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...
Focused mostly on the task at hand and the special opportunity afforded to him as one of the state's top football seniors, South Medford's Adrian Garcia was caught off guard Wednesday night when asked his thoughts on what could be his final game of a standout prep career.
Garcia, a first-team all-Southwest Conference pick at defensive back and wide receiver this past season, has wavered on whether he'll try to be a walk-on when he enters the University of Oregon this fall — meaning there's a good chance Saturday could offer him a final chance to pad-up for a game.
If in fact that's true, the setting certainly is a prime one as Garcia will be the lone representative from southern Oregon at the 66th Les Schwab Bowl. The 6-foot, 170-pounder will compete for the South squad as it looks to even the series that pits the top high school seniors in the state from the north against those from the south in an all-star clash at Hillsboro Stadium.
"I haven't even thought of it that much," Garcia said of potentially closing out his football career. "I was just going out there to play another football game at free safety, that's it. Whether it's my last game or not, I'm gonna have fun."
That kind of attitude has certainly carried him well to this point, be it on the football field or basketball court during a stellar run as a Panther.
He played a key role in getting his team to the state playoffs in football in each season on varsity, as well as to the state tournament final site in basketball.
During his senior year in football, Garcia tied a school record with nine interceptions — all coming in South Medford's final six games — and entered a second-round loss to Lake Oswego with 54 catches for 758 yards and 10 touchdowns. In that final game, Garcia accounted for both of his team's touchdowns when he returned a fumble 45 yards and hauled in an 11-yard TD pass from sophomore quarterback Craig Contreras.
On Saturday, Garcia said he expects his entire focus to be on the defensive side of the ball as one of only a handful of defensive backs on the South roster — and the only with experience at safety.
"We only have five DB's so we're all going to play a lot," he said.
This week has offered a unique glimpse into the way other systems are run, with Sheldon's Lane Johnson serving as head coach with assistants Craig Ruecker (Tigard), John Mannion (Silverton), Thurman Bell (Roseburg), Jay Minyard (Sprague) and Nathan Stanley (Redmond).
"It's been fun," said Garcia. "It's pretty much been Sheldon's practice routine so it's been good to get out and about and see what it's like outside of the South Medford feel for things. It's just football, but practice has been a little quicker and they do a lot more stations than we did."
Part of that, however, is out of necessity since players began arriving on Monday and there's only a short window to get everyone game ready before Saturday's 6 p.m. kickoff. A win Saturday would allow the South to even the series with the North, which owns a 31-30 advantage with four ties.
"Our coach is doing a great job to make sure we're focused," he added. "We only have a week to do this so we have to get in and out as fast as we can and there's really no time for anyone goofing around."
All those light-hearted moments have been spent off the field, including Wednesday night's wing eating contest between the teams at Buffalo Wild Wings. Although Garcia wasn't nominated to compete — and he was definitely OK with that — he said the night's activity was his favorite thus far.
"The whole restaurant was coming over and really getting into our competition," he said with a laugh. "It was fun to see how everyone was reacting and getting into it."
For the record, the South team prevailed in a wing-off tiebreaker won by South Salem's Jake DuFault
The group also took in a Hillsboro Hops baseball game on Tuesday and will participate tonight in a bowling competition in Beaverton. Garcia said he's most looking forward to the team's upcoming trip to the Providence Hospital Center for Medically Fragile Children, and the all-stars will also serve as coaches for a youth camp prior to Saturday's game.
South Medford teammate Pat Alexander had also been set to compete in the all-star event but had his schedule changed when the hopeful firefighter-to-be was slated for an internship interview today and subsequent written and physical exams on Saturday.
"It's good news in the end because I'm very glad to hear back (about the firefighter internship) because hopefully that's a good opportunity for me," said Alexander, who led the Panthers in tackles this past season as a 6-foot, 205-pound linebacker. "Then again, I'm going to miss one of the things I've been dreaming about since before entering high school and that's playing in the Les Schwab Bowl."
Among Garcia's South teammates for the all-star tilt are a host of SWC players from Sheldon, led by quarterback Taylor Alie, linebacker James Banks and lineman Chet Spears, and Roseburg's Zach Wyscaver and Hayden Lent. Marist quarterback Kam Smith and South Salem running back Jaylynn Bailey are among the other notables on a South squad that's looked pretty good thus far, according to Garcia.
"Everyone has been sort of impressive," Garcia said. "It's hard to tell who's doing outstanding because everyone's such a good player. Everyone looks good, that's why they're here."
For more information on the annual all-star event, go to LesSchwabBowl.com
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry