Harlon Hill candidate at helm of Colorado Mines
When Grand Valley State University’s football team takes the field Saturday searching for a win against the Colorado School of Mines, it needs to look no further than behind the opposing center to locate the player it needs to stop.
One of 24 candidates for the 2010 Harlon Hill Trophy, Orediggers quarterback Clay Garcia has led his teammates to a 9-2 record this season en route to scores of individual accolades and the admiration of Colorado Mines head coach Bob Stitt.
“This team has really taken on his personality,” Stitt said. “He’s the most competitive player I’ve had in 25 years. I know Clay would say that he has a lot of supporting cast around him, but our team knew when he took the reins at quarterback that we’d be pretty good.”
The Harlon Hill trophy is annually awarded to the top player in Division II football. All Garcia has done to earn the nod as a candidate is lead the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in touchdown passes (38), passing yards (3,813), passing yards per game (346.64), passing efficiency (144.86) and total offense (351.55), all behind a completion percentage of 62.11 percent.
Those distinctions and others are what Stitt said makes him believe Garcia is the best quarterback in school history, even surpassing the talent of Oredigger great Chad Friehauf – the 2004 Harlon Hill Trophy winner and a Denver Broncos signee.
“It’s very humbling just to be mentioned with some of the other athletes that are in that category,” Garcia said. “It’s definitely a team nomination. I’ve got some great receivers and a good running back and (offensive) line behind me, and our defense gets us the ball. So the stats I put up really reflect them just as much as me.”
After losing their season opener to Washburn University, the Orediggers responded by rattling off eight consecutive wins before falling to Chadron State University on Nov. 6.
Despite the loss, Stitt said the game represented a turning point for his players as the Orediggers were down 28-0 when Garcia guided them back to tie the game at 31-31 with a minute remaining before losing 38-31.
“I’m not the most vocal person, but I’m not going to let our offense give up and I’m not going to let our offense lose,” Garcia said.
Following the loss to Chadron State, the Orediggers demonstrated their resilience once more in capping their regular season in a triple-overtime 55-53 win over University of Nebraska-Kearney. After leading by a pair of touchdowns heading into the second half, the Orediggers allowed their opponents to score a touchdown on one play and then turned the ball over on their next possession.
“We could have folded up shop and let it be over, but we came back and kept fighting and once we got into overtime we just had to execute,” Garcia said.
Stitt said while the marathon game supplied his team with momentum heading into the playoffs and provided the team’s seniors with another opportunity to play football, the team’s blue-collar approach has been its source of success on the season.
“It really doesn’t matter who you’re playing on a weekly basis, you’ve just got to go out there and play and see how you stack up,” Stitt said.
A unique quality to the Orediggers is that they are all engineering majors, a demanding area of study that Garcia said, when combined with all of the time spent watching film and practicing, can be daunting.
“Only about two out of three kids that come to school here graduate, and the average ACT score of students coming here is 29,” Stitt said. “So you’ve got to be a pretty good student to get here, but you’ve got to be a better student to stay.”
Managing a difficult area of study, Garcia has nonetheless excelled in both arenas as he was selected as a unanimous First-Team Academic All-RMAC pick in 2010 as well as the 2010 RMAC Football Academic Player of the Year. In addition, he has earned a spot on the Dean’s List each semester he has been enrolled at the school.
“It’s not easy, but we’ve wiped out excuses since we’ve gotten here,” said Stitt. “It’s just a way of life here, and I don’t think it affects us either way. Football is what motivates these kids to get through the week of school and they’re looking forward to playing another football game this weekend.”
The Orediggers will have their hands full Saturday against GVSU, whose program Garcia acknowledged is always expected to be standing at the end of the season.
“We’ve got to be on top of things, we have to be prepared and we have to execute,” he added. “We’re confident in our abilities as a team and individuals and I think once the whistle blows we’ve got to be ready to go.”