MERCEDES — Mercedes head football coach Michael Uribe clearly remembers the last few moments he spent with quarterback Isaiah Garza before his tragic automobile accident Tuesday afternoon.
The fifth-year coach put his arm around Garza, reminding him of the goals and plans they had for 2013. As a three-year starter, Garza was expected to do great things for the Tigers’ football team. Uribe’s wisdom and encouragement had Garza excited for his upcoming senior year.
“This is your senior year, this is your legacy,” Uribe told Garza.
Uribe said Garza worked extremely hard in the offseason and was in tip-top shape. Garza always was first in every sprint and every drill. In addition, Garza was able develop a strong chemistry with his new receiving corps after last year’s group was lost. The squad is coming off their first District 32-4A title in 13 years and with a solid core group coming back, there was talk of bigger and better things.
“When you consider his character, work ethic, the ability to run and throw, in my 16 years of coaching, he was by far the most complete third-year player I was ever associated with,” Uribe said.
But a few hours after the conversation, Garza was in the hospital at Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen, going through intense surgery after breaking his fifth and sixth vertebrae. Uribe said the accident occurred sometime after his conversation with Garza and before he and the coaching staff were going to conduct football camp for students in eighth grade and below.
“I was watching film and then I was getting a number of calls,” Uribe said. “Then the offensive coordinator came to the film room and told me about the accident, and I made the trip to the hospital.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, Garza was said to be in the intensive care unit and was able to communicate with others and was even able to move his arm. Not once did Uribe think about calling off practice. After Uribe left the hospital, he gathered his staff and filled them in about the “family” situation and started making plans for the rest of camp and the season.
“It was beautiful to see the coaches come together in prayer,” Uribe said. “He may not be blood, but he’s our family.”
Just like the squad did Monday and Tuesday, the Tigers hit the field at 7 a.m. sharp Wednesday to conduct their third day of camp just like they had planned. Uribe admitted the mood was “somber,” understandably, as the team conducted their first workout of the day. Because of the sensitivity of the situation, Uribe elected not to let the players talk to the media on Wednesday. At this point, all Uribe wants is for his players to continue what they have set out to do with Garza and keep him, his and his girlfriend Lisa Ramirez in their prayers and thoughts.
“I feel like it’s an injunctive to Isaiah and football that we would give our best,” Uribe said. “If he was in our situation, he would do the same. They understand their responsibility because of their brother.”
Since the accident, Uribe said the outpouring of support from the community, across the Valley and even as far north as San Antonio by coaches has been remarkable. Uribe speculated out of all messages via text or call, approximately 40 have come from coaches alone. The first one outside of Mercedes came from Edcouch-Elsa head coach Joe Marichalar.He was even humbled after hearing Washington Redskins quarterback and Texas native Robert Griffin III gave his best to Garza on twitter saying “Pray for Isaiah Garza” along with Indiana Pacers guard George Hill, who makes his summer home in the Valley.
“It’s a humbling feeling knowing that someone of his stature is sending his prayers and support,” Uribe said of Griffin’s statement.
On the football side of things, Uribe will have to look for a new quarterback. Before Garza’s injury, he had two on the roster, but now the staff will have to look at players from the sub-varsity and hasn’t even ruled out using other players that are athletic at the spot.
“One will have to step up and we will take advantage of his strengths,” Uribe said. “But you can’t replace anyone like Isaiah.”
With what’s unfolded, Uribe easily has his biggest challenge ahead of him as a young head coach. He must keep the team together, continue to motivate and prepare the squad for the upcoming season. A year, which had high expectations, Uribe has no choice, but to dig deep, carry the program and be as positive as he can be. In other words, he just needs to be himself.
“I don’t have all the answers, but I was raised from a good foundation and it will help me make decisions going forward.
“God has a plan; there’s a purpose. (Garza’s) legacy is going to be bigger than I can imagine. I believe he’ll come out of this.”
And he’s pretty confident so will Mercedes.