Mason Garcia is one of the highest rate recruits to don the purple and gold since the turn of the century. His big frame, backed up by his big arm, caught plenty of attention from collegiate coaches as Garcia racked up over 2,100 yards through the air in his final prep season at Carolina Forest.
A potentially overlooked aspect of Garcia’s game, however, was the nearly 800 yards he amassed running the football. Of his 33 touchdowns during his senior campaign, Garcia ran 14 of them in, including two against River Bluff in the second round of the 5A state playoffs.
Two games into his collegiate career, Garcia already has 73 rushing yards under his belt after tucking the ball and rushing 15 times for 63 yards and a touchdown against Navy earlier this month. Some being designed runs to help the true freshman settle into his first collegiate start, Garcia showed solid decision-making on when to pull the ball down and attempt to make a positive play with his legs.
While Garcia’s future at ECU will likely involve many long pass completions and touchdowns through the air, the Pirates may be so inclined to find playing time for their prized recruit even before Holton Ahlers’ eligibility runs out.
“I think he could,” head football coach Mike Houston said about Garcia potentially filling roles other than quarterback moving forward. “I think there’s certain situations for it. I think the biggest thing with him, and he and I talked about it on Saturday. Now he’s played and he understands just how fast things happen on the field on game day, for him that experience is just so valuable.”
Due to a positive COVID-19 test from Ahlers ahead of the Navy game, Garcia was able to take first-team practice reps for much of the week. Even so, Navy dialed up pressure throughout much of the game, making it as hard as possible for the freshman to get comfortable in the pocket.
With potentially two more full years standing between Garcia and the starting job, Houston and the coaching staff are working hard to ensure their young quarterback learns as much as possible from the current starter. That begins with Garcia relaying what he saw against Navy through the mind of a more experienced quarterback and getting invaluable advice back.
“I’m really trying to get him — even while Holton is taking reps or playing on Saturday — just understanding, here’s the call, here’s what you’re seeing defensively, just trying to see the same things that Holton is seeing,” Houston said. “Holton has a great grasp of our offense.”
Throughout his tenure at ECU, Houston has not been shy about playing the best players available, no matter their class or scholarship status. Sometimes that means moving players around positionally like the Pirates did with one of Garcia’s fellow freshmen quarterbacks. Recognizing Taji Hudson had a better chance to get on the field as a wide receiver, the coaching staff made the switch during preseason camp.
With Garcia showing off his rushing capabilities against Navy, the Pirates could design some plays that feature the freshman in a wildcat-type formation. Having both him and Ahlers on the field at the same time with their threat to throw the football, as well as run it, could provide favorable matchups against the defense.
“You still are in a developmental stage with Mason, but I think certainly you saw some strengths of his on display against Navy that you could see us incorporate as the season moves on,” Houston said.
Of course whatever role Garcia ends up filling moving forward will likely not be the same one he fills when Ahles’ eligibility runs out. The Pirates recruited Garcia because he can be a difference-maker with his arm. At 6’5” and 238 pounds, Garcia has the prototypical frame of a strong-armed, pocket-passing quarterback, but he has also proven to be a dynamic player with his legs.
It will be interesting to see how the Pirates take advantage of that moving forward with five more games left on the 2020 schedule, beginning with a Friday night matchup against Tulsa in Oklahoma.