Max Garcia was at the Gators' postseason banquet at the end of last season when coach Will Muschamp approached him with a question completely out of the blue. "He asked me if I had ever snapped the ball before," Garcia said. "I kind of chuckled at him and I was like, 'Nah.' But I knew what he was hinting at." In fact, the 6-foot-5, 294-pound senior had never played center in his career. After transferring from Maryland and sitting out 2012, he alternated between left tackle and guard for the Gators last season. But with the departure of starting center Jon Harrison, the Gators desperately needed a replacement and there was no obvious candidate. "I just (went) with the decision and have just taken it as an opportunity and ran with it," he said. "Obviously coaches trust me in this position. They trust me to do it, I have to trust in myself that I can get the job done." The transition hasn't been seamless. Garcia struggled in the spring, most notably with his snaps. He spent countless hours over the summer working on getting the timing right. After practice, he has stayed for 10-15 extra snaps daily. Teammates said they now see the results of the hard work he put in.
"He's had a really good (fall) camp," junior quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "During the spring we had some issues early with snaps, but he's never had any issues with blocking. He worked really hard this summer and it's something he focused on more than anything else."
"I think he's made a great adjustment," left tackle Trenton Brown said. "… He had never snapped a ball before spring and he looks like he's been doing it his whole life now."
With Florida's transition to a new offense in which Driskel will spend the majority of his time in the shotgun, Garcia has also had to focus on learning the position's challenges.
"The defender is right in front of your face, you have no space between you guys — especially if you have a zero nose where the guy is right there in your face," Garcia said. "You really don't have the opportunity to see what he's going to do. It's mostly you've got to react that much quicker playing center than guard."
Muschamp said the decision to move Garcia was a combination of need and his skill set.
"You need somebody that's really smart, somebody that's very decisive in their decision-making," Muschamp said. "They need to be able to make a call, have confidence in the call and they need to be right. Then they need to be able to snap the ball, so I didn't know about the snapping, but those first four, there's no question he was the right guy for the job. He's very decisive in his decision-making. He is off-the-charts intelligent and a guy that has really done a nice job through camp snapping it. Had struggled a little bit there early in spring, but I think he's done a fantastic job."
For a unit that allowed 27 sacks and lost two quarterbacks to injuries last season, the offensive line — and Garcia — realize a lot of this season's success is riding on their shoulders.
"We really feel like that's on us, we're supposed to take care of the quarterback," Garcia said. "This year that's something that we're going to pride ourselves on. … We're going to take a lot of pride in just keeping them clean and keeping them off the ground."
Contact Antonya English at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Gators.