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Saturday, December 09, 2023
<p>Eddie Garcia races during the 2013 Mountain Dew Invitational.</p>

Eddie Garcia races during the 2013 Mountain Dew Invitational.

Like any pair of best friends, UF cross country runners Jimmy Clark and Eddie Garcia can trace their friendship’s origin to a single moment.

"The first time we actually got in contact, it’s a funny story," Garcia said.

"I had just got off the phone with (former UF) coach (Todd) Morgan at the time, and I told him that ‘hey, you know, I wanna commit here, I wanna come here,’ and apparently before the conversation coach Morgan reached out to Jimmy… After the phone call, Jimmy texted me… and I texted him back (saying) ‘hey man, I actually just committed!’"

While they lived about 15 minutes away from each other in high school, they knew each other only as competitors.

"We knew of each other," Garcia said, "but we didn’t really know each other very well until we got to Florida."

Regardless, that didn’t stop the duo — who were born one day apart on Nov. 20 and 21, 1992 — from getting better acquainted the summer before they arrived in Gainesville.

"We trained together every day from the time school got out until we came here in the Fall," Clark said.

And that was just the beginning.

• • •

Upon arriving at UF, the two found immediate success on the terrain. Both found themselves named to the All-Southeastern Conference Freshman Team in 2011, with Clark being named SEC Freshman of the Year.

"One thing that Eddie and I and all the guys around us that came in together talked about was being able to win a team SEC championship," Clark said.

But it didn’t happen.

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At least not in 2011.

That being said, it’s noteworthy for freshmen to contribute to a second-place SEC team, and while the athletic success was definitely an accomplishment for both of them, the two began to forge a friendship that was more meaningful than any accolade could ever be.

Over the next two years, the duo found better times and more success, culminating with another second-place finish at the SEC Championships in 2013.

However, in 2014, both Clark and Garcia were noticeably absent from the Gators’ rotation, as the pair redshirted their senior seasons.

Clark and Garcia were no freshmen, and they were certainly going to see "game time."

But having sat out the 2014 track season with an injury, Clark was not in ideal form going into Fall.

"The whole summer, I was just trying to get back into respectable shape," he said.

"I didn’t wanna go out being a number three on the team or four on the team. I wanted to go out being able to contribute."

Coach Paul Spangler was receptive to the idea. Even though he knew the team was going to suffer greatly without Clark and Garcia competing for them, his eyes were on the future.

Garcia, who was not injured and could’ve used up his eligibility, was also receptive to the idea of redshirting.

"Jimmy and I came in together, and we both talked a lot about it, we thought it was in the team’s best interest," he said.

"When I talked to Eddie, he was supportive," Clark said. "He (said) ‘we came in together, we’re gonna go out together.’"

The team didn’t take their absence lightly, and they struggled mightily in 2014.

• • •

Following a 10th-place finish at the SEC Championships, the team — especially Clark and Garcia — is hoping to rebound in a big way.

"Eddie and I’s real big goal is we just wanna get the team title," Clark said. "We just wanna have team success. We want to be able to go to Nationals and have a good year. We want to go to SECs and come out with the SEC trophy."

This year, with their leadership, they perhaps have better pieces to do that than ever before.

And lead they have, according to Spangler.

"They’ve done a really good job explaining to the freshmen what our expectations are," Spangler said. "Their influence will have an effect on this team well after they graduate, which is good. They’re positive role models, positive leaders."

With a talented freshman class and Clark and Garcia at the top, this team has the potential to do special things. However, it’s also the last chance for the duo to accomplish what they’ve been gunning for since setting foot on campus back in 2011.

"It’s gonna be bittersweet," Garcia said.

"I’m gonna miss it. But I know that this year is gonna be a special year."

Clark is also aware that this is his last chance to go out on top, and he’s focused on making sure that happens.

"No matter what I long as we win that SEC team title I think that I’d conclude that as a successful year," he said.

Follow Ethan Bauer on Twitter @ebaueri

Eddie Garcia races during the 2013 Mountain Dew Invitational.

Jimmy Clark races during the 2013 Mountain Dew Invitational.

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