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THE GRIND: North Forsyth's Gibson reshapes his preparation
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North Forsyth senior middie Justin Gibson wakes up every morning at 4:40 to lift weights, hoping it will keep him at peak performance this season for the Raiders. - photo by Micah Green

Justin Gibson knew he wasn’t in good enough shape last season. He was in shape, good enough to get things started as a middie on the North Forsyth boys’ lacrosse team.  But by the middle of the season, Gibson noticed his fitness was suffering.

“I just wasn’t going to the gym,” Gibson said. “I didn’t want to go after practice.”

Two months ago, Gibson made the necessary adjustment. His mother had been going to Fitness 1440, a gym 10 minutes up Georgia Highway 400, every morning at 4:40. She encouraged him to join her. It was early, but Gibson knew he had to do it if he wanted to make the most of his senior season and help the Raiders reach the state playoffs for the first time in school history.

So far, so good.

“Day and night difference” from last season, Gibson said. “I feel quicker, stronger. I feel I can run much further. I have better endurance.”

That bodes well for a North team that went 4-14 overall and just 1-7 in Area 3-AAAAAA last season for Gibson will be counted on to fill several roles for the Raiders.

An all-county selection as a middie last season when he finished with 13 goals, 59 groundballs and 26 caused turnovers, Gibson’s responsibilities are set to expand this season. He’ll be a long stick middie when North is a man down during penalties. He’ll do face-offs, play when North is a man up and stick to his usual role with the Raiders’ first middie line.

“It gets tiring,” Gibson said.

So he keeps up his early-morning regimen six days a week to keep his body ready – Monday: chest and back; Tuesday: arms and back; Wednesday: legs; Thursday: shoulders and chest; Friday: shoulders and back; Saturday: legs again; and Sunday, as for many, a day of rest.

It’s a regimen that Gibson has grown accustomed to. His story of coming to the sport of lacrosse is still the most common in Georgia: young athlete grows up playing traditional sports (for Gibson, it was football), has a friend bug him to try lacrosse and gets hooked.

Even as he struggled through the first year of learning the sport, Gibson couldn’t stay away.

“Nothing that you do with lacrosse comes naturally to you,” Gibson said. “Really, the first year almost it’s pretty bad. Your self-confidence is pretty far down. And then you just build on it more and more.”

Football? He burned out on it.

Lacrosse? No amount of games or practices or showcase tournaments could discourage him.

He’s played on travel teams every season, has taken take trips for tournaments as far north at Hersey, Pa., as far south as Orlando. He comes home after most practices and watches video of North’s games, taking notes on defensive breakdowns or holes in the offense that he can talk about with second-year coach Don Hilton the next day.

“I guess I’m blessed,” Gibson said. “I’ve never burned out of [lacrosse]. I don’t know what it is. I got burned out on football. I got burned out with every other sport I played. But lacrosse is different.”

Gibson and the Raiders hope this season can be different, that with Gibson contributing more on defense North can improve on its 16 goals-allowed per game last season.

After two months of devoted fitness, Gibson is ready.

“I need to be more of a leader on and off the field,” Gibson said. “A bunch of underclassmen are going to be looking to me to set an example on and off the field, and I need to be more impactful as a playmaker as well as on the defensive end.”