TAMPA — Stephen Garcia is back home.
The former Jefferson High football star and University of South Carolina quarterback is one of two signal-callers on the 2014 Tampa Bay Storm. Though he grew up in Tampa and even attended a few Storm games, he never imagined playing at the Forum.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “But I’m extremely fortunate to be here and competing.”
He was brought in by the Storm after a season with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League in 2012. He will compete with returning quarterback Randy Hippeard, who started four games at the end of last season.
“Stephen can push Randy, and that’s one thing we looked at when we wanted to bring him here,” first-year coach Lawrence Samuels said. “It’s a QB battle, and Randy has the experience actually playing here last year, but it’s clear Stephen has talent to add.”
Garcia had his ups and downs playing for coach Steve Spurrier at South Carolina, where he was 20-14 as a starter. He led the Gamecocks to the SEC title game as a junior, but he was dismissed from the team during his 2011 senior season.
Undrafted by the NFL in 2012, Garcia headed north to Montreal, but he never played for the Alouettes before being released in May 2013.
“After Montreal, I was kind of down in the dumps and wasn’t sure if I was going to continue playing football at all,” said Garcia, who graduated from Jefferson in 2006 as Hillsborough County’s all-time leader in passing yards (8,081), completions (506) and touchdowns (83).
Playing in Tampa again, he said, is a dream come true.
Garcia attended a couple of Jefferson games last season and has helped train Jesuit quarterback Jack Adams. As for his own training, Garcia’s adjustment to arena football — the size of the field, the speed of the game, the walls on the sidelines — has taken some time and additional focus.
“I’m learning a lot from Randy, a veteran guy in this league,” Garcia said. “But I’m working on not throwing off my back foot and getting the ball as fast as you can to these playmakers.”
When the Storm open their season tonight at home, Garcia expects to have a cheering section — whether he’s the starter or the backup.
“A lot of people have been asking for tickets,” Garcia said with a laugh. “We’ll see how many I can get.”