By Martin Cleary
Ottawa’s Raphaël Garcia is an all-around All-Canadian.
He certainly has the credentials, especially from athletic and academic perspectives.
A well respected defender, Garcia, 23, helped the Carleton University Ravens to a silver medal on their home field at the 2021 U Sports national men’s intercollegiate soccer championship. (The Ravens lost the final to Montreal Carabins 3-2 on penalty kicks.)
In his rookie season with the Ravens, after spending two years playing professional soccer with Valour FC of the Canadian Premier League, Garcia was an integral part of the Ravens’ defence and overall play. In his nine OUA games in the fall of 2021, he scored two goals and added four assists.
When it came time for awards, Garcia was named a U Sports first-team All-Canadian, after earning a spot as an OUA East Division first-team all-star.
In the classroom, Garcia followed his brother’s example and enrolled at Carleton for 2021-22 to study law. His return to school was just as rewarding as he earned a grade-point average of 11.11 out of 12.0.
By combining his athletic and academic achievements in his first year, Garcia was named a U Sports Academic All-Canadian for scoring an average of 80 per cent or higher, while playing on a varsity sports team.
More than 4,900 student-athletes from the 56 universities in the U Sports varsity system were honoured as Academic All-Canadians for 2021-22. That made them eligible for a Top 8 Academic All-Canadian award, which is presented to one male and one female student-athlete in each of the four U Sports conferences (AUS, RSEQ, OUA and Canada West).
Garcia was again the man of the moment, when he was recently selected as the top OUA male student-athlete and one of the Top 8 Academic All-Canadians for 2021-22.
Governor-General Mary Simon recently presented the Top 8 Academic All-Canadian awards during a Rideau Hall ceremony to Garcia, Kate Current of Western, Jade Downie-Landry of McGill, Jean-Simon Desgagnes of Laval, Shae Demale of Saint Mary’s, Alex Carson of Dalhousie, and Eric Lutz and Rebecca Smith, both of Calgary.
Kwesi Loney, the Ravens’ manager of soccer programs, was proud of Garcia’s major achievement.
“Raphael, in only his second year, has been recognized as one of the country’s top defenders,” he said in a Carleton University press release. “He has been successful in translating his on-field recognition to the classroom with a strong work ethic and overall commitment to the process of success.
“It is no surprise he is being recognized in this manner. I’m very proud of his achievements and know it’s only the beginning.”
Carleton has had two other student-athletes win the Top 8 Academic All-Canadian award, since its inception in 2013 – basketball players Robert Smart (2002-03) and Tyson Hinz (2013-14).
“I am so bad about my GPA,” Garcia said, admitting it’s not a figure that’s burned into his memory. “I was nominated by someone, but I don’t know by whom. I got a phone call at 8 a.m. one morning telling me I had won a Top 8 award.
“I didn’t know about the award. But I’m honoured to be in the Top 8.”
Garcia attended the event with his parents and girlfriend. It was an especially proud moment for his mother, a long-time teacher. She taught him the value of getting an education and having good study habits and he added in the discipline he has learned from soccer and commitment for each task.
For most of his life, soccer has been his primary focus. He started playing the game with his father in the family backyard at age four and joined the Gloucester Hornets program two years later.
At 13, he was one of 250 players at an open tryout for the Montreal Impact Academy and was one of three players selected for the program. He convinced his parents that moving to Montreal was the right thing to do, as they had encouraged him to follow his dream. He boarded with two older players at the academy during his six-year stay.
Garcia made the Impact reserve team, but couldn’t crack the lineup for the main MLS team. Instead, he signed with Valour FC of the Canadian Premier League for the 2019 and 2020 seasons and appeared in 17 games.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the 2020 season was staged in a bubble format with each team playing seven games in Prince Edward Island. Garcia had knee and ankle injuries at the time and missed the first six games, which halted his pro career.
“My mom was a teacher for 30 years and she always wanted me to continue my studies,” Garcia said in a recent interview. “Coming into Carleton University I didn’t know how I’d go about getting a BA. I didn’t get my Grade 12 in Ontario. I felt, if pro soccer doesn’t work out, I didn’t have much education.”
But once he started his 2021-22 classes at Carleton, he was dedicated to his studies and had a strategy. He was determined to complete all his assignments not only on time, but also one week before the professor’s deadline.
“I lied to myself. I’d tell myself it (assignment) was due one week before (it actually was),” he explained. “I never wanted to be stressed with a 10-page assignment due tomorrow. Like anyone, I do procrastinate. But it’s about getting all the work done.
“I try to do my best and I have done better than I thought.”
Garcia will return to Carleton in 2023-24 for his third year of law studies, but it will be his final year of OUA and U Sports soccer eligibility. While it will only be his third year in a Ravens’ uniform, his other two years of athletic eligibility were washed away because he played two years of professional soccer.
After his university eligibility runs out, he’s uncertain at this point what direction he’ll follow. He may try to resume his professional soccer career or finish his law studies or find a full-time job.
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Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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