Lehigh sophomore starts running back Gaige Garcia poised football and wrestles with hope of having successful seasons both years.
In high school, Garcia set the Pennsylvania state football record. From 2016 through 2019, he had the most career touchdowns in state history with 138 total touchdowns and 159 total touchdowns. Garcia also holds the state record for most total career points with 954.
Garcia was also a four-time state champion and two-time state champion in wrestling. Lehigh wrestling coach Pat Santoro said he was with Garcia early on and tried to recruit him during his freshman year of high school.
“We were really excited when we heard that Lehigh was there because he was one of the best recruits to come out of the country,” Santoro said.
Recruited for both football and wrestling at Lehigh and the University of Michigan, Garcia eventually committed to Michigan.
“I had a lot of trouble deciding which sport to play in high school,” Garcia said. “I thought I could excel at both, so I figured why not try both?”
Garcia said he didn’t fit in as well as expected in Michigan and decided to enter the transfer window. He said after being spotted by Lehigh in high school, it was an obvious choice as to where he would spend the rest of his college career.
But Garcia’s first year at Lehigh ended early. He injured his foot in the fourth week of football season and required surgery. He said it was a severe setback that put him on the bench.
Lehigh football coach Tom Gilmore said Garcia’s injury was unfortunate.
“He missed the rest of the year and he also missed wrestling season,” Gilmore said. “It wasn’t until late spring of this year that he really got ‘on it’.”
Garcia has encountered hurdles in both sports, but he said these struggles give him more determination to get through them.
He said football and wrestling are difficult sports in the same year because the seasons are back-to-back and the sports need to be in different forms.
As physical demands vary, Garcia said it’s important for him to train as much as possible in the off-season. This has also helped with his foot injury.
“In the summer, I would hop between soccer lifts and soccer practice and then go straight to wrestling,” Garcia said. “I would do four and sometimes even five workouts a day.”
Garcia rushed for 67 yards with 8 carries and scored a touchdown against Georgetown on September 10 in his second game of the season.
He said he has no intention of stopping there. The wrestler’s running back has lofty goals for what he wants to achieve for both sports in the upcoming season.
“The goal is to win everything in both sports,” Garcia said. “For football, I think winning the Patriot League title is very realistic, and for wrestling, All-American if I can get to the weight and get into the roster.”
Santoro said Garcia’s drive for success has had a positive impact on the team environment as he drives his teammates and is hugely popular.
The Lehigh football team will play their next game against the Princeton Tigers on September 24 at 3:00 p.m. The men’s wrestling team begins its season on October 28th.