FOOTBALL: Garcia, Nighthawks set for franchise’s inaugural game

Jeff Garcia, 40, will start for the United Football League's

A capacity crowd will be on hand as Omaha Nighthawks face
Hartford Colonials on Friday night.
OMAHA, Neb. – Jeff Garcia hasn’t exactly followed the straightest or even the clearest route back to football.

Through all of the uncertainties, however, there have been two constants with the 40-year-old signal caller: He wanted to play and knew he could.

It has been far too long between starts, the Gilroy native quickly points out. December 2008 seems like ages ago.

But Friday night, Garcia makes his return to the gridiron, leading the United Football League’s Omaha Nighthawks into the franchise’s inaugural game.

“It has been a long, long time; longest break from football that I think I have ever had,” Garcia said Thursday. “To be able to have the chance to get back on the field and compete in an environment like we are going to have (Friday) night is really exciting to me.”

The five-team UFL kicked off its second season last week, but with the odd number of teams the Nighthawks drew a Week 1 bye. Omaha welcomes the Hartford Colonials (1-0) to what will assuredly be a raucous sold-out Rosenblatt Stadium.

Twenty-four-thousand seats will be filled, already surpassing the league’s regular-season record attendance mark by nearly 10,000 fans, according to a statement issued by the league.

“We come into a state that loves football, that is very knowledgeable with the game of football,” Garcia said about the buzz the Nighthawks have created in Omaha. “The University of Nebraska is like their professional team. But to finally actually have a pro team that (the fans) can call their own, I think is very exciting to them. They have welcomed us in.”

The Colonials defeated the Sacramento Mountain Lions 27-10 last week, holding the Northern California team to a mere 34 rushing yards.

“I look forward to having the opportunity to see where we are at as a team,” the five-time Pro Bowler said. “Obviously it’s different not having preseason games and stuff like that to where you can iron out certain kinks. But having just faced each other for the last month, we are looking forward to the opportunity to go against another team.”

Garcia signed with the Nighthawks in August, taking a liking to head coach Jeff Jagodzinski’s West Coast offense.

“I didn’t want to really go into a situation where I had to learn an entirely new offense,” Garcia said. “Granted, that’s something I can do and something that I have done before. (It was) important for me to go into a place where there wasn’t going to be that sort of learning curve, but we could step right on the field with one meeting under our belts and know what we were doing.”

The Nighthawks have made headlines with their offseason signings of former NFL players such as running back Ahman Green, wide receivers Robert Ferguson, Davard Darling and former Ohio State standout Maurice Clarett.

The veteran weapons on offense give Garcia an extra layer of security heading into the team’s debut.

“It’s great to have that experience next to me,” Garcia said. “I think there is a good understanding of what we need to do from a football standpoint. They’ve played the game at a high level. They have competed at a high level. They have been successful at a high level. And now to bring that all together with this team is definitely a positive thing for me, being the guy pulling the trigger.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. on the West Coast and the game can be seen on HDNet.

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