Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
Some athletes are born with that little something extra that always seems to propel them above and beyond their peers.
South Medford's Adrian Garcia fits into that category, and has for years in any number of athletic pursuits. Whether it's been football, basketball, baseball or track and field, Garcia's enjoyed a number of primetime performances here in the Rogue Valley.
Still, the last two weeks have to go down as two of the most remarkable in the sporting life of the 17-year-old Panther. With his team desperately needing someone to spark them back to their winning ways, Garcia came through in a big way with five interceptions and three touchdown receptions in a pair of close wins over Roseburg (23-22) and Grants Pass (10-7).
"His last two weeks are unheard of with the five interceptions and three touchdowns in two big wins for us," says South Medford head coach Bill Singler, whose team is 5-2 overall entering tonight's Black and Blue Game with North Medford. "He's obviously had a major impact in those games and that's kind of what your big players do. The big-time players make big-time plays and, for us, Adrian's one of our big-time players and he's certainly played like it all year."
After providing a nice complement to Matt Retzlaff on last year's football team, Garcia has taken it upon himself to be more of a leader this year for the Panthers. Despite carrying the target that comes with being South's most dynamic playmaker, the 6-foot, 170-pound senior ranks fourth in the Southwest Conference with 412 receiving yards on 35 catches with six touchdowns.
"Last year he gained a lot of experience on both sides of the ball as a starting corner and a starting receiver," says Singler. "I think through all the success he had last year, that has propelled him to be one of the best players in our league, without question, this year."
"Defensively he's a ball-hawker and he's got good speed and good smarts back there at free safety as kind of the quarterback of the defense," adds the coach. "Offensively, he's such a threat as a wide receiver because he just has good quickness and catches the ball away from his body really well and he runs really good routes, too."
Garcia came up with three interceptions a year ago in his starting role and averaged 16.1 yards per reception to finish as the SWC's fifth-leading receiver (36 catches for 481 yards and eight TDs). He credits Retzlaff with helping him develop as a two-way player and as a team leader this season.
"I've tried to follow through his footsteps because I learned a lot from him," Garcia says of his former teammate.
What hasn't been learned through hard work and dedication has simply come from being a natural athlete and competitor. He was a Little League phenom with his strong arm and home run ability, and scored the only touchdown on a 45-yard reception from Danial White in 2006 to lead his Ashland Bears team to the Junior Pee Wee Pop Warner state championship and an 11-0 season.
While some might feel the pressure of having to perform every time out, such matters don't really concern Garcia.
"I expect that out of myself anyway so if I don't (perform well) I'm going to be upset with that," he says.
Garcia has had to endure a little slower start to the season than maybe he would've hoped — as teams naturally have gravitated their defense his direction — but he's taken it all in stride.
"To take more guys on me opens up the running lanes and that's what we want to do," he says. "Then, who knows, maybe they'll leave me and it opens me up again. It's not a big deal. I'll take on the challenge if it presents itself but I'd just rather win, I don't really care how."
Still, it's clear the Panthers get a little extra bounce on the sideline when the A-Train is rolling along.
"As Adrian goes our team goes sometimes," says Singler. "He's not our only big-time player, obviously, but he's certainly one of the leaders on our football team by his example and by his attitude and just the experience he has."
That eagerness to make a play for his team is always there but sometimes the ball is not as South tries to share the burden among a host of quality skill players. Still, Garcia is ever mindful of his top priority, and that's winning the game. If it takes stretching out the defense as a decoy, no problem. If it takes being targeted 25 times, he'll darn sure take that, too.
"Obviously I want to be that go-to guy and when we go away from that it sort of upsets me because I know I can do the job," says Garcia, "but I have faith in Bill making the right decisions. He knows what's best for the team."
Invariably, though, that means finding some way to get Garcia involved in his favorite setting.
"It's pretty typical and cliché to say but there's nothing like playing under those Friday night lights here at Spiegelberg," he says.
That goes double for tonight, with the Black Tornado standing across the way and neither team willing to budge as South goes for its sixth straight victory in the series.
"I think coming out of the gate both teams will be pumped and I know North will probably give us their best game of the year," says Garcia. "I think it's going to be about who can last the longest."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry