Gibson Hard To Guard

FAYETTEVILLE -- Fred Gibson has played a lot of 1-on-1 as both a football and basketball player.

So the answer was easy when prompted for the toughest task a defender has against him.

Gibson, a smooth and super-confident 6-foot-4, 204-pound wide receiver for No. 10 Georgia, broke into a smile before replying.

"Guard me," he said.

Arkansas hasn't found a way to guard anyone in the last two games against Florida and Auburn while surrendering 65 points and 11 plays of 20 or more yards in the first half.

The task gets no easier this Saturday for homecoming when Arkansas' all-new secondary takes on its third dynamic duo in a row at receiver.

Gibson is second in receptions for the Bulldogs with 26 to teammate Reggie Brown's 27. Gibson has 352 yards and 3 TDs to Brown's 477 and 5.

The Georgia offense hasn't been as consistently explosive as prognosticators predicted when looking at a depth chart featuring two senior wideouts and a four-year starter at quarterback in David Greene.

The Bulldogs have flung it around some, but even when Greene had 5 touchdown passes in a 45-16 romp against LSU, he only had 10 completions overall.

Arkansas freshman cornerback Michael Grant, who signed with Georgia and worked out with the Bulldogs over the summer until being denied admission to the university, got a chance to go against Gibson some in 7-on-7 drills.

"He's a great athlete," Grant said. "He's got speed and he's just as good as anyone out there."

Gibson earned the love of Georgia fans after a breakout freshman season in 2001 when he had 772 yards and 6 TDs.

He set a school record with five 100-yard games and another all-time Georgia best with 201 in a game against Kentucky.

Since then, he's landed in the doghouse with the Georgia faithful as he's failed to match the production of his first year.

His numbers in touchdowns and yards have dropped each year and nagging injuries the past two seasons have led some to tag him with a "soft" label and The Sporting News to call him the "most overrated player" in the SEC.

He cashed in on coach Mark Richt's promise he could play two sports and played basketball -- his first love -- in his first two seasons, further frustrating fans and assistant coaches who wanted him more committed to football.

Gibson has even been hung out there as a poster child of what is wrong with today's college athletes after he was one of seven players to sell his Southeastern Conference Championship and Sugar Bowl rings following the 2002 season.

Bulldog fans were outraged and athletic administrators were embarrassed the players would sell the rings symbolizing the first SEC title for Georgia in 20 years.

Gibson, who calls himself "a leader, not a follower," kept it real when the story broke.

He was unapologetic about his actions and accused the administration of hypocrisy for suspending him for selling his ring while the university was selling his No. 82 jersey in its souvenir shops.

"If I can't make any money, then they shouldn't either," Gibson said at the time.

Gibson figures to make plenty of money after this season and he boldly predicted to the NFL Draft Blitz Web site he would be one of the first three receivers taken in the draft next April.

He thought Georgia's all-time leading receiver Terrance Edwards would make some cash, too, after completing his eligibility in the 2002 title season, but Edwards was passed over in the draft.

The reason? Edwards only weighed in at 170 pounds, far too light to be a durable NFL player.

Gibson always had the height of an NFL wideout, but playing basketball kept him out of the weight room and his slim frame around 190 pounds.

Gibson, who had to return the money for selling his rings to regain his eligibility, doesn't plan on giving away any cash again.

He made a commitment to workouts this offseason and has added 15 valuable pounds of muscle.

"I've figured out that football is my future so I need to concentrate on it that much more," he said. "I've also learned the importance of preparation and focus.

"I have to work at it and love it, because that's what I'll be doing for the rest of my life."

Georgia receivers coach John Eason, who coached several star wideouts at Florida State in the 1990s, said Gibson is anything but a problem child.

"He is very coachable," Eason said. "He is concerned about his performance and strives to get better. He wants to be the best that he can be, and he has great desire to play the game. Also, he takes responsibility for his actions, on and off the field."

If it wasn't for a broken thumb putting his hand in a cast in 2002 or a pulled hamstring and knee injury in 2003, Eason believes Gibson could have overtaken Edwards as the Bulldogs' all-time best.

"He is right up there with the best of them," Eason said.

Gibson said most people don't know about his work ethic or the fact he loves making kids happy and doing things for others.

Eason knows, though, and said getting to know that part of Gibson's life has made it easier to develop a relationship with him on the football field.

"When you care for someone with the character that Fred has, you just want to do the best to help him," Eason said.

Keeping confidence in himself is something Gibson has rarely had a problem with.

He scoffed at the "overrated" label, but said he "loved it" for motivation.

"When I'm healthy, I know what kind of person I am," he said. "I am a playmaker for the University of Georgia and that's what I'm gonna do."

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