July 31, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
A lot of football players would love to be the one who gets to say “I’m going to Disney World” after winning the Super Bowl. South Carolina fifth-year senior fullback Garrison Gist hopes to someday be at Disney, working full-time. The cheerful walk-on and member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll already has his undergraduate degree in Art, and the aspiring artist/cartoonist is showing that tough guys have other passions as well.
“I always said I’d like to break-in working for Disney,” Gist said. “I’d like to work for Disney-Pixar doing animation and create those types of movies. As I went through college, I discovered how much I liked art history as well. I might like to get into the museum world first, and get into art curation and travel the world a little bit. That way I can still do some of the cartooning and other things I enjoy on the side and have the best of both worlds.”
A former lineman at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, S.C., Gist walked on to the South Carolina football team as a sophomore and has been working hard on the field, in the classroom and in the community.
Discovering His Talents
Gist’s love of drawing cartoons began in the third grade, and it evolved from tracing his favorite characters to the creation of his own original designs.
“It turned out that I could actually draw, so I just kept going with it all the way through college,” Gist said. “Growing up, I was a big Disney movie fan. So I started drawing those characters. I draw some of my own stuff, but I also like to draw things that people are familiar with to bring out some happy memories. I like the nostalgia in artwork.”
By the time he was in the eighth grade, Gist began to think of art as a career.
“That’s when I started seeing the graphic design world coming on strong,” Gist said. “So in the eighth grade, I started looking into doing some of that stuff on the computer, such as digital animation. When I got to high school, we had a magnet school that had those types of classes. I took those throughout high school and continued that through college.”
In addition to drawing Disney, Warner Brothers and other cartoon characters, Gist expanded his portfolio to creating works of art depicting historical figures, and hasn’t ruled out the concept of political cartooning. Gist earned his undergraduate degree in art studio and design in May, taking a lot of digital art courses along the way. The importance of education was instilled in him early in life.
“My mom didn’t play around,” Gist said. “When I was in middle school, my mom said I had to have A’s or B’s in order to play sports. I did well during football season. Later I wanted to run track, but I got a C in a class, and she shot me down and said I couldn’t run. So I had to sit and watch all my friends go out there and have fun. After that, I made sure that my grades were never a problem. Even now as a walk-on, I have to prove myself in everything I do.”
Even though he has his degree, Gist continues to take classes so he can complete graduate school for art history.
“I always like to give people five chances to guess my major,” Gist said. “They would never get it. When I tell them that it’s art, they think I’m joking so I have to pull up a picture or show them my Instagram page so they can see some of the stuff I do.”
While he still enjoys animated movies, Gist has also adopted some more mature artistic palates and is currently a fan of Banksy, a British graffiti artist.
“He does a lot of political paintings that always have a deeper message behind them,” Gist said. “The thing I like about him is that nobody really knows what he looks like. He is kind of mysterious. He’s like a ghost. He’ll be commissioned to do a painting somewhere in a city, and he’ll do it without anybody seeing him. One day it’s not there, and then all of the sudden his work is just there.”
There are a lot of things in life you won’t get credit for, but they’re still important, so it’s OK.
Quietly Doing His Work on the Field
Anonymity suits Gist, and it somewhat mirrors his life on the football field as a fullback.
“We do the dirty work and get out,” Gist laughed. “I like that role. You just have to tap into a different mentality to go in there and throw your body around and take some beatings and not really get any credit. There are a lot of things in life you won’t get credit for, but they’re still important, so it’s OK.”
That being said, Gist wouldn’t mind if the ball was thrown his way from time to time, but he’s still happy to create excitement off the field.
“I always liked that anonymous feeling,” Gist said. “There have been times where I have put my work in the gallery in the McMaster building on campus, and one time, there was a girl who I went to high school with standing next to me admiring it. She had no idea that I did it. Most people don’t expect me to be an artist when they see me or if they know I play football.”
Gist enjoyed a fulfilling high school football career after winning a state championship, and he was content that his playing days might be over after being cut from the team following walk-on tryouts at South Carolina his freshman year. He had become an avid powerlifter, tried out again the next year, and found a spot on the team.
“When I first made the team I was redshirted, but then a couple of the fullbacks in front of me got hurt, so I ended up playing a couple of games, including the Capital One Bowl against Wisconsin,” Gist said. “It was unfortunate that some guys got hurt, but I got a little taste of playing and wanted some more.”
Even though he’s not a well-known player, South Carolina assistant coach Everette Sands said Gist can still serve as a role model and is a good teammate.
“He’s a great guy,” Sands said. “He’s pretty conscientious. He’s probably the strongest guy on the team too. He is a really talented artist, and he does a great job in the classroom as well. When he’s with the other fullbacks, even though he’s competing with them, he does a good job of helping others understand what they’re doing.”
Gist continues to work hard and hopes to earn a scholarship and/or an opportunity to see more time on game day.
“I’m competing for a starting spot,” Gist said. “I want to compete as hard as possible and help out the team as much as I can.”
Gist admires graphic artist and 2005 South Carolina graduate, Kev Roche, who has recently done work for ESPN for various baseball broadcasts and also illustrated the children’s book #JustaChicken, which was written by former Gamecock student-athletes Preston Thorne and Langston Moore.
“He did a funny picture of shirtless Coach (Steve) Spurrier,” Gist said. “I saw that and drew that just for fun. He also drew one of my teammates, and I sort of copied that, but put my face on it and made the muscles bigger. So once some of the guys saw that, they wanted me to draw them. I’ve been trying to learn how to do caricatures because a lot of people really like those.”
If Disney called and asked him to create his own characters for a movie, he has a few ideas in mind, including some of his fellow teammates who walked on or were red-shirted the same time he arrived.
“We were on the scout team together,” Gist said. “I told them that if I ever get to the point where I can create my own characters, I would do a cartoon called ‘the red-shirts.’ My character would have to be jokester. I have to be the goofy guy.”
In addition to showing off his sense of humor, Gist is unselfish with his time when it comes to working with children through various community service efforts.
“He’s a gentle giant,” said Erica Nelson, Director of Life Skills & Community Outreach. “Half the time I’m reaching out to him, the other half, he is reaching out to me for community service. Garrison is one of my go-to guys. He has a great personality, and he gets it. On top of being a student, all of the commitments of being on the football team, and then having to juggle a job, he makes time on top of those three things to give back to the community. He’s one of my top guys for sure.”
“Community service is my thing,” Gist said. “Kids love me. I don’t know what it is. I just talk to them about the importance of school. I really enjoy doing that.”
“Most kids are going to know who someone like Pharoh Cooper is right away,” Sands said. “They might not know Garrison at first, but he’s going to get out there in the community, and he does good things.”
While he’s not exactly a starving artist, as a walk-on, Gist also has to find a way to make ends meet. He works part time and is able to juggle football, academics, and community service.
“You have to find that healthy balance,” Gist said. “I work every day during the summer. Until I can earn a scholarship, I have to make money somehow.”
While he is excited about the upcoming football season with the Gamecocks, he is also planning out his future. Despite not being an every-day player, Gist still has some football dreams, but he is setting up other goals as well.
“I’m a big Carolina Panthers fan,” Gist said. “I’d love to land a practice squad spot with them, but if I’m not doing that, I’d like to be in Charlotte working for one of the art museums. I’m looking into some internships there now.”
As for his long-term goal, Gist still has his sights set on Disney.
“Maybe I can draw the next ‘Minions’ or something like that,” Gist said with his ever-present grin. “I might draw a muscular Minion that would be based off of me.”
“He’s very talented," Nelson said. "He will do well in whatever area of work he decides to do.”
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