TAMPA, Fla. -- Olympic 100-meter champion Justin Gatlin,
facing a track and field suspension of up to eight years for
failing a drug test last summer, is trying to launch a career in
pro football as a wide receiver with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"If [his speed] can transfer to football, you have a real
threat," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "If it can't, then it won't
Gatlin, who is participating in the Bucs' rookie minicamp this
weekend, said he last played football during his freshman year at
Tennessee. He then concentrated on track, winning the 100 meters at
the 2004 Athens Olympics and equaling the world record of Jamaica's
Asafa Powell at 9.77 seconds.
"This is where I want to be," Gatlin said. "I didn't come
here on my high horse, all mighty, and saying give me a locker and
let me do what I want to do. I'm starting from the ground up, and
that's where I want to start."
Gatlin said he worked out with Arizona and Houston. The Bucs
have been the only team to bring him in for a formal workout. The
team will decide after this weekend whether to sign Gatlin and
bring him back for the club's next minicamp.
"He won a gold medal. He wants to give this a shot, and this is
a good launching pad to see how quickly he picks it up, how natural
he is and how far he has to go," Gruden said.
Gatlin faces the suspension following a positive test for
testosterone and other steroids at the Kansas Relays last April.
His appeal is pending and he said Friday that he has not given up
hope of resuming his career as a sprinter.
In the meantime, he will try to make the transition from fastest
man in the world to football -- as Bob Hayes did more than four
decades ago. But he knows there is a lot more to making an NFL team
than being the first runner to the finish line.
"Track and field, you go out there and run, you're the fastest
guy, that's what it is, you're the fastest guy," Gatlin said. "In
football you might have the fastest go route or the sickest cuts
out there, but if you ain't what they're looking for out on this
field then take a number and get in line."