Christian to balance two sports in spring
While it was assumed before the start of preseason practice, Chad Holbrook made it official during the last preseason scrimmage, and then again on Monday. Football player Ahmad Christian (as well as Shon Carson) will be a part of No. 7 South Carolina's final 35-man roster when the 2013 season begins on Friday.
"I've been tickled to death with how Ahmad has played," Holbrook said on Sunday. "He's probably one of our toughest outs. He's going to get in there and he's going to play."
Now comes the balancing act. How will Holbrook, football coach Steve Spurrier and Christian juggle playing a 56-game regular-season baseball schedule with the spring football session?
While a date hasn't been announced yet, spring football is expected to start the first full week of March (March 3-9), and end with the April 13 Garnet and Black spring game. USC will finish its annual three-game baseball series against Clemson on March 3, then begin a stretch of seven non-conference games before SEC play begins on March 15 at Missouri.
Spurrier and Holbrook have been quiet about the particulars of how Christian will balance the two sports, only saying that they are confident it will work out. Spurrier has said that as long as Christian is playing, he's fine to miss football practice. If he's sitting on the bench, then he needs to be over playing football.
From what Holbrook has said, Christian will play, although it may not be every day, at least during the first few games. He has impressed with his hitting and while an infielder by trade, he has grown into an outfield role so that his playing time can increase. If the season began today, Christian likely wouldn't start but would be considered the fourth outfielder behind Tanner English, Graham Saiko and TJ Costen.
The schedule will be easy to handle for the first three weeks of the season. Then the decisions will have to be made.
USC has two midweek games (Tuesday and Wednesday) before the Rider series on March 8-10, then two more midweek games the next week before the Missouri series. The rest of March is just one midweek game per week and two more SEC series, each at home.
In April, the Gamecocks have two midweek games to start the month, then travel to Tennessee for a series. After that comes an April 9 game hosting The Citadel, and a three-game trip to Florida on April 11-13, coinciding with the spring game.
It seems likely that Christian will miss the spring game since the Florida series will be one of the more crucial of the season, but missing the actual game isn't any huge deal toward hindering his development as a football player if he can get a lot of reps during the other practices. Christian, a cornerback, is considered one of the team's top backups behind Jimmy Legree and Victor Hampton and said before preseason practice started that he was looking forward to playing both sports in the spring.
"I have to talk to coach (Grady) Brown and coach (Lorenzo) Ward about it, but I know for sure I'll be playing spring football," Christian said. "It'll be a hard task juggling both, but I'll find a way to do it."
Christian balanced both in the fall as well, going to Carolina Stadium every chance he got to take swings in the batting cage. He had plenty of get-up-and-go in which to do so, considering Holbrook has never been quiet about his regret of not adding Christian to the team last year.
"It's a lot of motivation, especially with coach Holbrook and coach (Ray) Tanner texting me and saying they wish they could have kept me," Christian said. "They just told me to keep on working hard and next year, they would find a place for me. I kept being motivated, but at the same time, I was trying to prove myself at football, too. It was juggling both motivations, having both coaches behind you."
Christian was good during the fall and better during the spring. Good enough to be picked in the 46th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball draft out of high school, Christian made it clear that he was going to play football, but the scouts also knew that if he wanted to try baseball full-time, he had enough raw talent to succeed.
Holbrook saw it during spring tryouts before the 2012 season, despite only three weeks' worth of work. He liked Christian's bat and he saw how his defense was certainly solid enough to get on the field, but he just didn't have a spot for him after several other walk-ons had been there throughout the fall while Christian was on the football team.
This year, he has his man. It's worth the headache of scheduling games and practices for both sports in order to keep Christian.
"Shon and Ahmad haven't played much outfield in the last couple of years, so they're learning that," Holbrook said. "They will. Good athletes get better at that really quick. I expect them to do that."