Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009 | 2:10 a.m.
David Garcia knew something didn’t feel right.
The senior defensive lineman on the Green Valley High football team was going through conditioning drills earlier last week at practice when he noticed his heart was racing. He wasn’t keeping up his teammates and had a concerned look on his face.
Green Valley coach Matt Gerber also noticed his player wasn’t normal and instructed him to stop practicing and see the team’s trainer.
Garcia had felt fatigued for more than a month, but assumed it was from daily workouts with the football team.
Instead, it was something much worse.
Less than one day later, the 17-year-old Garcia received the life-changing news — he was diagnosed with leukemia.
“Just hearing the word ‘leukemia’ is scary, especially for a kid,” Gerber said. “But David is a tough kid and you have to be strong mentally to battle this.”
Now, instead of preparing with teammates to play Basic Thursday in Henderson Bowl XIX, Garcia is going through chemotherapy at St. Rose Hospitals-Sienna Campus. His football season is over, but that doesn’t mean Garcia isn’t part of the team.
The Gators dedicated their victory Oct. 8 against Coronado to Garcia and he has been overwhelmed with the amount of support from his teammates.
“It just felt like the end of the world, I can’t lie about that,” Garcia said. “But I’m actually doing great. I have my whole team behind me and my hopes are up.”
Garcia, who is affectionately called ‘Huggie Bear’ for his 6-foot-3, 255-pound frame, has been part of the football program the last three years and has a reputation of being a hard worker.
He had Gerber as his science teacher as a freshman and the two made an instant connection. Despite not playing much sports, Garcia gave football a try with Gerber’s encouragement.
“He’s just a really neat kid who everyone likes,” Gerber said. “He never missed a day of weight training (in the offseason) and is always working hard.”
Garica, who is also an honors student, made the varsity team as a junior and saw action with the second string on the defensive line this fall. The same determination he used to climb the ranks with the football team will be an asset in fighting cancer.
“If I wasn’t doing football I wouldn’t know how to fight this as hard,” Garcia said.
Gerber, whose wife is a leukemia survivor, is confident Garcia will also be a survivor. The cancer was caught in its early stages and Garcia responded so well to his first chemotherapy treatment, that he might be released from the hospital in time for the big game with Basic.
“My son loves that football team,” said Hernanado Rodriguez, Garcia’s stepfather. “If he has practice at 5 in the morning, he is up at 3 getting ready. It’s humbling to see how the school, teachers and everyone have stepped up to support my son.”
Garcia is hoping to show his teammates support during the Henderson Bowl. He plans on finding the strength to be on the sidelines.
“There is no way I’m going to miss that game,” he said. “That’s our Super Bowl.”