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July 19, 2011

Third and short: Fordham, Garcia, Gibson



With preseason football practice starting on Aug. 3, GamecockCentral.com presents a new series that takes a look at three players per day who have either played in at least one game or appear on the post-spring two-deep depth chart.

ALDRICK FORDHAM, junior defensive tackle

Before South Carolina: Fordham was rated by Rivals.com as a three-star prospect out of Timberland High School. Originally thought of as a defensive end, he was also offered by Tennessee.

The measurables: 6-foot-4, 273 pounds

Prior seasons

2009: Was going to be redshirted until a rash of ankle injuries forced the coaches to change plans. Fordham responded with four tackles in his first game against S.C. State and played in six games overall, primarily on special teams.

2010: Mostly a special teams performer but also a key backup, especially in third-down coverage, Fordham played in all 14 games and accumulated 10 tackles with a fumble recovery. He had one tackle each against Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Auburn and Clemson and leaped onto a loose ball against Troy, which led to a touchdown two plays later.

Impact

Fordham would probably start at any other SEC school, being 6-foot-4 and 273 pounds with amazing versatility, able to line up inside or outside and play pass-rush or run-stop. The problem at USC is the depth on the D-line has been stacked since he came in and will remain that way, as the Gamecocks continue to recruit high-ranking D-line prospects. Fordham was listed as the starter beside Travian Robertson coming out of spring practice but high-school All-American Kelcy Quarles is right behind him pushing for time, with situational DT Byron Jerideau behind Robertson. It won't be easy for Fordham to hold onto the spot but he earned it, replacing stalwart Ladi Ajiboye in the spring. That shows the coaches' confidence in him and all he has to do is prove he can handle it.

STEPHEN GARCIA, redshirt senior quarterback

Before South Carolina: Garcia was rated by Rivals.com as a four-star prospect out of Jefferson (Fla.) High School. He was also offered by Auburn, Boston College, Florida, Louisville, Ole Miss, NC State and Oklahoma.

The measurables: 6-foot-2, 230 pounds

Prior seasons

2007: Redshirted.

2008: Threw for 832 yards on 65-of-122 passing as he split time with Chris Smelley. Garcia played in eight games, starting three, and tossed six touchdowns to eight interceptions. He also rushed 70 times for 198 yards and two touchdowns. After beginning the season third on the depth chart, Garcia rose into the backup role as Tommy Beecher's chance at starting ended in the season-opener. He debuted against Georgia for three plays, but replaced Smelley during the second series of the UAB game and played through the third quarter. The two QBs split time for the rest of the season, rotating between almost every snap against Arkansas and Florida.

2009: Garcia took every meaningful snap after Smelley left the team in pursuit of a baseball career at Alabama and had a strong season, completing 239-of-432 passes for 2,862 yards, 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also rushed 120 times for 186 yards and four touchdowns. He became the first USC quarterback since 2003 to start every game in a season and found the key to fluidity during the game - receiver Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery caught nine of Garcia's TDs, including three in his breakout performance against Kentucky, and Garcia really settled into the role. He also beat Clemson in his first try as a starting quarterback.

2010: Again started every game of the year and had his best season to date, completing 224-of-349 passes (64.2 percent) for 3,059 yards, 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Also rushed for six scores, including the season's first when he took off on a keeper, collided with a Southern Miss player helmet-to-helmet, spun around and kept going into the end zone. Had his best career game in a 35-21 upset of No. 1 Alabama, completing 17-of-20 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns to earn National Offensive Player of the Week honors. Even in losses, Garcia kept the Gamecocks in striking distance, until the SEC Championship Game and then the Chick-fil-A Bowl put a damper on the year. Still, things were looking up for 2011, and then the spring hit.

Impact

There's no question Garcia is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the SEC and one of the best USC has ever had, but as it stands today, he's in the "what-if" category. What if he had kept his nose clean and stayed out of trouble? What if he had brought the same intensity and never-say-die feistiness from the field to his preparation? He will go down as the field general of one of the more successful periods in USC football, and at only 3,200 yards behind career passing leader Todd Ellis, Garcia may leave as the top passer in USC history. But looking back on his career, his passing numbers and the way he commands respect from his opponents and teammates on the field are vastly overshadowed by his personal life.

Technically, Garcia is still suspended from the team due to his two suspensions during spring practice. He is allowed to work out with the Gamecocks, and reports from there say he's being a model leader and keeping out of the situations that have led to his past troubles. There's no doubt he'll be under center for the season-opener, but the black eye he's given himself and the program is hanging over USC as it prepares to begin what could be its greatest season. That goes away as soon as the first game starts, but what doesn't is the question of Garcia's ability to lead throughout the year. No question he'll be fine on the field, but one more slip-up off the field and it would seem as if Steve Spurrier would have no choice but to dismiss Garcia, if nothing else to save face from giving him a sixth chance to redeem himself.

Garcia has the talent, with a strong arm, ability to get himself out of the blitz and most of all, the intangible of being the guy to depend on. Yes, there are some technical issues - sometimes he rides that intangible too much and tries to make something out of nothing, and his interceptions have risen every year - but those can be corrected. The Gamecocks will be in the position of putting enough tools around Garcia so they can hand him the ball and say, "Look, this is more than enough to win. Do what you do, just don't lose the game." On the field, USC is set. Garcia has a chance to leave with a winning moment, something he hasn't yet done to conclude a season. He has to accept that chance and make the most of it to determine what his legacy will be; the four cruelest words any athlete can have stamped to his career are "what might have been."

CODY GIBSON, redshirt freshman offensive lineman

Before South Carolina: Gibson was rated by Rivals.com as a three-star prospect out of Lincoln (Fla.) High School. He was also offered by East Carolina, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, Southern Miss, Tulane, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa State, Maryland and USF.

The measurables: 6-foot-6, 282 pounds

Prior seasons

2010: Redshirted after playing sparingly in the season-opener. Received a medical redshirt after spraining his knee in preseason practice.

Impact

Gibson recovered from his knee injury and could have had an impact last year, especially when the Gamecocks were trimmed to only six healthy offensive linemen for the entire season. The line played very well, though, and the decision was made to keep the redshirt on Gibson and prepare him for the next four years, as many SEC teams do. Gibson has added muscle and weight - he's 22 pounds over his listed 260 when he reported - and will play this year. How much is up to him. Out of spring practice, Gibson was listed as the backup at right tackle to Rokevious Watkins; Watkins is also the backup to Kyle Nunn at left tackle. Watkins has the bulk to play the position, but gives up two inches to Gibson - if he's winded or unable to keep defenders from pushing his shoulders out of the way, Gibson might get the call. The coaches seem to think that Watkins is more of a natural at guard, but want to work Gibson into the rotation so he can learn in the game, then perhaps take over at tackle. He's been a staple in the weight room throughout his first year at USC and if he shows he can handle the Gamecocks' multi-talented defensive ends in practice, perhaps Shawn Elliott will elevate him into the starting group.

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