Old Man on the “D”

by Christian Brazo ’95

Later in life, indulging in hobbies is natural: Stamp collecting, fly-fishing, restoring old cars. But when Ben Garcia ’01 told his wife of 13 years, Martha, about how he was going to spend his free time, she gasped. “She said, ‘You’re not going to do that!’ ” Garcia recalled. “But my wife was an athlete, so she understands the desire to be out on the field....But she still thinks I’m nuts.”

As Garcia, 38, began looking for academic programs that would increase his computer knowledge while turning his associate’s degree into a Bachelor of Science, he was mainly concerned with curriculum and proximity to his West Covina home.

Back in the day, Garcia was an All-Pacific League linebacker for San Gabriel High School in San Gabriel, California, where he averaged 13 tackles a game his senior year, a season in which 67 of his current teammates were not even born yet. He then went on to East Los Angeles College in Monterey Park, California, where he played linebacker for the Huskies from 1981-82.

Now he is married, has three sons, and plays nose tackle for the Cougars. The change in position and the evolution of playing techniques have forced him to relearn the game. “It’s like riding a bike—it all starts coming back,” Garcia explained. “But this time, the bike has different wheels.”

While it is safe to assume that the 6’-2”, 240-pound defensive lineman has lost a step or two since he last played, what he lacks in speed he more than makes up for in dedication and leadership.

“Ben has been an excellent leader to our younger players,” said Peter Shinnick, head Cougar football coach. “He does everything that we’ve asked of him. Even though he is not in our starting rotation, he has been on our scout team working against the number-one offense and has played every play like it’s a real game.”

“Ben is a quiet leader,” David Leary ’04 said. “He leads by example, working really hard on every drill. He may have an older body, but he doesn’t act like it.” Age has its drawbacks nonetheless. Bones break easier, for one—Garcia broke his thumb in a practice shortly before the season opener. He kept practicing, however.

“The doctor said that he should take four to five weeks off,” Shinnick said. “But Ben said that he wanted to keep practicing and stay with the team. He didn’t have to do that, but he wants to help the team any way he can.”

“People say I’m crazy for getting all banged up out there at my age. I believe that much of aging is in your mind—you can do a lot more than you think,” Garcia said.

Garcia has no agenda, no NFL dreams, no contract hopes. He only wants to play ball again. Having that goal frees up Garcia to be a leader and to model sportsmanship for his teammates. “If I can contribute something to the team, then so be it. There aren’t many scouts looking to draft a 38-year-old lineman,” said Garcia.

“Ben has no ego and really puts the team first,” Shinnick said. “He’s very unselfish and wants nothing more than for the team to do well.”

“A player asked me how I can take orders from someone younger than me,” Garcia said. “I told him that I understand the chain of command.”

For seven years Garcia has served as a staff sergeant in the California Military Reserve, where taking orders is part of the job.

“I know that coach is looking out for us, trying to teach us how to do what we need to do.”

In actuality, it is more than an itch Garcia feels each August to get out on the football field. It is the desire to see past the pain and bruises, to the camaraderie of a team, and to belong to something that is much more than him alone.

“He is a great competitor,” Shinnick said, “who is out here truly for the love of football.”