Keith Gispert: the answer to a Georgia State Athletics trivia question...
A footnote in Georgia State Athletics history, it’s been an interesting ride for former Panther soccer player Keith Gispert. A Lassiter High School product, he followed his brother and originally signed with West Virginia but wound up transferring to Georgia State after that first season following a coaching change in Morgantown. What a time it was for Gispert to arrive back in Atlanta. He was among the first athletes to move into the Olympic Village, which became Georgia State housing following the 1996 summer Olympic games. On the field, Gispert registered a school record 17 assists in 1996. It’s a record that still has never been broken. In 1997, he played a key role on a Panther team that won the TAAC conference tournament title and earned an NCAA Tournament play-in bid. So, back to that footnote mentioned earlier. While Christo Bilukidi was the first Panther football player drafted in the NFL Draft (Oakland Raiders, 2012) it’s actually Gispert who was the first Georgia State athlete to ever play professional football. In 2001, following his Panther soccer career, Gispert, who had played football in high school and had been an All-Cobb County kicker for a couple of seasons, joined the Augusta Stallions of the then Arena Football League II (AFL 2). That led to an opportunity to advance to the top level Arena Football League (AFL) where he signed and played with the Chicago Rush in 2003. Not only did he make the team but he ended up earning AFL All-Rookie honors after scoring 91 points during the season. One of the highlights of his career was a game-winning overtime field goal that clinched a playoff spot for the Rush. After playing his final season with the Georgia Force in Atlanta, Gispert retired from football in 2007 and has worked in the field of medical sales. He is currently employed with Alpha Genomix. To keep things interesting Keith and his wife Sandy, in March of 2015, ventured into the business of specialty gourmet popcorn, opening Popcorn Palooza on Peachtree Parkway in Norcross. Who knew that you could make popcorn in 75-100 different flavors but that’s what they do. It’s the Baskin Robins of popcorn.
DC: What brought about your decision to transfer to Georgia State from West Virginia?
KG: In 1995, when I went to west Virginia initially the head coach of twenty-seven years there was retiring around the time of Thanksgiving. They started telling us that because of Title IX that the program may actually be cancelled. A lot of guys freaked out. They actually gave us our release to leave at that point and a lot of us went searching to find a different program. I searched around and obviously got in with Georgia State and that’s how I came to transfer.
DC: How familiar were you with Georgia State and the soccer program?
KG: Well, I grew up here and I knew Brett Teach. He was the Panther’s coach at that point. I played in high school at Lassiter High School in East Cobb so I was familiar with the program. I had some friends who had played at Walton that went to Georgia State so I was familiar with the program.
DC: You had a very good career at Georgia State. How did you wind up playing professionally in the Arena Football League?
KG: Yes, I had a pretty good career at Georgia State and I thought I was going to go play pro soccer. After you get to that level you realize that there are a lot of good players out there. I realized pro soccer was not going to happen for me at that level so I went back to my high school days and started going out there kicking and went to some open workouts for Arena football and caught on with that and was able to make it a seven year career. It was a great experience and I really enjoyed doing it.
DC: Is there one particular moment or game that stands out for you in your AFL career?
KG: I would say my first year in Chicago. It was the last game of the season and I had to make a short field goal to win the game. I made the field goal and we went on to the playoffs. It was either make the field goal and we go to the playoffs or miss the field goal and we’re out.
DC: You know you’re the answer to a trivia question. Who was the first Georgia State athlete to play pro football?
KG: I thought I was. I had some friends that had told me that and obviously you confirmed that. It was a great experience. I really enjoyed it. With regards to Georgia State, I think it’s awesome. I went to the first game when Georgia State played Shorter in the Georgia Dome and I really loved it. It’s great to see where the program is going now.
DC: Playing in the Arena League, was that a full-time job or did you have to secure other employment during the off-season?
KG: Most of us did have to have another job. We made pretty decent money especially if you’re making money for four months. It was pretty good money but most of us had to have off-season jobs. We went and did what we had to do in the off-season. It was fun for four or five months to play football and get paid money but a lot of us had to have other jobs as well.
DC: What did you major in at Georgia State and how did you wind up working in medical sales?
KG: I got my degree in Psychology. I think I had the personality to go into sales after playing football. I work for a company now called Alpha Genomix. We do pharmacogenetics testing, which is testing to see if the medication is going to work for the patient. Prior to this I came from oncology and toxicology sales so I’ve been in diagnostic sales for about nine years.
DC: Do you have any special memories, and not just athletically, about your time as a student at Georgia State?
KG: Sure. After the Olympics in 1996, about two months later, all the Georgia State athletes were able to move into what was the Olympic housing complex. It was an awesome experience going into those brand new buildings. I think it was really cool because of the comradery we had with all of the sports teams in that one facility.
DC: How much of a transition was it for you to go from Morgantown, West Virginia and come back home to Atlanta to attend and play at Georgia State?
KG: West Virginia University was not a small campus but it was a very close-knit campus. It was definitely a different experience because you had a lot more distractions being in Atlanta than there were in West Virginia. Me being from here, being from the suburbs, I actually had my parent still living here so when I was at school I could still go home on the weekends if I wanted to.
DC: So with everything that you’ve done in football and medical sales, how do you wind up getting into the gourmet popcorn business?
KG: Me and my wife Sandy, we were working a lot in medical sales and it was very demanding with regards to travel and overnight travel. There were a few popcorn stores that we went into here and some other places and I’ll never forget the day that we looked at each other and I said “I think we can do this.” At that point it was actually a good time to exit that company that both of us were with and we got this rolling about two years ago and went all-in on it and it’s been a great experience. It’s allowed me to get back into medical sales now because we have things up and running. But, a lot of people ask us that. Why popcorn? Well, everyone from age three to ninety eats popcorn. We know that the corporate side of things is good for us. We do a lot of corporate events, a lot of weddings and things like that that really make sense. It’s fun and when people come in here they enjoy it. It’s something that’s totally different with all the different flavors of popcorn and the stuff’s really good.
DC: Baskin Robins is known for having 31 flavors available each time you visit. How many flavors are available at Popcorn Palooza?
KG: 75 to 100 depending on what we have out at that time. There are some flavors that we have out seasonally.
DC: So, what is your favorite flavor?
KG: If I had to pick just one out of all of these I would have to say one called Hotlanta Con Limon. It features hot spices and cheeses with a blast of lime in there that kind of cuts through it so, for me that would be the best one.