Gibson goes to the mat for two-sport obligation

ATHENS, Ga. - <b>Fred Gibson</b> wants to play basketball because it was his first love. But Gibson also wants to be a team player in football, and this winter to make that point he is having to put in some extra-long days as he experiences the infamous mat drills with his football teammates for the first time.

"I tell you one thing, it's one of the hardest things I've done since I've been here,'' Fred Gibson said this week. "I didn't know what I was getting myself into. All the boys I hang with were telling how tough it is.''

Now Gibson knows first-hand the grind of the 5:45 a.m. drills from which came the team's "Finish the Drill'' mantra - as well as the rewards in conditioning and teamwork - that helped produce the 2002 Southeastern Conference championship.

As a freshman, Gibson joined Coach Jim Harrick's basketball team after the football season. Gibson made a surprising impact for a player who had missed preseason practice and more than a month of the season.

With the addition of Damien Wilkins to Harrick's playing rotation this season, however, Gibson's playing time has been extremely limited. He has appeared in only two of the first 11 SEC games for No. 22 Georgia (15-7 overall, 7-4 SEC), which plays host to South Carolina Saturday at 2 p.m. Harrick and football coach Mark Richt have stuck by the promises made to Gibson and Quentin Moses in recruiting that they would have the opportunity to play two sports. But because neither is a regular part of this year's playing rotation, Richt said he felt it was important that Gibson add the mat drills to his winter schedule this year.

Similarly, receiver Reggie Brown also is going through mat drills while running on the Georgia track team this winter. The three football players are excused from mat drills when there are conflicts with travel, a game or a meet.

"We don't want to do anything that would keep those guys from performing at their peak with the teams they're involved with, but because Fred and Quentin aren't really playing a lot, I felt it was important for them to do our mat drills,'' Richt said. "If their minutes were significant, they wouldn't do any mats at all.''

Added Richt of the change in Gibson's schedule from last winter: "Fred had more minutes last year. He was playing. If Fred begins to play more, we'll pull him out of it.''

Richt and Harrick conferred on the schedule for mat drills. Said Harrick: "I want to cooperate with (Richt), but I want to give the players a chance, too, because I promised both of them they could play basketball. We want to keep our promise.''

Gibson says he wishes he could be playing more minutes in basketball, but not because he wants to miss mat drills.

"I just want to do what everybody else (on the football team) is doing,'' Gibson said. "I don't want Coach Richt and the other coaches to think I'm not thinking about football. I didn't play basketball just to miss mat drills.''

Gibson says "my whole week is full'' with mat drills, school and basketball practice. "I don't even have time for girls,'' he said with a laugh. Gibson also is spending time in the weight room with his basketball teammates.

The 6-foot-4 Gibson was an all-state pick in basketball. Even so, he says he knows his future after school is in football. With additional upper-body strength, he could be a first-round pick, but to build that strength he will need to make a full-time commitment to football.

"This will be my last year playing basketball,'' Gibson said.

Next winter will be spent as a full-time participant in the football offseason program - mat drills and weight-room work.

For this year, however, Gibson apparently won't be available for spring football practice. He returned for the end of spring drills last year, but the basketball postseason schedule runs a week later than normal this year. Georgia's spring football schedule begins March 1 and ends with the April 5 G-Day. The NCAA tournament begins March 20 and the Final Four is scheduled for April 5-7.

"I haven't talked with (Richt) about (spring football),'' Gibson said. "The only thing he told me was to do mat drills.''

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