Credit: David Flores / Kens5.com
San Antonio Talons head coach Lee Johnson, left, and quarterback Aaron Garcia earned each other's respect as rivals before signing on with the Alamo City's Arena Football League team.
Thursday, Jun 28 at 8:06 AM
After playing in the Arena Football League since 1995, 41-year-old San Antonio Talons quarterback Aaron Garcia has faced just about every defensive alignment or pass coverage imaginable.
"He's pretty much seen it all," Talons coach Lee Johnson said Wednesday.
Well, not exactly.
"I had about 20 Garcias come up to me after a home game a few weeks ago," Garcia said. "That had never happened before."
Garcia, as personable off the field as he is prolific on it, chuckled as he recounted the amusing anecdote after Wednesday's workout at the Alamodome.
Not surprisingly, Garcia has become the leader of a team that has won its last eight games after starting the season 3-3, and is tied with the Arizona Rattlers for the best record in the National Conference.
San Antonio leads the Central Division by two games with four weeks left in the regular season.
The Talons (11-3) play the Kansas City Command (3-11) for the second time this season at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Alamodome. The Talons beat the Command 41-31 on May 5 in Kansas City.
Garcia has played for seven AFL teams
"Coach Johnson has done a real good job of keeping things relaxed," Garcia said. "When we were 3-3, we could have pointed fingers and gotten on each other. But we stayed the course. We didn't go and cut players and bring new guys in. We just kind of kept getting better and getting to know each other a little bit more.
"You start seeing what your weaknesses and strengths are. We've been able to capitalize on the strengths and cut back on our weaknesses. In life, you're going to be successful if you can do that."
Born and raised in Sacramento, Calif., Garcia has played for seven AFL teams since completing his collegiate career at Sacramento State.
Now in his 18th AFL season, Garcia has shown no signs of slowing down despite the wear and tear his body has endured in game after game.
"I still feel good," Garcia said. "I want to keep going as long as I can. I like to do things people say that I can't do. People said, 'He's going to San Antonio. They're going to fail. They're not going to make the playoffs.' It's that challenge every single day that keeps me going. As long as that fire is still in me and I have that desire to win, I'll keep playing.
"I have three kids and I try to teach them all kinds of lessons. To come out here and show them how to keep playing when you're hurt or facing adversity, that's a great opportunity to have."
Garcia's stats this season reflect his enduring passion for the game. He has completed 312 of 477 passes, with 14 interceptions, for 3,744 yards and 89 TDs.
Garcia won AFL title with Jacksonville last year
"He's been phenomenal," Johnson said. "To have a guy like that on your side, not only as your gunslinger but as one of your leaders on the field, is just tremendous. He does everything well. One of the things I see as a defensive coordinator is that he's extremely mentally tough."
Garcia has picked up where he left off last season, when he was the AFL's Offensive Player of the Year and MVP of ArenaBowl XXIV. Garcia led the Jacksonville Sharks to a 73-70 victory against Arizona in the title game, throwing the winning touchdown pass as time expired.
After playing in Jacksonville for two seasons, Garcia decided to cast his lot with the Talons, who moved from Tulsa, Okla., to San Antonio last September.
"I found out about this team coming to San Antonio and felt I could really offer something and help build up the Arena League," Garcia said. "I took a lot of pride in what I was able to do in Jacksonville, and I'd like to do the same thing in San Antonio."
When the Talons' ownership asked Garcia to recommend a head coach for the team, he endorsed Johnson immediately.
"He was defensive coordinator at Orlando when I was at Jacksonville, and those teams are rivals," Garcia said. "I had to study film on Lee's defense, and he had to study me. It was kind of one of those relationships you develop while competing against each other. There's just a lot of respect."
Johnson praises Garcia's leadership
This season, Garcia said, has been one of the most gratifying of his long career.
"This was the first time someone gave me the opportunity to not just play, but be involved with the coaching and see how the franchise works," Garcia said. "I know that there's going to be a transition in my career at some point.
"They've really given me an opportunity to kind of get introduced to other things and see what really goes on behind the scenes. I'm going to keep my options open, but I like the management side, the personnel side, of the game."
Johnson, who is only four years older than Garcia, had high praise for his quarterback.
"He's a tremendous leader," Johnson said. "Guys will follow him. He's very tough mentally and physically. Guys see that and respect that."
When Garcia finally retires, his grit will be as big a part of his legacy as his prolific passing numbers.