Marcos Garcia understands the question because he gets it all the time.
Why is he so determined to keep playing soccer?
He had one Division I offer after high school. It didn't work out there. He went after professional opportunities in Mexico. It didn't work out there, either. Then he tried the same route in Honduras.
You can probably guess how that worked out.
But the New Oxford grad is still playing the sport — now in central Pennsylvania. He recently signed a contract with the Harrisburg Heat, a professional indoor team that competes against squads in some major cities across North America in the Major Arena Soccer League.
It's not the MLS or European soccer and it doesn't provide life-changing or even life-sustaining money. But it's still a professional opportunity.
But that's only part of why Garcia has stuck with the sport.
"Soccer is what I've know my whole life," the 24-year-old Garcia said. "You can't stop chasing what you really want in life. It's about what makes you happy and at the end of the day this sport is what makes me happy."
Soccer might make Garcia happy, but it has not come easy for him. There have been canceled contracts, constant travel and sometimes poor living conditions during his journey.
He tried out for nine professional teams before he signed the contract with Harrisburg.
He still faces obstacles with his current opportunity. He has yet to debut for the Heat and played his first games on loan with the organization's lower-division affiliate in Philadelphia.
But what he's learned from those challenges is what he finds most rewarding.
"They say sports teaches you a lot of things and it did teach me a lot of lessons," he said. "The biggest thing is perseverance."
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'It's not as easy for guys like us'
Every time he's at a crossroad, Garcia thinks back to something California University of Pennsylvania women's coach Pete Curtis told him years ago.
"He said: 'I've seen players better than you not get the contract, and I've seen players worse than you get the contract,'" Garcia said. "That when I finally understood how circumstantial the industry is.
"That always echoed in my mind no matter where I was at and what team I was with."
Garcia was a star defender at New Oxford High School. The 2016 graduate chose a scholarship to NCAA Division I Robert Morris over Division II PSAC schools Millersville and Shippensburg. At the time, New Oxford coach Andrew Dellinger called him "the type of talent who comes around once every 10 years or so."
But he found the same reality that many high school stars face at the Division I level. After appearing in just two games in two years, he transferred to Cal U. He was a two-year starter and was named All-PSAC his senior season.
"I took the gamble to move to another level where I could actually play and develop," Garcia said. "I took that risk. It played with my confidence a bit, but I could finally showcase what I could do."
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While at Cal U, Garcia was already trying to plant the seeds of his professional career. The son of Mexican immigrants (he was born outside Gettysburg), Garcia spent his winter breaks training in Mexico with a professional team associated with the University of Guadalajara.
In the summer, he trained with the MLS's D.C. United U-23 academy team after using a connection with former Gettysburg High School star Adam Yingling to earn a tryout.
He occasionally got to practice with D.C. United's professional team, which rebuilt the confidence he lost after transferring.
"That helped me realize it might not have worked out the way I wanted in college, but now I'm defending guys on their own national teams," he said. "It was privilege. I was a kid from a small town in the Hanover area, and it's not as easy for guys like us as those already in the pipeline."
'Nothing seemed to be working out'
As a kid, Garcia would visit relatives in Mexico with his family. It was considered a vacation, but having a pot of beans for dinner was a typical meal. The opportunity to buy meat was rare.
Those experiences prepared him for some of the challenges of trying to make it as a pro soccer player in the country.
"College facilities (in the U.S.) are a blessing compared to what professional standards are down there," Garcia said. "In Mexico, there are times you are stuck without water. Things that we take for granted here. It's a very humble environment.
"I don't think everybody would put themselves in these situations so easily. But us as soccer players, those are the sacrifices we make in the hope something works out."
But not much worked out for Garcia in 2020 or 2021.
After graduating in December 2019, he tried to start his career in Mexico for the team he trained with in college. The pandemic delayed those plans, and he returned to Adams County to work with his father pruning trees in the Biglerville area.
Garcia returned to Mexico in the summer and spent five months that year training to play professionally. Despite signing a contract, an issue processing his work visa and international transfer certificate by the league's deadline prevented him from playing.
He said the same issue happened this past August with an opportunity he found in Honduras.
Between those gigs, he tried out for a number of lower-level professional teams in the United State but wasn't signed.
Outside of the contract issues, there are a number of obstacles players like Garcia face when trying to jumpstart their careers. One of his former RMU teammates, Noah Elamin, also tried to play professionally before moving on to other endeavours.
Elamin said it's difficult for players from smaller colleges to stand out at pro tryouts — which can be overcrowded and expensive to attend.
"Every trial was a one or two day opportunity with 80-plus people," Elamin said. "After a couple failed trials I was thinking, “everything is good, I’ll make the next one." But after three or four failed trials you really begin to question yourself.
"Marcos and I talked about these issues many times and we had very similar thoughts. When those trials don't work out it feels as if you wasted your time and money."
After returning from Honduras this fall, Garcia finally considered that it might be time to "hang up the boots."
"At my age, I was like, 'This might be it for me,'" he said. "I've tried and I've tried and nothing seemed to be working out. It was a big blow."
A final 'rematch'
Garcia's favorite Spanish phrase translates to "You'll always have a rematch."
He's thought about it throughout his soccer career. And he thought about it again when he was extended a tryout with the Harrisburg Heat by head coach Pat Healey. Garcia said he was always aware of the club since a number of his youth coaches played for the team.
"That can be related to life," Garcia said. "You always get second chances. You always get rematches.
"It's just up to you to take advantage."
The Heat play at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex. The Major Arena Soccer League plays a 6-on-6 version of the game and runs from December through April. There are 28 players on the Heat's roster (including former West York goalie Darian McCauley), which is why some players get sent on loan to affiliates.
Regardless, he has a three-year contract that he says should grow in value over the duration but will need to be supplemented with other income.
He commutes from his family's home in New Oxford to Harrisburg.
"Obviously I'm conscious I'm not going to make a living off of it," he said. "But I think there is always a balance you can find to everything."
He said he still has hopes of "climbing the ladder" and playing professionally for an outdoor league at some point.
A sports management major in college, he's looking to get into coaching and thinks that could be his future. He's also interested in teaching Spanish.
He doesn't regret the path he's taken — even if it's often been difficult.
"I spent two years trying to search for this," he said. "I can't really complain. I think I'm fortunate to live those different experiences."
Matt Allibone is a sports reporter for GameTimePA. He can be reached at 717-881-8221, email@example.com or on Twitter at @bad2theallibone.
This article originally appeared on York Daily Record: New Oxford grad Marcos Garcia living soccer dream with Harrisburg Heat