Gibson ready for final season

ATHENS — Pro athletes would call it a "contract year."

College players don't use that term much, but that's what Fred Gibson faces entering the 2004 season. Georgia's highly touted, oft-injured senior wide receiver has the body and the moves of a first-round NFL draft pick. His production, though, has been the work of a fourth- or fifth-rounder for the last two years.

He hopes to change that in the next four months as the No. 3 Bulldogs embark on a season with national championship hopes.

"In order to help the team and help himself, he needs to stay healthy and work hard," receivers coach John Eason said.

Gibson has the size that pro scouts love — 6-foot-4, 205 pounds — but his receiving yards, yards per catch and touchdowns have dropped each year in Athens.

It looked like he had turned the corner last year when he caught a 56-yard touchdown pass four plays into the season. He went on to catch three more balls for a total of 104 yards against Clemson.

"I was hoping it was going to be like that the whole season," quarterback David Greene said.

The next week, Gibson caught five passes for 81 yards against Middle Tennessee State, but he pulled his hamstring returning a late kickoff and his season tumbled from there.

He would total just 368 more yards the rest of the year to finish with 36 catches for 553 yards and six touchdowns, a far cry from a freshman season in which he averaged 23.4 yards per catch and scored six times.

Then, he looked to be on his way to All-America status.


"I just want to have one good football season," he said. "I have to go out with a bang. I just want to go out there and have a 1,000-yard season and win every game."

Gibson stayed in Athens this summer and completed all the voluntary workouts and drills with his teammates for the first time in his collegiate career, and the subject of finishing strong comes up often in his home, said roommate D.J. Shockley.

"The biggest thing he's talking about at home is this being his last year," said Shockley, the Bulldogs' backup quarterback. "I think he's stepping his game up because he knows he has to."

Fellow receiver Reggie Brown, no stranger to high expectations, said Gibson "wants to prove he's Fred Gibson."

Since his breakout freshman season, Gibson has been hampered by injuries. In 2002, he missed two games, including the Florida game, due to a thumb injury. Last season, he missed all or part of seven games due to the pulled hamstring, a sprained knee and a broken finger.

He knows there's a perception among some members of Georgia's fan base that he's not only injury prone but prone to let injuries keep him on the sidelines. The talk doesn't bother him, he said.

"I can't help what people think," he said. "People think you're Superman and you can play hurt, but you can't."

Health is the only thing standing between Gibson and a breakout season, he said. His teammates, Coach Mark Richt and Eason seem to agree.

"I expect Fred to play how he's capable of playing," Greene said. "We all know what Fred can do."

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