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Blind Side Still A Concern For Garcia

How’s Aaron Garcia these days?

Rejuvenated. Happy. Confident.

And a little paranoid.

Here he is, the leading passer - or nearly - in the fire-at-will world of the Arena Football League, and yet he can’t shake the little voice whispering in his ear that it’s Washington State all over again.

Call that kind of thinking self-destructive if you will, but understand there has been one definitive, despoiling lesson in Aaron Garcia’s football career:

Never trust success.

And so it goes in his latest incarnation with the Arizona Rattlers, the defending champions of Arenaball whose quarterback, Shedrick Bonner, tried to ride that championship wave into the NFL this spring. In stepped Garcia, who promptly rose to the top of the league’s quarterback ratings - until he threw two interceptions in a loss last week.

Bonner, since cut by the Miami Dolphins, returned a few weeks ago as a dutiful understudy. But now a club spokesman said coach Danny White hasn’t settled on a starter for Saturday night’s game with St. Louis.

“It hasn’t been a bad situation,” insisted Garcia. “If anything’s not comfortable, it’s the pressure I put on myself. Just because of what I’ve been through in the past, I get a little paranoid once in a while.

“It’s easy to remember how you led a league once before and all of a sudden wound up on the bench.”

He has never bothered to hide the scar, nor believed that blame would make it disappear.

Briefly, Garcia was the Pac-10’s passing leader as a redshirt freshman at WSU in 1989, going 4-1 in relief when starter Brad Gossen was hurt. Then Gossen healed, Garcia sat and Wazzu wilted, though quarterbacking was well down the list of reasons.

The next fall, Drew Bledsoe arrived in Pullman and soon leap-frogged both veterans. The wisdom of coach Mike Price’s choice, if not his situational management, has long since been recognized: out of the rancor grew some of WSU football’s most treasured achievements. And Bledsoe is the hottest item in the NFL. The unfortunate victim was Garcia, who finally transferred in September 1991 - his potential never fully tapped.

A two-year hangover at Cal State-Sacramento followed, Garcia’s growth stunted by an incumbent quarterback and his own injuries. Last summer, he had four workouts with the CFL’s Sacramento Gold Miners that never panned out.

“Though to be honest,” Garcia said, “football wasn’t really the priority it had been. Now it’s back to being just a game.

“Even though this isn’t 11-on-11, it’s still throwing it, catching it and hitting. It’s the athletic things that go into football without the big money - which a lot of times adds up to more and more politics.”

Performance can do a lot to defuse the politics. In eight games of this 8-man, made-for-ESPN pinball, Garcia has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards and 36 touchdowns with only six picks.

“The first couple of weeks, you could say I was a little claustrophobic,” he said. “Timing has to be almost perfect. If you wait on a receiver, you’re asking for trouble - like running them into a wall.”

Then there is the pressure - not NFL pressure, to be sure, but merely “the pressure of having to score every time you have the ball. We’ve won games 72-69.”

And now there is yet another quarterback controversy for Garcia, who speaks from experience when he notes that “if I was a backup of (Bonner’s) caliber, I’d want to be on the field.”

So he calls upon the lessons he learned at WSU while at the same time trying to suppress the hurt.

“When I came to WSU, I had no problem being the backup quarterback for a couple of years,” he said. “Then all of a sudden I had my opportunity earlier than expected - and I didn’t want to give it up. If I could have been more patient, more relaxed, maybe it would have made the situation easier for everyone. But it’s hard. Even my coaches here get on me to not worry about what’s behind or things I can’t control.”

How’s Aaron Garcia these days?

Wiser. Better. Fulfilled. And still looking over his shoulder.

, DataTimes MEMO: Contact John Blanchette’s voice mail at 459-5577, ext. 5509.

Contact John Blanchette’s voice mail at 459-5577, ext. 5509.