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January 30, 2012

Christian pursues baseball, football dreams



Ahmad Christian is trying to live his dream times two.

Already a promising redshirt freshman cornerback on the South Carolina football team, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Christian is trying to parlay his impressive baseball skills (he was drafted in the 46th round by Milwaukee in June) into a coveted spot on USC's 34-man roster for the upcoming season.

Christian faces long odds, of course, in making the Gamecocks since he wasn't around for fall practice, but he hasn't let that affect his thinking. He knew a tough battle lay ahead when he started practicing with the baseball team earlier this month as they continued preparations of the 2012 season.

"The first couple of days, I was rusty and had to knock the cobwebs off," Christian said during USC's Media Day. "I hadn't picked up a bat or ball since the draft, so it has been football from then until now. The last few days I've come here and gotten some work in. I've started to look better. Coach (Ray) Tanner has told me to just keep working and he'll find a place for (me)."

In the final two scrimmages this weekend, Christian, a highly-touted shortstop at Trinity Christian (Fla.) High School, led off for the reserve team and went 0-for-5 at the plate with a walk and stolen base. Defensively, he played right field.

"I'm a slasher and playmaker and just make things happen," Christian said when asked to describe himself as a baseball player. "My athleticism stands out. That's what got me drafted, I think. I have great hands in the infield. But I'm playing outfield for the first time in my life."

Although he understandably struggled at the plate, Christian has managed to catch the eye of Tanner, who was candid about Christian's slim chances to make the final roster. The odds are extremely slim that Christian is still on the team on Feb. 17.

However, Christian retains a positive outlook since two weeks remain before the start of the season.

"I'm a competitor," Christian said. "I want to start. I want to be a part of something great. But I understand I just got out here and they've been playing the whole year. For now, I'm just playing and seeing where it takes me."

Christian has spoken with former Division I athletes that played major college football and baseball, including former Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker, who also grew up in Jacksonville.

"Most of them told me just to go out there and have fun with it, and don't worry where the coach puts you or whether you're starting or not," Christian said. "That would be too much to juggle. I was already committed when I spoke with Parker, but he gave me great advice on how to handle the schoolwork and traveling on the road with baseball and being gone so much."

Christian is one of 14 walk-ons competing for eight available spots. He has two more weekends of scrimmaging (six scrimmages total) to make enough of an impression upon Tanner and the other USC coaches to force his way onto the final roster, which must be set by Feb. 17.

"I really like Ahmad," Tanner said. "He's a guy that brought some energy to begin with. He's a lot of fun and he's coachable. He's behind a little bit, obviously. We're trying to get him as many at-bats as he can to see if he can make an impact. I think he's a long shot at this point, but we have two more weekends. If that guy can help me a little bit, I'm going to put him on my roster. He's got a ways to go. There's a lot of competition out here."

Even if he doesn't survive the final cut, Christian still has football to fall back on. The decision by Stephon Gilmore to declare for the NFL Draft, together with the departures of senior C.C. Whitlock and Marty Markett, has left the door open for new blood to take over in the secondary.

That's where Christian comes in. Heading into spring practice (starts March 12), rising redshirt sophomore Victor Hampton and senior Akeem Auguste are considered the favorites to lock down starting jobs because of their experience.

But Christian is close behind, and he says the coaches are expecting him to compete with Hampton for the starting job.

Because question marks surround Hampton (suspended first three games on 2011 for academic reasons) and Auguste (trying to return from s severe foot injury suffered in summer), Christian could have a legitimate chance to earn one of the starting cornerback jobs by the start of next season.

"For now, they're just doing workouts and they told me to go 100 percent at baseball and see where it takes me," Christian said. "They've already told me I'll be competing for the spot with Victor Hampton during the spring. They're just trying to figure out when practice is and traveling and what's that going to be like. I'm just waiting and doing whatever coach tells me."

When Christian arrived at USC, he thought he might be asked to contribute on special teams. But he was redshirted instead. So he spent the year watching and learning from the older players such as Gilmore.

"When I look back on it, I understand why coach (Lorenzo) Ward held me out," Christian said. "I would have only played a little bit behind Stephon and I would have wasted an entire freshman season if I had just played special teams. I wouldn't have had a problem doing that. But next year I should be a big contributor on the football field."

"I learned a lot (from watching Gilmore) as far as technique and doing certain footwork," Christian said. "Stephon and Akeem Auguste really took me under their wing when I first got here. I learned a lot from watching those two."

He hopes the knowledge and practice reps he soaked up on a daily basis in 2011 will pay dividends in the fall.

"They've already told me I'm definitely going to play next year," Christian said. "It's just a matter if I'm going to win the starting spot or not. Right now, I'm doing the best I can to juggle both sports."

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D. McCallum


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