Pete Iacobelli / The Associated Press
South Carolina made official Monday what coach Steve Spurrier hinted at all spring -- suspended quarterback Stephen Garcia will return to the Gamecocks on a probationary basis.
Garcia was suspended for the fifth time in his college career -- and second time during spring practice -- on April 6 after an incident at a life skills seminar where he "exhibited behavior that is unacceptable for one of our student-athletes," athletic director Eric Hyman said. Garcia was given several confidential guidelines to adhere to if he hoped for reinstatement.
So far, so good.
"We will give him another chance and hopefully he can do the right things and represent the university in a first-class manner," Spurrier said in a statement Monday.
Voluntary summer workouts for South Carolina football players start this week.
Soon after Garcia's suspension, Spurrier left the door open a crack for his senior quarterback's return, but also made it clear that Garcia might choose to spend his final season elsewhere after getting his sociology degree.
Garcia, though, said after his graduation ceremonies earlier this month he hoped return, and Spurrier increased those expectations as he attended several South Carolina fan gatherings around the state the past few weeks.
Not that everything's smooth sailing. Spurrier said Garcia's return was dependent on continued good behavior "for the next two or three months to prove himself worthy of being a student-athlete at South Carolina."
Garcia's status will be reevaluated before fall camp opens. The first workout for the defending Southeastern Conference Eastern Division champions is Aug. 3.
"The ball clearly rests in Stephen Garcia's hands," Hyman said.
Garcia did not immediately return a phone message or email sent by The Associated Press.
If eligible, Garcia is the SEC's returning leader in yards passing with 3,059 in 2010. He completed more than 64 percent of his passes with 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Garcia was instrumental in last season's Eastern Division title and may have had his best game in a 35-21 upset of then-No. 1 Alabama, South Carolina's first victory over a top-ranked team.
South Carolina returns two of the SEC's top playmakers in tailback Marcus Lattimore and receiver Alshon Jeffery. An experienced quarterback in control makes the Gamecocks a strong contender to reach the SEC title game a second straight year.
However, Garcia hasn't always shown the leadership Spurrier's wanted through the years. Garcia was suspended twice during his first six weeks on campus. He earned a third suspension a season later before ever starting a game.
Garcia had seemed to find his poise off the field as a sophomore and junior to become the Gamecocks' established quarterback, who has started the past 28 games. But Garcia was suspended in March for violating team rules during South Carolina's time at the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, and he pledged he was done making headlines off the field.
"Nothing bad is going to happen again -- that's guaranteed," he said then.
But less than two weeks later, Garcia was out again.
Hyman said he hoped Garcia would develop decision-making skills to help him with life outside of football. The guidelines drawn up are "designed to help him live a successful life and are not some trivial hoops for him to jump through in order to find a way to reinstate him," Hyman sai.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)