Before Christopher Gibbs graduates next June, the Cardozo High School football player would like to have completed what he started two years ago on the football field.

It has been Gibbs' inspired play that has helped lift Cardozo football from years of futility and frustration to becoming a competitive Interhigh squad.

Before Gibbs arrived at Cardozo, the Clerks had lost 35 of 36 games, including all 10 in 1983 when they were outscored, 311-38. Simply put, Cardozo, once considered among the top athletic powers in the Washington area, fielded one of the region's worst football teams during the '83 season.

But with Gibbs -- perhaps the best linebacker in the league -- anchoring the defense, Cardozo allowed opponents less than 12 points a game last season in what was considered a rebuilding year.

Gibbs contributed to improving the Clerks attitude as well as their physical play.

"When you play for a team where everyone's attitude is negative, you have to create positive ways on the field and in practice," said Gibbs. "Then you have to hope your teammates follow in your footsteps."

Offensively, senior quarterback Andre Baylor often looks to speedy receivers Jamie Epps and Darrin Marbury. However, the Clerks need a running back -- and Gibbs may be the answer.

"We lost one of the league's best runners (Tony Epps graduated and now attends Central University)," said Cardozo second-year Coach Robert Richards. "That left us sort of weak in the backfield. But that problem may be solved."

After losing two nonleague games in which the Clerks' offense failed to move effectively and generated only six points, Richards decided to convert Gibbs, a 6-foot-1, 215 pounder, into a running back.

The move proved to a be a good one. Gibbs rushed for 90 yards and helped the Clerks rally from a 12-0 deficit to defeat Spingarn, 16-12, for its first victory of the season. Despite playing both offense and defense, Gibbs turned in his usual stellar performance at linebacker with 10 unassisted tackles and one sack of the quarterback.

"I think I tried the best I could in our first two games this season," said Gibbs, who also is the team's field goal kicker. "But we lost and good individual performances don't win games. It must be a team effort. That's why I asked to play running back. I saw areas where I could help the team improve. I've been working out harder and conditioning myself by doing a lot of running. I don't want to disappoint anyone, including myself."

"He (Gibbs) asked me after our second defeat to let him play in the backfield," said Richards. "He's that kind of athlete. He always wants to contribute. And I couldn't refuse his offer. He's done so much for this team."

Before Gibbs arrived, Cardozo players seldom could look forward to practice or games.

"We were like a classroom team (in '83)," graduate Demetrius Crawford said. "No one would come to practice. It was embarrassing. We would only suit up about 24 players in some games."

"Things turned around for us when we won our first game of the season in '84," Richards said. "And Gibbs had a lot to do with that. He's a determined player that had a lot of faith in himself and his teammates."

Against Ballou, at the start of the '84 season, Gibbs, the captain of the Clerks' defense, registered 14 unassisted tackles, three quarterback sacks and caused one fumble to help Cardozo to a 19-8 victory.

"I was determined to have a good game that day and change the players' negative attitudes to positive ones," said Gibbs. "I'm like the quarterback on defense. I have to set examples and put out 110 percent."

That game set the stage for Cardozo as it finished with its best record in nine years, 4-6.

It also paved the way for Gibbs as he finished the year with a team-high 93 unassisted tackles, 10 quarterback sacks and two interceptions. Gibbs also was responsible for 11 fumbles, three in which he recovered, and was selected to the all-league team.

"Gibbs is a fine player who has an instinct for the ball and always give 100 percent," said Richards. "He hits very hard and has excellent speed and quickness, along with a real intelligence for his position. He's never too far away from a play."

Gibbs enjoyed perhaps his best outing in a game against McKinley as he managed 18 unassisted tackles and forced three fumbles in a losing cause.

"I can't emphasize how much Gibbs meant to the team last year," said Richards, who spent seven years as an assistant at Eastern and Anacostia. "We were in a rebuilding year and the players' attitudes when I got here was negative. But those vicious hits Gibbs was making in practice and during games helped wake and motivate the other players up. He gave everyone incentive to play harder."

This fall, Gibbs is off to yet another great start. In the opener against Richmond's Armstrong-Kennedy, he had 12 unasssisted tackles and one sack. Against O'Connell, he had 14 unassisted tackles.

"The key to my performance this year is going to be how well I can pace myself," said Gibbs. "After fighting off blocks and chasing quarterbacks and running backs down, I'm going to have to be ready to go on offense. I can do it though."