2017 McCurdy graduate signs with College of the Desert
Santiago Garcia knew he didn’t want to be a loan officer at a bank for the rest of his life.
That’s the daily grind he’s known since graduating from McCurdy Charter School in 2017, but it’s not the life he’s always envisioned.
What he did envision was playing football at the next level, and now he will get a second chance after signing with the junior college program College of the Desert in Palm Springs, Calif.
“They produce a lot of Division I and II athletes,” Garcia said about what interested him about Desert. “The history with the athletes and the coaches made me choose that one, plus it’s warm.”
His first step to eventually putting the pads back on was contacting McCurdy football coach Ron Gallegos, who then set up a recruiting profile for Garcia on the website FieldLevel, which led to interest from Desert and Delta Junior College in Stockton, Calif.
“I’ve had several students approach me after the fact because they realized they missed the opportunity,” Gallegos said. “They get senioritis: which means they don’t care and then they realize they had potential. I’ll help any kid I can, whether they be from my school, Española or anywhere.”
After transferring from Española Valley High School, Garcia played two seasons of football for the Bobcats and he made an immediate impact.
He was a team captain both seasons and earned first-team all-district honors as a linebacker and defensive end, while also being named a second-team all-state linebacker his senior season after totaling 78 tackles, 6.5 sacks, one interception and two touchdowns — all while playing a total of just six games due to a fractured fibula and two broken fingers.
Garcia was interested in playing offense — as he even earned second-team all-district as a fullback his senior year — but Gallegos knew he was tailored for defense, and Garcia said the tricks and tips his coach showed him in the transition helped him succeed on that side of the ball.
“He was a big kid and a perfect tight end, but he had that ability to find the ball as a defensive player,” Gallegos said. “Nobody could get it past his side because of his size and the way he plays. He played with a lot of grit and just has the nose for the ball.”
Garcia learned to be tough early by growing up on his father’s ranch in Medanales. Since a child, he’s been expected to feed and care for animals, catch cattle and brand and tag cows.
Garcia said his childhood upbringing and Gallegos’ approach to coaching were two major impacts in his life that have made him the person he is today.
“Football has really made me disciplined and mature,” Garcia said. “My coach served in the military, so he kinda taught us that military way of how to do things. I’ve carried that in my life in being a loan officer and a person in general.”
Gallegos served eight active years in the United States Marine Corps, 20 years in the United States Army Reserve and took part in five combat tours.
“I hold them to a standard that nobody has ever held them to with my prior military experience,” Gallegos said. “They take it from there and I work them hard, but in the long run they appreciate it and they learn.”
Garcia’s near-future will include one thing, and that’s is getting back in football shape.
The 6-foot tall Garcia weighs 225 pounds, but he will use a combination of sprints, cardio and weight training until his departure from Española in June to lose about 15 pounds to have a foundation to begin adding muscle mass.
The Roadrunners’ coaching staff has informed him he will be predominantly playing linebacker, along with some mixed in reps at defensive end.
“I’m a little nervous and a little rusty,” Garcia said. “I’m gonna be coming off almost two years of not playing football, but at the same time, I’m excited for this opportunity.”
Living in the Española area his entire life, Garcia said he’s also excited about new adventures he will be able to take in the Golden State. He will be just under a two-hour drive from Los Angles and the University of Southern California, where he said he would be interested in attending a football game to watch the Trojans play.
“I’ve never been to an actual big college football game,” Garcia said. “That’s one stadium (The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum) I want to go to. It’s just so historic.”