Coming from Harlandale High School over in San Antonio, and quite frankly, coming from a much different cultural background, offensive lineman Danny Garza wasn’t quite sure what to expect when he landed on Prairie View’s campus five years ago.

But from the start he was embraced, and that made a huge impact.

“Coming from an all Hispanic community to an all Black community was definitely a culture shock, but a great culture shock to be able to experience the Black community and to be welcomed so amazingly,” Garza said. “I’m really thankful for PV.”

It’s been an amazing collaboration for both sides.

In Garza, the Panthers have gotten an offensive lineman who came in as true freshman and started immediately and has been a stabilizing presence along the front for the last five years. Garza, meanwhile, has been able to have an experience he didn’t dare dream of as one of the most decorated football players in program history who will leave The Hill with a Bachelor’s degree and Masters’ course work completed, with an eye towards an NFL future.

Not bad for a kid who was raised in a single-parent home where finances were a struggle and who never thought he would make it this far.

“I shouldn’t be here, honestly,” said Garza, who received his Bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies last fall and has since been working on his Master’s degree in Education Administration. “So every day just having that same family encouragement and having that community from my high school in San Antonio always encouraging me, it’s always a dream come true … It’s really not a dream because I never thought I would be this far.

“But my mom always had expectations for me to be this far and my dad had the same expectations.”

Garza has surpassed those expectations by far on and off the football field. As a fifth-year starter, Garza has become a perennial All-SWAC player as the center along the Panthers’ front. He’s also an All-American, having been named to the preseason BOXTOROW HBCU All-America Team this summer.

The 6-foot-3, 280-pound Garza has been the anchor of an offensive line that has allowed the Panthers to be the No.2 passing offense in the SWAC while also allowing the fewest sacks of any league team.

Prairie View offensive line coach Damon Nivens says what sets Garza apart from most is his intelligence and his coachability.

“He is a kid who is able to learn fast. You don’t have to repeat over and over to try to get him understand the concepts, angles, numbers and landmarks,” said Nivens. “I just think him being able to be coachable and work hard at his craft and just attack each and every day like there is no tomorrow is the greatest difference.

“I just think the kid realizes this thing is just temporary, so he just keeps fighting.”

Garza’s mentality is to play and play as hard as he can and get the most out of his body while he can. That’s a major reason why he has returned to school when he could have long since moved on. But after the 2020 season was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Garza made the decision to play during the spring season and take advantage of the fifth year that the NCAA has allowed due to last season being lost.

“I always preach to all of the guys that football is something that is not always going to be around. Your body is not going to be able to do the things that it does 10 years from now, five years from now, so I want to take advantage of my body being able to compete at a high level and be able to do the things that I do,” he said. “I just love football too much to just hang up the cleats. Hopefully, I’m not done with football anytime soon, so I just want to give it everything that I have while my body can still perform at a high level.”

Garza said his immediate goal for the season is to help lead the Panthers to the SWAC Championship and the HBCU national title. He also hopes to put together the type of season that will open the doors to his greatest dream which is an NFL career.

“Working and continue to grind and playing the best football that I can put on tape,” Garza said. “Hopefully within the next six months to a year I can start talking to scouts and start talking to different teams and give myself the best opportunity to pursue the NFL and just setting myself up for life.

“And if that doesn’t work out then I have my Plan B, which is falling back on my education. But really I want to pursue my NFL dream and just represent my community, my family and PV and represent anybody who has believed in me.”

Along the way, Garza also has plans to give back to those coming behind him.

“My motivation has always been the same and that’s basically I want to influence the next Danny who is sitting in the same seat as I was as a freshman and having these big aspirations of being a student-athlete and having your school paid for and being a role model,” he said. “I just want to influence the next Danny.”

It’s all been possible because Garza took a chance and accepted a full-ride scholarship to an institution he had little knowledge of but now feels the greatest connection to.

“It’s funny because I had never heard of HBCUs, and to be honest I had never heard of Prairie View when I was in high school, so I had to do my research and had to learn about HBCUs,” said Garza, who also had partial scholarship offers to Sam Houston State, Texas A&M-Commerce and University of Texas-Permian Basin. “It was definitely my offer that I was excited about because it was an experience.

“I really had no knowledge of what an HBCU was but now being a part of it and seeing the culture and what HBCUs can provide and different opportunities that are coming with it are just super exciting. And hopefully in the future, whenever I become a teacher or principal, I can bring more light to HBCUs in San Antonio and pretty much advertise it more.”