ARCOLA — Shortly after Arcola hired Nick Lindsey to become its next football coach in the winter of 2017, he attended a Purple Riders' boys' basketball game.
Where he saw Hugo Garza for the first time.
"It was a JV game, but there was this kid that was big and moved pretty well," Lindsey said. "I pulled out the roster, and he's a freshman."
That made Lindsey perk up. Even more so when he learned Garza played football.
Nearly two years later, the 6-foot-2, 275-pound junior anchors the Arcola offensive line heading into today's 7 p.m. kickoff at rival Tuscola.
"He brings an attitude to the line," Arcola senior right tackle Myles Roberts said. "He definitely helps us out."
Garza is a two-way starter for the Purple Riders (1-0) and will need to play at his best if Arcola wants to come away with a win against Tuscola (1-0) in the first Cola Wars regular season game since 2006.
"It's definitely a big game for us," Garza said. "We've been talking about it all summer. We knew we had to get past Week 1 first and then start getting ready for them."
A lineman since he first started playing football in fourth grade, Garza's quick feet and strength make him a key asset at left tackle on offense and at defensive tackle, where he helped the Purple Riders shut out South Beloit 42-0 last Saturday.
"I've known him since elementary school," Roberts said. "He's always been a quiet kid, but he's become a bit more outgoing as he's grown up. He's become more of a leader."
Self-described as laid-back away from the football field, a different Garza will show up once he straps on his shoulder pads and the Friday night lights turn on.
"This past year, he's developed a mentality of getting a little bit of nasty in him," Lindsey said. "He's a physical kid, who has some ability to move and he bends well. He's just an overall good lineman."
Clearing paths for running back Austin Hopkins and giving quarterback Beau Jones time to throw are his primary concerns when he's on offense. Defensively, he'll try to limit a potent Tuscola offense that won 57-0 at Villa Grove/Heritage last Friday.
And he's more than eager to take part in the latest edition of the Cola Wars.
"I just feel like the atmosphere is going to be great," Garza said. "It's definitely going to be a good game. I can't wait."