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February 17, 2012

Christian turns focus back to football



Ahmad Christian's unsuccessful attempt to earn a spot on the 2012 South Carolina baseball team means that he will be expected to give football his undivided attention this spring.

Christian, who will be a redshirt freshman cornerback in 2012, was one of the final cuts made by USC coach Ray Tanner in order to reduce the roster to the maximum of 34 players prior to today's season-opener (3 p.m) against VMI at sold-out Carolina Stadium.

When told by GamecockCentral.com that Christian had not made the final roster, USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward quickly replied, "He will definitely be at football."

Christian is expected to battle senior Akeem Auguste (who will sit out most of the spring as a precaution after suffering a foot injury last fall) and redshirt sophomore Jimmy Legree for a spot on the depth chart at field cornerback when spring practice opens on March 12.

"I've seen Ahmad do some things on the scout team during the bowl preparation that I really like," Ward said. "I think he is going to be a really good player for us. He will definitely practice football in the spring because he will be an everyday player."

Thus, even though Christian has been placed on the baseball development squad, he likely won't be spending much time at Carolina Stadium working out on his own once spring practice starts in 24 days.

However, he could theoretically return to the baseball program after the April 14 spring game.

Christian, a standout baseball player at Trinity Christian (Fla.) High School and a 46th-round draft pick by Milwaukee last summer, left a favorable impression upon his coaches and teammates with his valiant effort to make the squad.

Because of his commitment to football, Christian didn't join the baseball program until the spring semester got underway. He knew his chances of making the team as an infielder were remote, but he nearly pulled it off by exhibiting rapid improvement during his five-week stay with the Gamecocks.

"He was an inspiration to our team in the preseason, he really was," Tanner said. "I don't think many of our players knew he played football. He showed up here after the bowl game and jumped right in there. He really scuffled early on, but we knew he was a drafted guy so there was some ability there. But every day, he got better."

Even though he joined the program late, Tanner said his teammates quickly found favor with Christian's work ethic, one molded after seven long months with the football program, and his impressive skills.

Christian represented the USA in an international baseball competition in Japan during the summer of 2010 prior to his senior year in high school. He was a versatile athlete, rushing for over 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns for Trinity Christian, including a 99-yard jaunt, the longest in Florida state championship game history.

"He was embraced by his teammates. He improved," Tanner said. "He loved being here and he was here all hours of the night working. We weren't able to keep him on the roster. It's hard to come in not knowing anybody and become admired so much by his teammates in such a short period of time."

Christian was the final player Tanner spoke with on Wednesday, and the coach described the meeting in emotional terms.

"It was a hard one. He was the last guy I met with yesterday, and that was difficult," Tanner said. "He just absolutely grew on me. I hated not having him on the roster come (today). His future is bright. I know he has a chance to break through in football and be a starter next year.

"I hope he can. He certainly has all the intangibles and he displayed why he was over here with us. I hope he has the opportunity to play baseball on a full-time basis. He just kept developing. His at-bats were much better and he could play a little bit of defense, too. He could run and steal a base. He can do some things."

How strong of a connection was Christian able to make with the rest of the baseball team? Very.

Usually batting first in the order for the reserves team, Christian belted a homer into the left-field bleachers against Matt Price to lead off the Feb. 4 scrimmage.

Tanner said he was frequently asked on Wednesday by other players if Christian would make the final roster. Unfortunately, the numbers crunch mandated by NCAA rules prevented him from playing baseball.

"Probably the most often-asked question I got yesterday from other players was, 'Are we keeping Ahmad?,'" Tanner said. "By the end of the day, that was wearing on me a little bit. The older players were coming up to me and saying we had to keep this guy. It was difficult. He's a special young man."

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D. McCallum


South Carolina NEWS

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