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Originally published Saturday, April 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Huskies take hit: Center Juan Garcia injures leg

Juan Garcia, one of Washington's football captains last year and the leader of an offensive line that could be the strength of the team...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Juan Garcia, one of Washington's football captains last year and the leader of an offensive line that could be the strength of the team in 2008, is one of the last players the Huskies can afford to lose to injury.

But that devastating possibility exists after the senior center was carted off the practice field Friday after suffering what could be a serious injury to his left leg during a scrimmage.

There was no immediate word on the exact nature or severity of the injury, but the circumstances sounded ominous.

A UW spokesman said Garcia was hurt on a running play up the middle, apparently caught in a pile, and that practice was stopped for 10 minutes while trainers attended to him. His entire leg was put in an air cast and he was taken from the field on a golf cart for further evaluation.

The injury occurred only a few plays into a scrimmage in the Dempsey Center after the team decided to move indoors because of inclement weather.

Garcia is UW's only returning honors player. He earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors last season as an offensive lineman.

The school was informed Friday that Garcia is one of 71 players named to the preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy, awarded annually to the best interior lineman in the country.

Garcia, a graduate of Eisenhower High School in Yakima, is in his sixth year with the Huskies. He was awarded an extra season of eligibility after he missed the entire 2004 and 2005 seasons with injuries.

Garcia thought briefly about not returning and entering the NFL draft but said he decided to come back after the school announced that coach Tyrone Willingham would return for another season.

During a spring practice in 2004, Garcia broke his left fibula and dislocated his left ankle — the same leg he reportedly injured Friday. In 2005, he had a torn labrum.

He has been healthy the last two years, starting all 25 games and rarely missing a play. He is one of four returning starters on the offensive line. One of them, sophomore guard Ryan Tolar, is out for the spring after offseason shoulder surgery.

Tolar's absence is one reason the offensive line hasn't always performed at top capability this spring.

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Willingham said this week that a young defensive line has held its own at times against the veteran O-line. Asked Friday if that was due to the D-line playing well or the O-line not playing well, he said it was a little of both.

"They've had some good days and had some days that aren't so good," Willingham said. "That's part of it [spring practice]. But what we want is an offensive line that has the ability to dominate. That's what we are looking for during the season. At the same time, if they have that potential and ability, that allows us to measure our defensive line, so I would say we've had a little of both — some good play from the defensive line and at times some not-so-good play from our offensive line. But that is always the give-and-take of spring practice."

The backup to Garcia is sophomore Matt Sedillo, a promising player who played in two games last season.

RBs getting thin

Another position getting hit by injuries is running back. The Huskies were without starting tailback Brandon Johnson for the scrimmage and were likely to be without Brandon Yakaboski, competing for a backup spot.

Johnson, a sophomore, suffered what he said was a hyperextended knee in practice this week. Johnson said Friday he expected to be back to practice on Monday.

Asked if he had any concerns the injury would prove long-term Johnson said, "Oh no, not at all."

Yakaboski, a redshirt freshman, is suffering from a stiff neck and was wearing red as practice began, signifying that he was off-limits to contact.

That meant the only two healthy tailbacks were redshirt freshman Willie Griffin and junior J.R. Hasty, who was reinstated to the team this week.

Griffin, a graduate of McClymonds High in Oakland, said before Friday's practice he was ready to assume a larger role if needed.

He said he weighed 208 pounds last season but is down to 195, about what he weighed in high school.

"The weight that was on me at 208 wasn't solid at all," Griffin said. "I had a whole summer off before I came here and the family knew I was leaving, so everybody wanted to cook and hang out with me. It was pounds I needed to get off."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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