Back in August, Florida Gators redshirt senior Max Garcia still had some trepidation about moving to center, a position he had never played before and did not find out he would be learning until after the conclusion of the 2013 season.
Though college has been all about change for Garcia, who played for two programs and lined up at nearly every position along the offensive line during his five years at Maryland and Florida, it was still an adjustment to take on such an important role for the Gators.
Luckily, he had someone special – and quite experienced – in his corner.
“I had a few doubts just because I hadn’t played the position, and I was just only going to get a few months to prepare for it. I didn’t know how well I was going to do, how well I was going to be able to produce at that position. I knew I was a good player, but I just didn’t know how I would play at center,” he said on Tuesday.
“But just working with Coach [Mike] Summers – and with the encouragement from my teammates – I’ve been able to be successful.”
Summers is now in his 34th season as a college football coach, which includes 15 years as an offensive coordinator and 14-straight seasons as an offensive line coach. Florida’s offensive line, which lost two starters and is starting a number of inexperienced players, has obviously made major strides due in large part to his coaching, and his expertise is needed now more than ever with the unit dealing with a number of injuries.
According to Garcia, who praised Summers early in the fall, any absences should not be a huge issue for UF because Summers will find a way to fill all the gaps.
“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 in August. “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.”
Indeed, no player has benefitted more from Summers’s tutelage than Garica, who head coach Will Muschamp singled out last week as the leader of the Gators’ offense. On Monday, he delivered even higher praise for the fifth-year senior.
“I think Max Garcia is probably playing as well as any center in the country,” Muschamp said. “He’s playing really good football. He makes all the calls for us up front and is a very calming part of what we’re trying to do. I think he’s playing really well.”
Garcia took Muschamp’s comments to heart, noting that he has become “a lot smoother” playing center because he is “thinking less about the snap” and is now “able to get up to the second level with more ease.”
“I feel like I’ve been doing a good job there in that position. Working with Coach Summers has helped me out a lot, him just being patient with me starting out in the spring and just developing me at that position. He just really helped me out,” said Garcia. “It’s just a combination of things, and I’m just blessed right now.”
Also playing into Garcia’s success is his understanding of how important his playing well is to the team winning football games.
“As the center, you have to be the quarterback of the offensive line. Communicating and getting everyone on the same page, that’s really the most critical part of playing center, just being able to make sure everybody’s going to the same way and to the same point,” he explained.
To that end, Garcia – who Muschamp called “one of the best leaders as a football coach I’ve ever been around” – may very well be the most successful player to change positions during the coach’s four-year tenure at Florida.
“That’s the toughest position to play on the offensive line, obviously with what you have to do call-wise but then stepping and being able to generate power after a snap on a zero-nose, on a head-up nose guard. But he’s done it extremely well. He sees it in practice every day. Max is a really intelligent young man,” the coach explained.
“Really smart, complete team guy and totally bought into what we need to do to be successful. We came to him [in the spring about playing center] and he said, ‘I’ll do anything you ask me to. Let’s go try it.’
“He is playing at a very, very high level. He is playing extremely well.”
Photo Credit: FOX Sports Florida