- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
Editor’s note: As we approach national signing day and consider the future of Georgia’s football program, we’ll also look backward into the Bulldogs’ recruiting history. Over the next few weeks, we’ll talk with several former Georgia standouts about their experiences as recruits. Today we feature wide receiver Fred Gibson, who became a star in Mark Richt’s early tenure as coach:
ATHENS, Ga. -- The late surprise in Georgia’s star-studded 2001 recruiting class, Fred Gibson came close to not joining a group that included David Pollack, D.J. Shockley, Thomas Davis, Robert Geathers and Odell Thurman.
In fact, only a flip of a coin prevented the former Ware County Gator from becoming a Florida Gator. But the coin fell Georgia’s way and Gibson went on to become one of the most prolific receivers in UGA history.
He spoke about those days as a highly-recruited prospect with DawgNation’s David Ching on Tuesday afternoon. Here are some of Gibson’s recollections of life as a recruit:
Q: What do you remember most about your experience as a recruit?
A: I didn’t know what to expect because I started playing football my 11th-grade year of high school. That’s when we had a new coach that came in and he changed the system and brought in a passing attack, so me and a lot of my friends who didn’t play football, who always played basketball, we all decided to give it a shot and play football. So my 11th-grade year, that was basically my first year playing football and we threw the ball. It was a talent I didn’t know I had. I was basically out there playing off athletic ability. But it was a crazy experience, man. It was the best experience I ever dealt with in my life and it gave me an opportunity to earn a scholarship to go to the University of Georgia.
Q: So why Georgia?
A: If you live in the state of Georgia when you are a big-time prospect in high school and real good at the sport, people here in Georgia are very loyal Georgia Bulldog fans. It’s not about Georgia Tech, it’s all about Georgia. So if you’re good at football, you go to Georgia, hands down. Everybody in my community, I didn’t even want to go to Georgia at first. My first choice was the University of Florida. I grew up watching Danny Wuerffel and that passing attack back in the day. I remember when we were watching football, we were watching the University of Florida, not the University of Georgia. As a kid, that always stuck in my mind and I had the jerseys and always loved everything about Florida.
But as I grew up more and all these crazy fans after I committed to the University of Florida, I had people sending me letters to my house telling me why I shouldn’t go there. I had people stopping by my house. So it was just a crazy experience because I really didn’t understand until I actually got to the University of Georgia and saw what everything was all about. When I got to Georgia, I didn’t know anything about the Georgia Bulldogs. Basically the reason I went to Georgia was because of the pressure, just being this young kid and everybody telling you where they think you should go. As a kid, you don’t know. You’re just a young kid -- 18 years old -- and you don’t know the situation you’re about to get into. You can go to any school in the country and you have one place -- just one -- where you go to school. That’s hard on a kid.
So at the end of the day, you have signing day and it’s like, ‘Dang!’ I woke up on signing day and I had the letter of intent from the University of Florida where they fax it to you and you’ve got to sign it and you’ve got to send it back to the school. That morning I still didn’t know what school I wanted to go to. I had no clue in the world what school I was going to go to that morning. So what I did was, I wanted to go to Florida so bad at the same time and other people wanted me to go to Georgia, and it was so much pressure that that morning I flipped a coin. If it landed on heads, I was going to Florida. If it landed on tails, I was going to Georgia. I flipped that coin and it landed on tails and so I decided Georgia and I signed a letter of intent that morning and that’s how it panned out.
Q: That’s a crazy story.
A: Most people don’t understand that that’s one of the hardest decisions I ever made in my life. ‘What school am I going to go to and play football?’ Like, ‘I don’t know, man.’ Florida, great school, close to home. University of Georgia, four-and-a-half hours away. I didn’t know. I wanted to go to Florida, but at the same time I’ve got all these crazy Georgia football fans around me everywhere I go and they’re all about Georgia and they’re pulling me. You want to make the decision by yourself, but at the end of the day, I think I let so many people pull me to go to Georgia.
It’s always going to be a win because you’re getting a full scholarship to attend a prestigious school, not only to play football, but to actually get an education and graduate. I did that at Georgia when I came back and finished up school. So it’s a win-win overall. I wouldn’t take it back. I’ve done a lot of things and accomplished a lot of things coming from my situation in Waycross, Ga., with my mom having me at a young age -- like 12 or 13 -- and not having a father figure and being raised by my grandparents and raised around a lot of women, that’s a win in itself.
2dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough