Former Sacramento State quarterback and Grant Union High School graduate Aaron Garcia became one of the most prolific passers in pro football history, even after coming up short of his NFL dream.
In 1987, Garcia gained national attention when he broke Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway’s high school passing yards and touchdowns records in only two seasons.
Coming out of high school, Garcia was recruited by every school in the Pac-10 (now Pac-12) except for Arizona. He also had scholarship offers from Ivy League schools including Princeton.
“I received offers from several Ivy League schools,” said Garcia. “I just wasn’t smart enough to take advantage of it (because) I thought it was all about football back then.”
Garcia chose to accept an offer from head coach Dennis Erickson to play for Washington State University.
Erickson’s pass-heavy offense was ideal for Garcia’s skill set and wide receiver Desmond Clayton, who played with Garcia at Grant Union, was already a member of the Washington State football team. With two key factors in place the decision seemed like it made the most sense.
Going into the 1989 season at Washington State, Garcia learned that Erickson had left the Washington State team and had chosen to take a job as head coach with the University of Miami Hurricanes.
Garcia redshirted in his first season under the new head coach Mike Price.
As a freshman, Garcia set a Washington State freshman record for passer efficiency in a single game when he went 11 for 14 on 341 yards passing in a 31-13 victory against Stanford. His effort was not enough for Price who wanted Garcia to split time with another quarterback.
“I just didn’t handle it real well,” said Garcia. “We never really got along after that. (Price) ended up bringing in Drew Bledsoe and at that point I really didn’t have a choice so I decided to transfer.”
The embattled quarterback turned down offers to other schools so that he could head to Sacramento and enroll at Sac State. Garcia was not sure about his football career, but he was certain that he wanted to get his education.
“That was the first time in my life that I felt I had failed,” said Garcia. “I came back home and I was a little beat up. I had to figure things out not just from a football standpoint, but life (in general).”
Garcia played football at Sac State from ’92 to ’93. He passed for nearly 2,500 yards and threw 19 touchdowns. He also achieved his goal of acquiring a degree in exercise and fitness that would act as a backup plan if football no longer were an option.
“I would say that Sac State was a huge stepping stone for me,” said the former Hornet. “I look back at the friends, professors and the school itself as far as what it did for me off the field and how it has continued to help me now.”
Garcia said that having the security of a degree from Sac State gave him freedom to enjoy football again as he embarked on an opportunity to join an upstart professional football league called the Arena Football League.
His first year out of college Garcia turned down offers to play in the AFL in hopes of making it to the NFL. After personnel from the NFL advised Garcia to play in a smaller league like the Canadian Football league or the AFL in order to get game film that scouts could analyze, Garcia took an opportunity to become starting quarterback for the Arizona Rattlers in 1995.
In 1998 Garcia replaced Kurt Warner as the starter for the Iowa Barnstormers. Warner would later go on to win the Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams in 1999. Warner’s accomplishment opened the eyes of the NFL scouts as to what the guys in the AFL could do on the big stage.
In 2002, Garcia finally got his shot at the NFL when he was invited to training camp with the San Francisco 49ers. The opportunity was short lived because the 49ers already had a solid number one quarterback in Jeff Garcia and a number two guy, Tim Rattay. It was the closest that Aaron Garcia would get to living his NFL dream.
“It was definitely bittersweet,” said Garcia. “The one thing I regret as I look back on my career is that I never got the opportunity to actually play in an NFL game and have somebody say ‘Hey, you just were not good enough,’ because I know I would have performed and would have had a career in the NFL.”
Garcia may not have lived the NFL dream, but while trying to get there he was able to become one of the greatest AFL players of all time. Garcia owns every major passing record that the AFL has, including more than 50,000 passing yards and almost 1,200 touchdowns.
Garcia is the only player in AFL history to have his jersey placed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Now a 41-year-old husband and father of three, Garcia is in the twilight of his career, but he is unsure of when he will hang up his cleats for good.
“As long as I can keep (running) around and enjoying my life,” said Garcia “I can get up every day and go to the gym and if it doesn’t interfere with my family I will keep playing.”
Joe Davis can be reached at [email protected]