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Garcia Headed to Michigan

Written by: on Monday, June 24th, 2019

 

SCA athlete picks Ann Arbor

By Dave Fegley (6-24-19)

Southern Columbia’s gridiron star Gaige Garcia has decided that he will accept a scholarship offer to the University of Michigan. More properly, he will accept offers. The Tiger rushing and pinning machine will become a Wolverine next fall for two programs. “The University of Michigan is competing at the highest level possible with great success. My goal is to try to make as big of an impact on the programs as I can,” said Garcia who has earned scholarships to play football and wrestle in Ann Arbor.

When it comes to production on the football field, it is hard to find any player around the country that is as consistent as Garcia has been for three consecutive years on a weekly basis. “I have watched some of the highlight films of some of the highest rated running backs being recruited by top-level schools and Gaige’s tape is as good as any,” said Southern Columbia head football coach Jim Roth. The SCA three-sport athlete had received a boatload of offers from Ivy League and Patriot League football schools before getting the offer from the Wolverines during an official visit this past weekend.

On the wrestling side of things, the offer from Michigan adds to a long list from the top schools in the country that Garcia has been getting since after his freshman season. “Gaige is a great leader for our program and he is destined to do great things in whatever he does in his future. He is smart in the classroom and puts in the off-season work to become the best athlete that he can be. Not many people can become champions because of the discipline it takes, but he is one of the guys in that elite category,” said Tigers head wrestling coach Jerry Marks. Without question, the Big 10 has been the top wrestling conference in the country for a long time and Pennsylvania is regarded as the top high school wrestling state. 

As far as being a winner, the Michigan motto of “Hail To The Victors” is one that Garcia can related to during his high school career. In all three seasons that Garcia has played in on the gridiron, the Tigers have made it to the PIAA Class 2A State Championship game in each of them. During the run, Southern Columbia has compiled a record of 47-1 with gold medals in the past two seasons. As a freshman, the Tigers lost in the title game and that has been the only game that the honor student has missed due to a broken foot. “I want to finish my career with another state championship. It will be cool to think back later on in life how amazing the journey has been” Garcia said. “I’m just a small part of the winning though. We have so many other great pieces that have made this run so successful.” 

A perfect 2019 season, and obviously a fully healthy one for Garcia, could end his career with a 63-0 record while he is in his #23 Tiger uniform, and a 0-1 record with him in street clothes. “Gaige is a competitor. He is relentless and will give his best effort at all times. We are certainly glad to have him at running back for us because every time he touches the ball he has the ability to score,” Roth said. Moving from the turf in the fall to the mat in the winter, Garcia has been able to carry over that same level of dominance. The three-time wrestling state place winner finished this past season undefeated with a PIAA Class 2A Wrestling State Championship in the 195-pound weight class. “My mindset is to go out and do whatever it takes to win. It doesn’t matter which sport I’m doing at the time, I want to represent my school the best that I can,” said Garcia. He has then gone on to win multiple PIAA Track & Field state medals as a sprinter on numerous Tiger relay teams.

In 2006, fresh off of Southern Columbia winning their record fifth consecutive PlAA Class 1A Football State Championship, the Tigers all-time leading rusher Henry Hynoski played in his final high school game. During the championship, he broke Jerry Marks’ career rushing record and nobody thought the new mark of 7,165 yards would ever be touched. Fast forward to the upcoming season and not only is the record in reach for Garcia, but it is within shattering distance. He is 894 rushing yards away from reaching the top of the ladder as Southern’s all-time rushing king. The Tigers are already the only school in state history to have four career 6,000 yard rushers.

On top of Garcia’s 6,272 rushing yards, he is on pace to break more than just school records. The running back has scored a total of 124 touchdowns and will need just six this upcoming season to break the state record. Of those touchdowns, 106 of them have been rushing touchdowns. If the senior can add 15 more, he will break that state record as well. “It seems like throughout Gaige’s career as the game goes on, he just keeps getting better,” said Roth. “Most players start to slow down at a certain point, but he just continues at his high level of play.” Not talked about often is Garcia’s production as a receiver out of the backfield. He will more than likely finish in the top three of all the major receiving categories as well.

Amazingly, Garcia is the third Tiger to commit to a Big 10 school in the past month. The other two will be at Michigan’s biggest gridiron rivals. Julian Fleming will head to Ohio State as a wide receiver and Cal Haladay chose Michigan State to play linebacker. When asked what will happen if there is a play in the future where Haladay is in an open field situation trying to tackle Garcia, the bruising back had a simple fun-filled answer for his Spartan friend, “Touchdown!” The biggest rivalry in college football is when the the Wolverines take on the Buckeyes. Garcia has talked about the future of it with his close friend. “Julian and I have been joking back and fourth about that. He calls Michigan the team up north. With joking aside it’ll be crazy to play against one of my closest friends in a game that big,” said Garcia.

Michigan has won more football games than any other school in college football history. With Southern Columbia having the most high school PIAA championships, the transition shouldn’t be a hard one for Garcia. “The programs are very similar with great coaches and great success. It should carry over well,” he said. His future college head football coach will be Jim Harbaugh who is a Michigan grad and former Heisman Trophy candidate. The 55-year old coach played quarterback for the Wolverines and was a first round draft pick in 1987. He played 14 seasons in the NFL and made the Pro Bowl in 1995. 

Since retiring as a player, Harbaugh has been successful wherever he has coached. In his final year of a four year stint at Stanford, he helped guide the Cardinal to an Orange Bowl victory and was named the college coach of the year. He then went on to coach four seasons in the NFL with San Francisco. In 2013, the 49ers made it to Super Bowl XLVII where they lost to the Baltimore Ravens who were coached by Jim’s brother John. It is the only time that two brothers have been the head coaches to go against each other in a Super Bowl. Harbaugh is now entering his fifth year as the head coach at his alma mater. “He made me feel like I was family. That’s what really made Michigan seem like home,” Garcia said. 

Garcia’s decision to wrestling as well in college allows for him to continue competing in a sport that he has loved since he was young. “My dad Mike was a three-time state champ in his career so knowing that from a young age it helped motivate me to be the best that I could be,” said Mike’s oldest of four sons. After getting offers from all over the country, Gaige didn’t look forward to having to break the news to the other universities when the time came knowing how bad the other schools wanted him. “The toughest part was letting coaches who I’ve built relationships with know that I’ve committed elsewhere,” he said. Not many athletes have been able to play multiple sports at a Power 5 school, but if there is someone that has the work ethic to get it done, Garcia is a prime candidate.

As a freshman Garcia got off to a late start in the wrestling season after a football injury. He was still able to finish with a 22-3 record and made it to the semi-finals before losing to an eventual state champion by just one point. He battled back to pick up a fifth place medal in the 170-pound weight class. His sophomore season also had him earn a trip to the semi-finals where he lost in overtime and then went on wrestle back for a 182-pound bronze medal. This past season he was a perfect 47-0 including 34 pins that was capped off with a 195-pound gold medal at the Giant Center in Hershey. For his career, he is 114-6 with 68 pins. The three time sectional, district, and regional champion is on pace to finish with the best winning percentage in SCA history. Garcia also wants to be just the third grappler to be a two-time State Champion at the school.

The new head coach of the Wolverines wrestling program is Sean Bormet. The former Michigan All-American has spent the past seven years as the Wolverines’ top assistant and is passionate to take over the program beginning in the 2019-2020 upcoming season.  Every year since 2006 the NCAA Wrestling National Champion has come out of the Big 10 with Penn State winning eight during that span, Iowa adding three to their record 23, and Ohio State and Minnesota also claiming crowns. This past season, the Wolverines finished fifth in the country and are looking to continue their climb by adding pieces to their roster like the Southern Columbia product. 

As for the football side of things he will now be a part of some well-known rituals. Each time the Wolverines play in their home venue known as “The Big House” they have the home crowd advantage more than anyone. The stadium in Ann Arbor is the largest stadium in all of sports with a capacity of over 107,000 highly energized fans. During the pregame introductions, each player sprints toward midfield and jumps to touch a banner that reads “Go Blue M Club Supports You” as they enter the field and have done so since 1962. Michigan’s fight song “Hail to the Victors” is one of the most famous sounds in college athletics. The iconic stripes on the Wolverines’ helmet is well-known across the land as is their iconic maize and blue colored uniform.

Before trading in his Tiger stripes for the maize and blue jersey and singlet, Garcia wants to put an exclamation point on his high school career and is happy to be able to focus all his attention on it now. “This decision is very relieving. I no longer have to worry about being recruited. I can focus on bettering myself as a player and helping the teams reach the ultimate goals,” he said. A perfect ending would be another undefeated championship football season, and then three golds in wrestling as both an individual and two team titles. “Gaige is a winner. There isn’t much more to say than that,” Marks said. 

Putting the team ahead of any individual accolades, Garcia will have the opportunity to join teammates and future rivals Fleming and Haladay as the only Tigers to ever be named to the all-state football team all four of their years as players. “We have fun playing football. It makes the game more enjoyable when you are able to compete with great players alongside of you,” said Fleming. The only thing that really matters to the Tigers though is getting that tenth golden football to have on display at the school. “Knowing the three of us are playing Big 10 football definitely posts a threat to any opposing team we’re going to play this year, but we can’t let that get in our heads. We just need to play our game and the rest will follow,” Haladay said. The entire Tiger coaching staff is excited to watch this senior class play one final time together. “A lot of these guys have been so good that it is hard to expect them to get any better. Then again, they have done things in each game to show how talented and rare they are,” said Roth. The Tigers will kick off their season in South Carolina on ESPN against a national power. They will then return to Pennsylvania and hope to run off 15 more victories in the Keystone State and finish as the state’s first ever 10-time PIAA Champions.

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