Balls in the Air

Football is football -- unless it's futbol.
Frank Garcia obviously towers over his son. But he's also twice the size of many of the players in his soccer league.

Frank Garcia obviously towers over his son. But he’s also twice the size of many of the players in his soccer league.

Are you ready for some futbol? A former Carolina Panther has shed his pads for the freedom of the original foot-and-ball game.

Retired offensive lineman Frank Garcia, who returned to Charlotte after finishing his career with the Arizona Cardinals in 2003, can be found running the field in the over-thirty indoor soccer league at the Sports Connection on Monday nights. While he's down to a svelte 292 pounds from his playing weight of 302, some opposing players are half his size.

"I've always been pretty fleet of foot," Garcia says. "At my size, to play in the NFL that long, you kind of have to have something, and that was my thing. I wouldn't out-strength you; I'd out-quick you."

Garcia has also been working as an assistant coach for Charlotte Catholic's football team and sitting in as a guest host on WFNZ's Primetime with the Packman. It was WFNZ station manager D.J. Stout who presented the idea of joining the soccer league to Garcia.

"I had played softball with [Stout] before, and I said sure," says Garcia, who played nine years in the NFL, six with the Panthers, as a guard and center. "He said, ‘Are you serious? You're 290 pounds.' "

Now thirty-six, Garcia hadn't played soccer in more than twenty years, since he played goalkeeper and midfield while growing up in Phoenix. In high school, he was Arizona Athlete of the Year, a 275-pound third baseman and pitcher in baseball, football lineman, and wrestler. He's good with both feet and scores a few goals, though he's prouder of setting them up.

But goals, assists, and shedding a few pounds don't top his list for playing. It's a team thing. "It's a fraternity out there. That's the thing I miss most about the NFL and competitive sports for a living—the camaraderie and the bonding that you get."