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Shaping up: Francoeur, Gustafson prep for season with a football feel

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

DULUTH -- Tim Gustafson wishes he had one game as a college football player. A two-sport standout in football and baseball at Parkview in the early 2000s, Gustafson chose the baseball route.

While the idea of playing college football is a pipe dream, the Atlanta Braves minor league pitcher has been getting a little taste of what it's like to be a football player the last two months. Gustafson, along with fellow Parkview grad and New York Mets baseball player Jeff Francoeur, have been training at Competitive Edge Sports in Duluth.

"It makes me feel like I'm an athlete again," Gustafson said. "Some of these guys are crazy explosive and strong, so I try to feel like I can relieve high school football."

It's not hard to spot Gustafson and Francoeur at CES. The duo are the only tall, lanky guys in the building next to a bunch of football players with no necks and legs bigger than Gustafson's waist.

CES specializes in preparing college athletes for the NFL and has sent more than 900 players to the league since 1990. Gustafson and Francoeur work out regularly with defensive linemen and linebackers who are preparing for the NFL combine.

"These guys push themselves so hard," Francoeur said. "Not that baseball players don't, but it's a different kind of workout, a different kind of thing. To be in here, doing that stuff, is awesome."

Gustafson trains four days a week at CES, which includes two speed days and two resistance days for running. After about an hour running workout, he goes and lifts weights for an hour. For the last two months it wasn't uncommon for Gustafson to go through drills with UGA standouts Rennie Curran and Jeff Owens or Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Ziggy Hood.

"The intensity they work out with is pretty fun to be next to and try to keep up with them," Gustafson said. "They might not know, but I'm competing with them. Hopefully, in the end when this is all over there will be a (positive) translation to what we do on the mound and pitching. If it does, then it's worth it."

Gustafson was a standout for Georgia Tech as a pitcher. He was selected in the ninth round of the 2006 draft by the Atlanta Braves. He made his way to Class AA Mississippi last season and was 5-1 with a 2.93 ERA as the ace of the Novojoa rotation of the Mexican Pacific League. Gustafson was married in December and will report to spring training on March 9.

"If you come in here and watch five days a week these guys are getting after it," Gustafson said. "Just trying to keep up with them wears you out for the weekend. But as far as getting ready for a season, it should keep me in shape."

Francoeur has been training on and off at CES for five years. This off season, though, he started training regularly with owner Chip Smith's staff since having thumb surgery in the off season.

He's dropped 17 pounds and is down to 222 after eight weeks of working out at CES. Francoeur left for Mets spring training last week and is looking forward to his first full season in New York after being traded from Atlanta last season.

"It's a different feel. It feels like a new place because I've never been, but at the same time I had a lot of success up there," Francoeur said. "I felt comfortable and enjoyed myself. I'm in a much different place going down this year, than last year. I feel confident."

Francoeur hit .280 last year with 15 home runs and 76 RBIs. Those were improved numbers from a dismal 2008 season, but he didn't start to get his form back until being traded to the Mets. His success at the end of last season is what he hopes to continue this year for the Mets.

"Just consistency. Those three months I was there last year I was consistent. I might have a couple games where I didn't do good, but I got out of it," Francoeur said. "That's the biggest thing I want, to be consistent throughout the whole year. Hit .280, .290, .300 each month and not have my highs and lows. It should be fun there a full year."