This is the complete transcript of my phone interview with Jeff Garcia. Enjoy.
Q: What was your skill level coming out of high school?
GARCIA: I probably wasn’t where I wanted to be from a development standpoint. I was still pretty light. I was only 165 pounds, really hadn’t filled out my body yet. Was still adjusting physically. I felt like mentally I could really grasp the game – growing up around the game, having a father who was a football coach at Gavilan Junior College in my home town. Growing up around the game – mentally, I got it. But physically, still adjusting. I had a pretty good year my junior year of high school. And when I say pretty good, I threw for 1,500 yards. That was what I considered pretty good. I threw 18 or so touchdown passes.
Then my senior year, I actually broke my left elbow, non-throwing elbow, during the middle of the season, missed half of the season and really didn’t have a very productive senior year of high school. Whatever schools that were sending me letters or showing interest in me pretty much dropped off. I still had an invite to the Santa Clara County All-Star game. I actually played in that game not at quarterback, but at free safety. Intercepted a pass. Came up and made some tackles. Had some calls from some smaller Division II schools asking me if I wanted to play defense for them, and I said, “No, I’m going to play quarterback for my dad.”
It was really that year that I played for my dad at the junior college level at Gavilan that I really started to come into my own. I started to catch up physically to my mental ability. Arm was stronger. Feet were faster. Just started to fill out and play the game at a more competitive level, which led to the opportunity to be offered a scholarship by San Jose State.
Q: How much did you improve at San Jose State? What was your skill level when you left there?
GARCIA: Even though I went through three different head coaches in three years, had to learn a different offensive scheme every single year, and how that really affected our program from the standpoint of having consistency and the recruiting of top-level players. For myself, I really believe that I still continued to excel, continued to grow as a quarterback, having left there at the time with the total yardage record for quarterbacks that had attended San Jose State. And granted, at that time there had been some pretty good quarterbacks that had come through there. Coming out of San Jose State, I felt like I was ready to compete in the NFL had I been given that opportunity. I had been invited to the East-West Shrine Game. I was MVP of that game. I competed against some of the best in the country. I felt like I rose to the level, if not above the level of the competition in that game, and I felt like that’s how I always played. I felt like I was a gamer. I may not have passed the eye test when you saw me walking off a bus. I didn’t fit the mold of what the NFL was looking for at the quarterback position at the time, but I when it came down to it, how I played, the way I competed, the way I battled on the field, the way I led my team – I felt like those were the tangibles that really needed to be considered and looked at. Not whether I was a 6-4, 230-pounder who looked like Troy Aikman. I wasn’t that guy.
Q: Do you think you were overlooked coming out of college and Trent Dilfer wasn’t – he was a top-10 pick and he went to Fresno State – mostly because of stature?
GARCIA: I believe so. I believe I was definitely overlooked because of what I lacked from a physical standpoint. Trent being an obvious comparison in the sense of being a bigger guy, being a pocket passer, coming out of just as small a school San Jose State in Fresno State – very comparable from a recognition standpoint around the country. One guy goes in the first round, and the other guy isn’t even considered by the NFL. I think that’s a comparison of two guys who came out of major college programs that weren’t on the elite list of programs, but still competed at high levels, put up similar statistics in a lot of ways but one guy is looked at as a potential savior of a team and drafted in the first round, and the other guy is not even looked at, and that guy being me.
At the time, there was really a mold the NFL was looking at. Troy Aikman was the prototype. Everybody wanted that 6-3, 6-4 quarterback who can drop back in the pocket and sling it. If I were coming out in the draft today, maybe I would be considered in the draft. Maybe I would be a third or fourth-round consideration because of my ability. I don’t see Johnny Manziel or Russell Wilson or those types of guys being any different than what I brought to the field back 15, 20 years ago.
Q: Why do you think San Jose State quarterback David Fales probably will get drafted and you didn’t? Does exposure have something to do with it? You weren’t on TV much, and he’s been on TV most weekends.
GARCIA: Times have changed. From a social media standpoint, and having all of the different sports outlets to showcase college football games – San Jose State was on TV probably 9 or 10 times last year, and that definitely helps. But I’m not taking anything away from David. He put up tremendous numbers. He went in there and had two very successful, very high quality seasons at San Jose State. Competed at a high level. Did a lot of great things from an offensive standpoint. And he had to learn to systems during the process. So I tip my hat off to him and how he handled it and how he really elevated his game and was a great leader for the Spartans.
Q: What was the best thing you got out of playing at San Jose State, and were there any unique ways San Jose State helped or accelerated your development that maybe a huge program like USC couldn’t or wouldn’t have for you?
GARCIA: Just the fact that every single week we competed against teams that were probably more talented than us. We really had to reach deep from within to compete, to overcome, to battle, to find a way to persevere. I think that it thickened me in a lot of ways. It hardened me. It raised my competitive attitude, how I approached the game, the fire inside. The mentality that I was not going to be broken, I was going to battle back. I was going to get knocked down but I would keep coming back fighting. You had to kill me and drag me off the field in order to get me out of there. And that was a mentality that continued to grow within me through my adventures there at San Jose State, never really being the top dog. We had to work for everything. Nothing was ever handed to us. Nobody ever looked at us as the favorite. We were always the underdog. And I’ve had that persona, that mentality all my life, having to fight and scratch and claw and do whatever it takes to grab hold of the position, to get the attention, to then secure the position by continuing to challenge myself and to find ways to overcome adversity and to persevere. Going to San Jose State and having to learn three systems in three years, I mentally showed the ability to grasp an offense and to succeed within our offense and to be a great leader. To show how I can raise the level of the expectations of the players around me by expecting the best out of myself.
Q: Do you ever wish you had been bigger and gotten an offer from a bigger school and gotten drafted and generally had an easier path in your career?
GARCIA: I had some offers coming out of Gavilan to the University of Utah and the University of Wyoming, which at the time were playing in larger conferences than San Jose State. I chose San Jose State because it was right down the road from where I grew up. Coming out of high school, to wish that things would have happened differently, it’s hard to really imagine my life being any better than what it turned out to be, just from the standpoint of what I was able to go out there and achieve and the length of time I played professional football. I outlived, out-extended, over-achieved what anybody else, even probably myself, would have ever expected out of me.
In no way do I look back and wish that the road was any easier for me. One of the best years of my life was playing football for my dad at Gavilan Junior College. Having to go to Canada, having to work my way back later to the NFL, it made me appreciate things that much more. I think when you talk to people who know me today, I believe they would say I’m a very down-to-earth, very genuine, very humble person. I think that having the path, the journey, the road that I went through made me truly appreciate life in general. When you add that to what our family has gone through personally, I just appreciate things so much more. I appreciate the fact that I had to go out there and work for it and continue to prove to people that I deserve it, and when I got the shot, the chance, I showed that I was worth it.
Q: Josh Johnson said he’s glad he went to San Diego, that it was a better learning environment for him than playing at a big program would have been. Does that resonate with you?
GARCIA: You look at the quarterbacks that have come out of the big schools. You look at Mark Sanchez, you look at Matt Barkley, you look at Matt Leinart coming out of USC. Look at quarterbacks that have come out of the University of Florida over the years. They’re surrounded by the best talent in the country. They go out there and they’re successful and it seems like things come so easy to them. Now all of a sudden, they got the opportunity at the next level and things aren’t so easy anymore. They don’t have the most talented skill players around them because everybody is talented and skilled. So now they’re facing evenly matched competition. How are they able to separate themselves from the rest? They have never had to do that because they had such great talent. They had an advantage. Now all of a sudden when they’re challenged, they don’t know how to deal with that.
I learned how to do that at San Jose State because I was challenged every single week to be better, to be greater, to overcome the odds, to find a way to succeed. That wired me a different way. It wired me with the mentality that I was going to battle and fight and find a way no matter what the situation may be. You look back at that Giants playoff game with San Francisco and overcoming that 24-point deficit in a quarter and a half, I had been in that situation many times before. And I may not have always had a big-time comeback, but that didn’t scare me. I knew that I had it within myself, I knew that we had it within our team, and I knew that we could go out and achieve it. I think that mentality was developed and helped to grow at Gavilan Junior College, at San Jose State. Being the smaller team. Being less-considered, but yet going out there and competing at a high level.
Q: Do you advise young quarterbacks to go to the best school they get into, or is it more complicated than that?
GARCIA: I think it’s more complicated than that. If they truly want to have the opportunity to compete and to play, first of all they need to challenge themselves every single day to find a way to be the best quarterback on the field no matter who is on the field with them, whether that’s at the big-time school or the lesser known school. I think the main thing you’re going to remember about your college experience is the opportunity to get on the field and play and to compete and to be able to be a leader for your team. I think those are the things that really need to be considered when you’re coming out and put in a position to make that decision. You have to have a sense of confidence about yourself. A sense of competitiveness. An attitude that is built from within you that tells you no matter whom you’re put up against, you’re going to find a way to reach the top and to be the best and to be the starter. So to tell a quarterback he shouldn’t go to the biggest school – deep down he should believe that he can start no matter where he’s at, no matter who he’s going up against.
Q: It seems most of the top QB prospects in this year’s draft come from non-major-conference schools. Is that a coincidence or a trend that will continue?
GARCIA: I’m working with youth and high school quarterbacks and college and NFL quarterbacks, and that wasn’t around when I was growing up. You didn’t have the private tutelage. You didn’t the one-on-one training. Quarterbacks are getting trained at such an earlier age nowadays. They’re coming into high school so much more developed from an arm strength standpoint, from a footwork standpoint, from the mental side of the game, understanding the game. So there are so many high school quarterbacks that are successful throwing the football. And how many colleges are available to give scholarships? There is going to be some good quarterbacks that aren’t going to be looked at by the biggest of the schools just because there are more quarterbacks today that can play the game at a higher level. The fact that some of the more well-known ones are coming out of smaller schools this year just shows the talent level that quarterbacks have these days. It’s not just the big schools that are getting the successful high school quarterbacks. They’re coming from all over the place, they’re going to all different schools and they’re showing that they have great skills to lead and to be productive. And today’s college game really showcases that. When you’re spreading teams out, running the spread, single-back sets, it’s not a pro-style game. It’s a wide-open game which puts the ball in the quarterback’s hands to make a lot of decisions. In order to be successful, you need a quarterback who can make good decisions and be accurate with the football. Well, there are a lot of quarterbacks that are showing that they have the ability to do that.
Q: Do you think these smaller-school QBs coming out this year will be successful in the NFL?
GARCIA: Going to the elite level, now it really becomes a crap shoot. It really is important for those guys in their continued development to often times go to a team where there isn’t an immediate need. Going to a team that is continuing to struggle, and now you’re relying upon a rookie quarterback to come in and be the savior – much like Alex Smith. He came to the 49ers at a time when the 49ers were down, they didn’t have a team together, they didn’t have a system together. Every single year he was going through a new offensive coordinator. Whether he was capable or not, they did not put him in a good position to win. He’s been fortunate to have been able to turn it around, getting Harbaugh toward the latter part of his stay in San Francisco definitely helped his growth as a quarterback. The ability to bounce back is very rarely seen at the quarterback position. To have struggled the way he did the first six or seven years and to all of a sudden turn it around and to now be finding success the way he is, that’s a rarity. Normally when quarterbacks get broken down, like Blaine Gabbert has in Jacksonville, it’s very rare that they’re ever able to turn it around and find success. That’s the hardest thing for some quarterbacks, when they go to a place and it’s thrust upon them to lead right from the get-go, and they’re not quite ready mentally or physically to adjust to the speed of the game and they don’t have the team around them, it creates a bad mental situation and it’s very difficult to bounce back from that.
Q: Would you draft Johnny Manziel in the first round?
GARCIA: I wouldn’t draft a quarterback in the first round unless there was a special kid like Andrew Luck. Luck was so much more developed mentally and physically compared to other quarterbacks around the country, just from the standpoint of what he grew up around, having a dad who was a former NFL quarterback, the leadership ability, the quality of play that he brought to the field whether it was from inside the pocket or outside. He is one of those rare exceptions. Outside of a guy like that, or a guy like Peyton Manning, I find it very hard to draft a quarterback in the first round because it is such a shot in the dark.
Q: What do you mean?
GARCIA: There are too many times where you’ve seen first-round quarterbacks who have just not been successful. If you look at the averages, it’s not a position that generally succeeds when you look at first-round drafted quarterbacks throughout the last 20 years of the game. In the first round, I want a player who is an immediate impact player. Often times, a rookie quarterback is not that immediate, impact player.
Q: Do you like Manziel as a prospect?
GARCIA: I love his athletic ability. I love how he’s able to extend plays and make plays. I’m not a huge fan of his mechanics. I feel like he’s going to run into trouble throwing off his back foot, throwing off balance, throwing balls into coverage, not making good decisions, holding onto the ball too long in the pocket or relying on his legs too much. I think those things that he was able to get away with at the collegiate level, he will not get away with at the NFL level. And because of that, I feel he’s some development away from being that impact player, being that successful player that a team is going to need him to be. A lot of people compare him to me, and maybe there are some similarities. But I feel like in watching him play, there are certain things that I think are fixable that he can work on, but I don’t know if he’s done that, if he’s ready to be that guy.
Q: You were a more advanced pocket passer coming out of San Jose State than Manziel is now, wouldn’t you say?
GARCIA: Well, we’re trying to bring back memories of 20-plus years ago. But, yeah. The game back then was a different style. I wasn’t utilized a whole lot outside of the pocket. Most of my game was from within the pocket. Ninety-nine-percent of my game was from within the pocket. So, yes, I really had to grow as a pocket passer through San Jose State, which definitely helped me going to the next level.
Q: How do you assess Colin Kaepernick as a pocket passer?
GARCIA: I think Colin has done a great job from a decision-making standpoint, in the sense that he doesn’t force a lot of throws. He’s generally getting pretty good matchups outside due to the fact that they’ve had a pretty successful run game with Frank Gore. They really haven’t had a deep threat on offense, a guy who can really stretch the field. I think teams feel like they can play the 49ers’ offense man-to-man, so Kaepernick gets optimal looks. He gets looks where he can find his best one-on-one matchup, and that guy just has to win.
I think where he would struggle more is if he saw more zone coverages and was forced to anticipate and throw to spots. I see Colin as a guy who wants to see the receiver open, then he wants to utilize his arm strength to make the throw and find success. And he’s able to do that and has been successful doing that. Granted, they haven’t been one of the most productive passing offenses in the NFL, but that hasn’t been required or asked out of him. If he were asked to run a spread-style offense, I’m sure he can do that because he did that at Nevada-Reno.
What I would like to see Colin progress to is not relying on his arm strength all of the time, being able to throw different-speed pitches out there, being able to anticipate openings, throw to spots, throw receivers open and get the ball out on time instead of hitching, hitching, and then finding a lane to run through. Being able to throw to get that ball out on time, being able to throw to spots, I think that will take his game to another level.
Q: Are those things David Fales excels at? They seem like opposites. Fales doesn’t have the arm strength or the running ability Kaepernick has, but Fales has skilled footwork, he anticipates openings and he throws to spots. Would you agree?
GARCIA: I would agree that David does that. I think that playing at San Jose State where maybe your offensive line is not the strength of your team, it’s important to get the ball out on time. David Fales is not a guy who’s been able to rely upon foot speed. He doesn’t have it. But he has great pocket presence, great pocket awareness, he can move around enough to buy an extra second and he has really good anticipation. He throws the ball to spots and he’s accurate. He showed that his junior year by completing 70-plus percent of his passes. He’s highly accurate. For David to be doing that at the collegiate level, there’s probably a sense of some of that being natural, and having a great understanding of the game. I think that’s what it comes down to, more so than anything. Understanding your own personal abilities and understanding the game from a mental standpoint, and understanding how to work your physical abilities into what you see mentally, and how you’re going to be able to optimize that in creating the greatest success that you can create on the field, and I think that’s what David Fales has done.