EASLEY — On a Saturday morning or occasionally during the week, you might have driven by Gettys Middle School in Easley and spotted a group of kids tossing a football around while their parents watched.
You might have passed by without a second thought, but there was more to what you saw than you know.
Since the summer of 2015, former University of South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia has been coming to Easley and volunteering his time to work with kids from all over the Upstate, helping them to hone their on-the-field skills while hoping to make a positive impact on their lives off the field.
Jan. 30 was one of those unassuming days that a group of young men ran routes, made passes, worked drills, and more than any of these, watched and learned about more than football.
Among them was a visitor there for his own benefit, former starting Clemson University running back Rod “Hot Rod” McDowell, running routes as if he was a 12-year-old himself, and forcing himself to do pushups for dropped passes.
McDowell is no longer in the game, but the message those pushups sent, along with Garcia’s message of work, is just the message these young men took away.
“Coming out and working with these young men brings back to me why I played and I love to see these kids bust it out here to get better at football,” Garcia said. “I was fortunate enough to play at USC and had I had someone working with me like this at their age for both on and off the field, I would have been better off. It’s no secret I had issues off the field and I’d like to show these young men that off the field is just as important.”
Dallas Odom of Easley has been working with Garcia since the summer of 2015 and what began as a coaching session has blossomed into not only football in the off season but life lessons as well.
Garcia has tried to show the young men who attend that football players are just people too, not bigger than life heroes they only see on TV, much like the presence of McDowell.
“I love coming out and working out with these kids. Even though I’m not in the game, it means a lot to come out, stay in shape, and have some fun,” McDowell said. “We all get to be kids playing the game, all of us the same.”
Garcia said he prefers coming to Easley to work out with these young men because it helps his perspective.
The parents seem to understand there is more to life than the game.
“All of the parents definitely have my phone number and text me all the time in Tampa and I have grown to appreciate the people here,” Garcia said. “The people here are good people and that’s why I keep coming back. In Tampa, it seems a lot of the parents are far more aggressive in a lot of cases and that makes it difficult because there’s more to this than football.”
Garcia, who enters training camp in the new Major League Football league in the next few weeks, may be a bit busy for a few months as the league gets off the ground in a 10-game season this spring, but don’t be surprised if you drive by Gettys Middle School and notice the footballs flying.
Stop and enjoy, but stay out of the way and let the learning continue because Garcia has a goal: “I plan on coming back and continuing to come back to the Easley area because I want to train better players, but more than that, I want to train better young men.”
Reach D. C. Moody at 864-855-0355.