College football has been all about change for redshirt senior Max Garcia.
It started when, as a three-star prospect out of Norcross Georgia, Garcia moved more than 600 miles north to play for the Maryland Terrapins. Two years later, after playing in 14 games and earning 12 starts at left tackle, Garcia changed teams when he transferred and decided to continue his career with the Florida Gators.
Following his NCAA-mandated transfer year, which he spent on the sidelines watching his new team go 12-2, he changed positions when he won the starting left guard job out of fall camp and made 12 starts, moving back to left tackle for a few contests after Florida was ravaged by injuries.
Now in his fifth college season, Garcia is facing three more major changes as he is not only learning a brand new offense under coordinator Kurt Roper but also being taught by a new position coach in Mike Summers while moving into the middle of the offensive line to play center for the first time in his career.
He struggled snapping the ball during spring practice but appears to have gotten those issues under control now that he’s had a couple more months to work on the technique.
“Center is going well so far, a lot better than the spring. [I’m] having a lot of fun out there. It’s a little challenging right now with all the looks that we’re getting from the defense, but I’m really enjoying it right now, really taking everything in stride and incorporating everything that Coach Summers is teaching me in individual drills and trying to take that into the team periods,” he said Friday before UF’s fifth fall practice.
“I’ve just tried to do a lot of [extra] snaps when practice is over. Every practice that’s gone by, I’ve taken at least 10-15 snaps afterwards. That’s really helped me just not be nervous as much. Before I was nervous wondering where the ball is going to go, but now I snap the ball more confidently and just trust in myself.”
Garcia is learning center for the first time without any veterans around to show him some of the intricacies of the position. Had he known last season that he would be transitioning into the role, Garcia said he likely would have paid closer attention to three-year starter Jonotthan Harrison and tried to pick his brain for tips throughout the 2013 campaign. Instead, he found out at UF’s postseason team banquet.
What Garcia does have is a veteran coach in Summers, one who is now in his 14th-straight year of coaching the offensive line exclusively. Summers has coached college football for 34 years, spending 15 as an offensive coordinator, so there he has plenty of knowledge to impart on one of Florida’s most important players in 2014.
“I love Coach Summers. He’s a great guy, old school technician-type coach. He really cares about us, easy to talk to,” Garcia said. “The last few months I’ve worked with him has just been really easy. He’s really relatable, knows how to talk to me, work with me. A lot of coaches, you know, they coach their players like they’re playing checkers and use every piece like they’re the same. He really coaches like he’s playing chess and all the players are different. That’s something I’ve seen in him.”
Garcia is improving on a daily basis, and head coach Will Muschamp has provided no indication that he will even be legitimately challenged for the starting center role.
Still, it is a huge undertaking for a player who has never played the position before in live action. Not only is Garcia a rookie center, he will be surrounded on both sides by inexperienced guards, making his leadership role on the line and overall transition to the position exceedingly important if the Gators are going to truly turn their team around.
While communication and making decisive calls from the line are both areas in which Garcia is making progress, there is no question that the coaching staff has the utmost confidence in his ability to handle the pressure of his new role.
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