are once again headed to the playoffs and the 6-foot-3, 196-pound standout is a large part of the reason why.
His stats, 114-of-190 passing for 1,801 yards and 17 touchdowns, are among the best around. Already, Garcia is drawing interest from programs such as Southern California, Florida State, Miami and Notre Dame.
"As he goes, so goes the offense," Jefferson offensive coordinator Mike Fenton said.
Garcia can throw any pass, Fenton said. Deep ball. Short ball. Intermediate ball. He's faster this season. Stronger, too. He knows when to zip it and when to guide it, he's better than ever at reading defenses and has a strong understanding of the Jefferson offense.
"I keep giving him a little bit more and a little bit more," Fenton said. "He's very intelligent. I really want to get to the point where he knows it as good as I do. He's almost there."
Garcia isn't the first standout quarterback Fenton has coached. In the mid-1990s, he was Tampa Catholic's offensive coordinator when Kenny Kelly, who later played for Miami, set numerous local records.
"He has the same caliber arm as Kenny maybe better," Fenton said. "Trust me, he's the real deal. If he continues to improve, he has the potential to play on Sundays."
Garcia isn't thinking about Sundays just yet.
Or even Saturdays.
He's focused on the present. And what he demands from himself is continual improvement. When asked to give his performance this fall a grade, Garcia thought for a moment or two before answering, "B-plus."