Makayla Garcia

Makayla Garcia recently committed to Florida International University to study and play softball. (Photo courtesy Makayla Garcia)

Makayla Garcia’s father penciled his daughter into a lineup as a catcher eight years ago. The teen has parlayed that incidental switch into a prolific softball career at Youngker High School.

After her final season in a Roughriders uniform she’ll ship off to Florida International University in the fall.

The reigning Defensive Player of the Year in the 4A Southwest Region committed to the Panthers last December.

“The coaches were super friendly and up front,” Makayla said, citing what made FIU special. “I wanted to stay in the heat since I’m used to it. I loved (the school) when I saw the campus from pictures.”

The recruiting process began when Makayla was a sophomore, thanks to a Premier Girls Fastpitch tournament that’s open to colleges and coaches.

“I got the chance to play and that’s when schools started seeing me and reaching out to me, when they saw me catch.”

A trio of schools quickly became interested in Makayla. She was fresh off a freshman season with the Youngker varsity squad that saw her bat .403 with eight extra-base hits in 22 games, according to MaxPreps.

After missing her sophomore season due to a broken foot, she led the region with six home runs in a bounce-back junior year.

The Garcias learned of Florida International University’s interest through a family acquaintance, who was asked by a coach if he knew of any catchers in the 2019 class.

“It escalated from there,” Makayla said. “That’s when I flew out to Florida and played with a team so (the coaches) could watch me in a tournament for the very first time.”

She is a catcher by trade but has also played third base. Her role at FIU is a bit of a gray area right now, she said, but she assumes she’ll be primarily catching and familiarizing herself with the pitching staff her freshman year.

Makayla is also a goalkeeper for the Roughriders girls’ soccer team. Though one college offered her a scholarship to play soccer and softball, she declined, opting to focus solely on softball post-high school.

While the news of her commitment is still just months old, Garcia’s mother, Jackie, the head softball coach at Youngker, had a hunch this was imminent.

“She started catching at 10 years old,” Jackie said. “We kind of needed her in a game and her dad made her do it. Watching how natural she was back there, we were kind of like, ‘OK, this is her spot.’”

Makayla quickly became immersed with her newfound home behind the dish.

“When she was in junior high, she would stay up and watch these YouTube videos, and these different catching videos and just kind of teaching herself different things,” she said.

“That’s when I was like, ‘OK, she’s pretty serious. This girl loves it.’ If she has this mindset right now, at 12, and she continues, then she’ll go far and play softball in college.”

So, as Jackie modestly predicted eight years ago, her daughter will be a collegiate athlete at last. Before she makes the move to Miami, Jackie and Makayla will enjoy one final ride together at Youngker.

“For my last year at Youngker, I definitely want to get Player of the Year,” Makayla said. “But, most importantly, I want to help my team and go to playoffs for the very first time. That’s my goal.”

Jackie, who’s entering her fourth season at the helm of the softball program, was nervous to coach her daughter in high school. She didn’t know if the notion of being the “coach’s kid” would probe Makayla into taking a laid-back approach to the sport.

But quite the opposite has unfolded in this near four-year stretch.

“I knew I was going to have to separate mom and coach,” Makayla said. “I feel like I had this role to prove to people that I wasn’t just playing because she’s my mom. I worked very hard and I let my playing do the talking. “It was different but something that helped me push myself even more.”

Jackie added, “It’s been a pleasure for me to be able to coach her because she is that standout athlete that, for all those years that I have been coaching, you try and pull that athlete out of someone and she really exemplifies that.”