COLUMBIA -- Stephen Garcia finally is doing what he came to South Carolina to do.
Garcia has no courtroom appearances, bail hearings or laundry lists of stipulations to adhere to.
Besides going to class, the second-year quarterback's main requirement this week is preparing for his first career start Saturday against No. 13 LSU. Garcia is glad to have the focus on football.
"Last year was pretty rough for me. I had to keep the blinders on a lot then," Garcia said. "I think that was a pretty good learning experience for me. I think it's going to help me Saturday night."
Garcia, a redshirt freshman from Lutz, Fla., spent 15 minutes talking to reporters Tuesday morning, the only time he will be available to the media this week. He talked about the off-the-field problems that derailed his first year at USC, and several times expressed his gratitude to the coaches and administrators who gave him another chance.
He conceded that the start to his USC career did not go as planned -- three arrests or citations in a 15-month span that caused him to miss two spring practices, as well as this year's summer school sessions and summer workouts while suspended.
"I came in here as a pretty highly recruited quarterback, (and the) first couple of months got arrested and all that stuff happened," Garcia said. "I'm just pretty much over it. That happened a while ago. I'm just thankful the university didn't boot me out of here. I'm glad they stuck with me."
After Garcia complied with a number of mandates that included drug and alcohol testing and personal counseling, the university agreed to reduce his suspension by two weeks and allowed Garcia to return for the start of preseason practice on Aug. 1.
It took the 6-foot-2, 221-pound Garcia seven games to go from third team to starter. Along the way, he got his feet wet with a three-play debut against Georgia, rushed for a game-high 86 yards against Alabama-Birmingham and elbowed his way into the starting role with a second-half performance at Kentucky that earned Garcia SEC freshman-of-the-week honors.
"When I went in there in the fourth quarter, I was a lot more vocal than I ever have (been) playing football," Garcia said. "The adrenaline was pumping, and I was in the game. I really wanted to win that for the team, and I think the whole team responded to it pretty well."
Garcia said Tuesday he chose the Gamecocks over his home-state Gators for one reason: coach Steve Spurrier.
"Certainly, we thought he had a lot of potential. He still does," Spurrier said. "He can throw the ball beautifully, as we found out last week. He can move around a bit. It was encouraging."
Spurrier praised the 20-year-old Garcia for going through the route progressions at Kentucky, while center Garrett Anderson noticed more of a swagger from Garcia.
"He knows that he can play here. He knows that he can really have a great time on the field. And he knows that everything he does is going to be under the microscope," Anderson said. "Especially a quarterback, more than anything else, you've got to be perfect. You cannot mess up because people will see it."
WANT TO GO?
NO. 13 LSU (4-1, 2-1 SEC) AT SOUTH CAROLINA (5-2, 2-2 SEC)
• When: 8 p.m. Saturday
• Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia
• TV: ESPN (cable channel 25 in Rock Hill)
• Tickets: Available at 1-800-4SC-FANS