SEATTLE – Coach Tyrone Willingham was asked what has excited him about the Washington Huskies’ fall football camp, and he offered up a list of a half-dozen or so.
At the top was the physical recovery of sixth-year senior center Juan Garcia, whose career seemed in jeopardy when he went down with a Lisfranc foot injury last spring.
“I’m really excited with Juan’s recovery,” Willingham said Thursday. “I’m really pleased with that. It’s really exciting. I won’t call it a surprise; but it’s great news, what he’s doing.”
About an hour later, the news got better still: Garcia was among 43 players named to the watch list for this season’s Rimington Trophy, awarded annually to the outstanding center in college football.
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That’s quite a climb from the situation last spring when Garcia’s career seemed to hang on his decision to forsake surgery and hope instead that his foot would heal naturally.
“There were five doctors trying to convince me to have surgery after I told them I don’t want it – all this medical stuff,” Garcia said. “They were just doing their jobs, but I remember telling them, ‘No, I believe in God, and I’m not going with the surgery.’”
That was an all-or-nothing decision. With surgery, Garcia likely would have missed most of the season. Without surgery, the injury could heal quicker – or it might not heal at all. The latter result simply would have delayed surgery, costing Garcia the entire season.
Offseason recovery reports seemed encouraging, but there would be no way of knowing if the foot could stand up to the pounding of football until he actually tried.
Almost three weeks into camp, it has stood up well enough that he believes he might be on the field Aug. 30 when the Huskies open their season with a game at Oregon.
“I don’t know if I’ll last the whole game, if it’s ready for that,” Garcia said. “Maybe me and Matt Sedillo can tag-team the first game or something. … I’m stunned. I can’t believe I’m here. I could say I believed in myself and I knew it, but that’s not the case. I would say God didn’t answer my prayers, he probably answered somebody else’s, but I’m happy with it. There are so many people that prayed for me something had to happen.”
Other items on Willingham’s list of camp encouragements include the “real special” leadership of senior guard Casey Bulyca, the development of the freshmen running backs, receivers and defensive linemen, the “solid” linebackers and competition in the secondary.
Willingham also spoke a bit about the offensive line rotation, acknowledging a few injuries but calling guard/center Ryan Tolar, “the rock … pretty solid all the time.” … Asked about tailback Brandon Johnson, the team’s leading returning tailback, Willingham said that Johnson first needs to recover fully from knee and calf injuries that have stalled his camp. After that, Willingham said Johnson needs to get better in all aspects of the passing game – blocking and receiving. …
The Huskies held a single practice Thursday afternoon. There were indications the work would include their final scrimmage of camp, but the entire practice was closed to media. … Today brings the final two-a-day practices of camp.