NFL Pro Bowler from Gilroy hopes camp will become an annual event

Photo by Chad Mays
Jeff Garcia, a former NFL quarterback, instructs kids during camp at Kirigin Cellars.

By Chad Mays

Jeff Garcia believes it’s not the physical size of a person that results in success but the size of their heart, their knowledge, and their will to work. That’s why he’s returning to his hometown to train young people of the South Valley about life through building their skills in the game he long has loved.

The former NFL football player hosted a special camp July 8 and 9 at Kirigin Cellars’ sports field with the goal of motivating boys and girls ages five to 17 in not only gridiron ability but also the skills to be better people and leaders in their community.

Garcia got his start in football locally, playing at Gilroy High School, Gavilan College and San Jose State University. He understands what it means to persevere in going after a professional career in the game. He was first overlooked in the NFL draft because he was “not tall enough, not strong enough, and not fast enough.” But his persistence paid off when he signed with the 49ers in 1999 as the team’s starting quarterback.

The idea of developing young people’s character through the game of football at the two-day camp excites him. In his growing-up years in Gilroy, he also gained a lot as a person by playing the sport.

“It’s all about motivating, inspiring, and teaching the youth to be better leaders, greater teammates, and the best contributors to society they can be,” he said. “We want to create a competitive environment and have a lot of fun, allow the kids to get out and enjoy an awesome experience, especially after all they’ve been through the past year and a half.”

Garcia organized the camp with Mike Luevano, the executive director of the nonprofit Leadership Gilroy. The two have been friends for more than two decades. When they got together for breakfast recently, Garcia brought the idea of the camp. Luevano considered it a “no-brainer” to work with him.

“Our ideas and our passion really align,” he said.

More than 200 participated in the program. The camp aims to improve their football skills while also enhancing their leadership traits, Garcia said. The young people will learn not only valuable football skills but also life skills such as leadership, teamwork, competition, and motivation.

“We can become better because of the game of football,” Garcia said. “What it teaches us, we can apply into our everyday life and become better people.”

Garcia led the camp with coaching staff from Christopher and Gilroy high schools assisting in the various “stations” where sports skills were taught. Each day started with a brief introduction about the program and then the players rotated through different stations that put emphasis on defensive and offensive skills.

The two-and-half-hour camp ended with a fun and competitive event that split into groups by ages to play with and compete against each other.

This year’s camp will not be a one-off event, Garcia hopes, but will mark the beginning of a South Valley football summer tradition for years to come.

“I want this to be something we do on a yearly basis,” he said. “Something that we’re able to create awareness, create excitement, touch lives, and have an impact on our youth as well.”

A VIP event at Kirigin Cellars unveiled the logo of the new Eyes Up Foundation Friday, July 9. Garcia’s nonprofit aims to help economically-challenged communities and to provide resources to them. The foundation will also award scholarships to deserving young students, Garcia said.

The foundation now focuses on making an impact in Gilroy, but Garcia envisions the benefits it provides spreading to other communities. He seeks to motivate and inspire youth while also helping them find their path and create a better future for themselves.

“The emphasis behind it is to encourage youth through education, through community resources, through the opportunity to be mentored, to be inspired, and really to reach out and help those especially in more challenged communities,” he said.

Growing up in Gilroy, Garcia idolized the local players his father, Bobby Garcia, coached at Gavilan College more than 49ers legends including Joe Montana.

“I was fortunate to have such a great coach in my dad by my side to help nurture me, to help inspire and motivate me, teach me, direct me, crack the whip on me with discipline if I needed it,” he said.

The young people participating in the camp received training from one of the game’s best players. With the 49ers, Garcia made three Pro Bowl appearances (2000, 2001, and 2002) and led the team to the playoffs in 2001 and 2002.

Garcia went on to play with the Cleveland Browns in 2004 and the Detroit Lions in 2005. In 2006, he led the Philadelphia Eagles to the playoffs before joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2007, leading them to the playoffs and earning his fourth career Pro Bowl appearance.

Garcia now lives in San Diego with his wife and four children. He enjoys staying active in Gilroy where his parents still live.

Football has always run in the blood of the Garcia family. Bobby is one of the most storied coaches in Gavilan College’s football program and a well-known figure in the community. Nearly half a century ago, he led the Gavilan Rams to the 1973 Junior College National Championship. He coached at Gavilan for 15 years.

Garcia said his parents shaped him as a football player with good work ethics as well as his character. Beyond their influence on his professional accomplishments, they encouraged him in starting a charity (now ended) called The Garcia Pass It On Foundation.

“My mom (Linda) was the rock to our family,” he said. “She is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, people I know.”

He is grateful for the love and strength his parents gave him. They have been married for 55 years.

“They’ve had so many trials and tribulations and tragedies they have had to deal with, that we had to deal with, as a family,” he said. “But they’ve held it together and been an example of what real love could be. I’ve been fortunate to be able to see that.”

Through his new football camp program, Garcia passes on the life lessons he learned from Bobby and Linda to the next generation of Gilroyans.

Chad Mays is a 2019 graduate of Sobrato High School who is now studying journalism as a junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Freelance Author