SOMEWHERE ON INTERSTATE 10 -- The voice boomed from the front of the bus.
"Hey," the massive teenager said. "Look at the wingless bird!"
When multiple members of the South Florida Express travel football team craned their necks to see, a great laugh rolled down
"Hey," he said. "Look at the bald dude with dreads!" Apparently, not all of Garcia's coaches and teammates had learned their lesson the first time. Heads turned again, and Garcia doubled over again, his mouth flattening into a smile that seemed to stretch the length of the interstate -- from Jacksonville, Fla., to Los Angeles.
The innocence of the jokes and the purity of Garcia's reaction slammed home the fact that Garcia -- who hears his given name,
It's fitting that the player who most often laughed along with Garcia was
Garcia began life in the Bronx, but he moved to south Florida when his parents split. He always wanted to play football, but his size made that impossible. When he was 10, his mother took him to sign up for a youth league. After a weigh-in, league officials told Garcia's mother her son would have to play with 16-year-olds. "I was," Garcia said with a smile, "a heavyset kid." Fearing for her son's safety, Garcia's mother forbade him from playing.
Garcia didn't start playing football until the ninth grade. "I was horrible," he said of his freshman year. But Garcia, who plays left offensive tackle, has learned quickly. In video from his sophomore season, he blocked through the whistle, and he buried defenders -- even in pass protection. Yet Garcia remains raw. He must learn to stay low when he fires out of his stance, because he won't always have such a vast size advantage.
The weight that kept Garcia off the football field as a youngster will make college coaches beat a well-worn path to his school. He said Purdue, Florida, Wisconsin and Miami already have taken a closer look. Others will follow. While Garcia has a belly, he has plenty of muscle, and he carries most of his weight in his thighs and his butt -- ideal for an offensive lineman. He has squatted 565 pounds, and he said he could have done more but his coach made him stop. At one point during the six-day trip through the South, at least five of Garcia's Express teammates tried to pin him during a hotel-room wrestling match. When Garcia freed himself, he sent elite recruits such as Florida-bound linebacker
Garcia's baby face suggests two things: He might grow more, and he'll probably lose a lot of that fat when he steps into a college weight room. If
"I literally had no idea," he said. "If somebody had told me my seventh or eighth grade year, 'You're going to play football, and you're going to be one of the top prospects in 2012,' I would have never guessed."
Garcia said he has dropped his 40-yard dash time into the low five-second range. While most are accustomed to elite times in the 4.3- to 4.4-second range, bear in mind that Garcia weighs 347 pounds. Despite his girth, he has the agility of a player 150 pounds lighter. That was obvious when the Express practiced. Garcia was invited on the trip to get a look at some of the schools that inevitably will recruit him, but he also played tight end on the goal line. Though quarterback
Bridgewater probably found it difficult to throw to Garcia because he was too tempted to throw to Johnson. Johnson stands 6-2, and he catches everything. Everyone knew he had decent speed before this past weekend, but when Johnson caught a 10-yard pass and outran the entire secondary of a Los Angeles-based team -- every player an elite prospect -- to score a 40-yard touchdown and clinch the BadgerSports Elite 7-on-7 national title, Johnson entered another sphere. Few players in the nation can outrun Crenshaw High's
"Avery ran a dig route on [Thomas], caught it in the second window and just ran down the middle of the field for the touchdown," Bridgewater said. "It was just a magnificent play." Said Johnson: "I just turned upfield and burned everybody."
Johnson, who said he already has scholarship offers from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Miami, USC and others, should be better prepared to face the rigors of a high-profile recruitment. His older brother,
Though teammates and coaches joked with Johnson all week that he's been silently committed to LSU for years, Johnson said he doesn't intend to choose a school until his senior year. He also said that while Peterson hasn't tried to recruit him too hard to Baton Rouge, he did offer some brotherly advice about the recruiting process.
"Just take your time," Johnson remembered Peterson telling him. "Choose your school wisely, and enjoy it."
Hopefully, Johnson and Garcia will enjoy being two of America's most wanted. And hopefully, when it's all over, they'll still crack up when someone turns his head to catch a glimpse of the wingless bird or the bald dude with dreads.