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Game of the Week -- La Crosse honed in on Oakley

By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

For such a small athlete, Jack Garcia has a knack for playing large.

The junior quarterback on the La Crosse High School football team is listed at 5-foot-10, 172 pounds. While he's a good runner, he doesn't necessarily have the raw speed that attracts Division I recruiters. He delivers a nice ball, but at his height isn't likely to get many colleges to look at him as their next gunslinger.

What he does have in abundance is grit, toughness and the natural ability to lead a football team, something he learned by watching his two older brothers play the same way at La Crosse.

"That's part of being the youngest of three boys," La Crosse coach Jon Webster said. "Those two older brothers will knock you around. He was playing football with those guys and their buddies all growing up. That toughness is really bred into him. I think he takes a lot of pride in being a tough kid that can hang in there and make plays."

Garcia's two older brothers were both former Leopard quarterbacks. The oldest, Joey, was a 2007 graduate who went on to play football at Dodge City Community College and Sterling College. Jeremy, a 2009 La Crosse graduate, also played football at Sterling after a stint at Hutchinson Community College.

Now, Jack Garcia has stepped into the shoes of his older brothers and has guided the Leopards to a 10-0 record for the second consecutive season and is looking to add to it when La Crosse travels to Oakley (8-1) for a 7 p.m. matchup on Friday in the second round of the Class 2-1A state playoffs.

La Crosse beat Oakley 20-8 last season to advance to the state semifinals.

"I learned the Leopard tradition from those two," Garcia said. "With myself being a quarterback it has helped me out so much. It has helped me become a leader and carry on the Leopard tradition that those two carried on as well from previous players."

As the quarterback, it's no surprise Garcia has been an important part of La Crosse's success this season. He has thrown for 1,735 yards with 26 touchdowns to only six interceptions. He has also rushed for 577 yards and eight more touchdowns, including 107 yards on 11 carries in last week's playoff-opening 41-14 win against Plainville.

But none of this was done against a defense quite like the one in Oakley. The Plainsmen have only allowed 27 points all season -- total -- including six shutouts in nine games. Oakley is coming off a 42-7 win over Elkhart last week in the first round of the state playoffs.

For La Crosse to come away victorious, Garcia is going to have to prove he can handle the pressure of the aggressive Oakley defense. And being the leader he is, Webster believes he will be up for the challenge.

"Jack has really evolved into our offensive leader throughout the season. It's not so much we are putting pressure on him -- it's just the role he expects," Webster said. "He is going to have to hang in the pocket and throw the ball with some heat coming. Sometimes they are just bringing more than we got to block and he is going to have to be tough and deliver the ball in stride."

Garcia isn't the only one that needs to be focused. The entire team is looking to regroup after last week's Plainville game, one in which Webster said the team played "flat." The Leopards were sluggish out of the gate and by the end of the game had 19 penalties for 155 yards.

A lot of this had to do with the opponent, a Plainville team La Crosse has played six times in four seasons.

With a bigger game against a less familiar opponent at hand this week, it's believed the excitement and the focus will return for the Leopards.

"Last week our focus wasn't really there. But thankfully it was all stuff that can be fixed. This week we are trying to cut that stuff out and get back to playing Leopard football," Garcia said.

"As a football player and a leader and a quarterback, you love this sort of challenge. It's not too often you see a defense like this."