Between a math test and workout last Wednesday, Mason Garcia received word he’d been selected for an elite team.
The quarterback from Carolina Forest High in Myrtle Beach, SC, was added to the South Carolina roster for the prestigious Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas after originally being left off the squad. An injury to another Myrtle Beach quarterback, South Carolina commit Luke Doty, opened the door for Garcia’s invite to the all-star game against North Carolina on December 21 in Spartanburg, SC.
“It was definitely something I always wanted to experience,’’ Garcia said. “It’s an opportunity to be around great football players. I’m excited to be part of it.’’
The addition of Garcia will give the South Carolina team two East Carolina recruits in its backfield. Garcia, who made a verbal commitment to the Pirates in early July, will be joined by Byrnes High running back Rahjai Harris, who gave his pledge in September. Also part of the South Carolina squad is ECU commit Xavier McIver, a defensive tackle from Cheraw. J’Vian McCray, a defensive tackle from West Brunswick High in Shallotte, will oppose his future Pirate teammates in the Shrine Bowl as a member of the North Carolina squad.
Garcia, a 6-foot-4, 218-pounder, is one of the most high profile prospects among the 21 verbally committed to East Carolina heading into the December 18 early signing period. He’s rated the No. 17 pro-style quarterback nationally by 247Sports.com and was pursued by numerous Football Bowl Subdivision programs such as Appalachian State, Cincinnati, Missouri, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and others. Garcia eventually chose the Pirates over Syracuse.
The previous ECU coaching staff under Scottie Montgomery began the recruitment of Garcia near the end of his sophomore season at Carolina Forest. After playing for the school’s unbeaten junior varsity team as a freshman, Garcia led the Panthers to a 7-6 finish and to the second round of the state Class 5A playoffs. He passed for almost 1,600 yards and 14 touchdowns, while also adding 500 yards and 13 scores rushing.
“Near the end of June after my sophomore year I got an invitation to attend a camp there,’’ Garcia said. “I went up for the camp and came to school the (following) Monday. It was the last day of school and I received a call saying they were offering me. Of course, that was the old staff.
“I kind of knew who was coming in for the coaching staff and already liked the area. I knew the new staff had the same mindset I have. They wanted to come in and change the program. I think that’s something they saw in me, too, that I could help flip things around there.’’
The offer came in June 2018, but Garcia wouldn’t make his pledge to the Pirates for another year.
First, he led the Panthers to an 8-2 record and another second-round playoff trip as a junior by passing for 2,100 yards and 28 touchdowns. The performance earned Garcia a spot on the All-Region 6-5A team.
During the spring following his junior season, Garcia’s recruiting stock rose even higher after strong performances at the Rival Camp Series presented by Adidas in Fort Mill, SC, and the Elite Position Training Skills Showcase in Irmo.
Garcia finally gave ECU his pledge on July 5 before the start of preseason training camp before his senior season.
And what a senior season it was.
Garcia led Carolina Forest to the Lower State 5A finals for the first time in school history. The Panthers finally met their match against state powerhouse Dutch Fork, falling 45-20 in the finals. Garcia finished the season with 2,149 yards passing and 19 touchdowns along with 761 rushing yards and 14 more scores.
The season capped the hometown portion of Garcia’s career that began at age 11 in the Myrtle Beach youth leagues. Playing with the Cowboys squad, Garcia was teamed with many future opponents who would play for Carolina Forest’s rival and two-time state champion Myrtle Beach High School.
“I’ve always been athletic and could the throw the ball around,’’ Garcia said. “It really all started with the Cowboys. I picked up a ball in practice one day and threw it around. Next thing you know I’m playing quarterback.’’
By the time Garcia reached middle school, Carolina Forest coach Marc Morris was already aware of his future quarterback. Morris was already coaching Garcia’s older brother, Ismael, a talented wide receiver-safety for the Panthers.
“No doubt, when we saw him we knew he was a special talent,’’ Morris said. “But what was crazy about Mason is he was only about 5-10 or 5-11 in the eighth grade. His brother played for us and he was about 6-1. So, really, we kind of thought he’d be this good 6-1 athlete and player.
“But the good Lord had different ideas. Between his ninth- and 10th-grade years, he jumps up to 6-4. That hindered him a little at the start. But he made himself in the weight room. He’s an unbelievable hard worker.’’
Morris previously coached football in North Carolina at Harnett Central High School near Angier. While there, Morris tutored two future FBS scholarship quarterbacks in ECU signee Rodney Cox and N.C. State signee Brian Taylor. Cox, who set a state record by scoring eight touchdowns in a single game, was part of Skip Holtz’s 2007 recruiting class at ECU. Cox eventually left the program and spent a season at junior college before ending his career.
Taylor signed to play football and baseball at N.C. State, and later gave up his gridiron career to focus on the diamond. He wound up transferring to Campbell where he played two seasons of baseball with the Camels.
Morris calls Garcia a combination of those two quarterbacks.
“He’s a big, tall athlete like Rodney and has big-time quarterback skills like Brian,’’ Morris said. “You watch him play every night and he consistently does things that make you shake your head and say, ‘Did he just do that?’ He’ll roll out of the pocket and see a kid down field 20 or 30 yards. He’ll flick his wrist and you watch the ball fly out on a line to them. He’s just a special talent.’’
Garcia said he will sign with the Pirates on Dec. 18 while he’s practicing with the South Carolina Shrine Bowl squad. But he plans to remain at Carolina Forest through the spring semester so he can play for the Panthers’ basketball squad. Garcia averaged 10.4 points and 9.7 rebounds a junior in basketball.
“Obviously, nobody is guaranteed a spot, but I’m ready to get there (ECU), go to work and compete for a spot,’’ Garcia said.
Garcia will join a quarterback room at East Carolina that will already feature returning starter Holton Ahlers, Bryan Gagg, who played in one game this season, Caiden Norman and Alex Flinn. Along with Garcia, Cedartown, GA, quarterback Taji Hudson is also committed to the Pirates for the Class of 2020.