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Though politics rarely surfaced on the muddy field when Mr. Gibbs was a goalkeeper in the early 1990s, North Carolina State soccer coach George Tarantini remembered his player as competitive, having “very strong opinions.”

Mr. Tarantini said the new job isn’t so different from being a goalie: “The guy who blocks the others is not always celebrated. It’s the guy who scores the goals who takes all the glory.”

“I wish him a lot of luck - I know he’ll have to make a lot of saves,” the coach said.

So far, Mr. Gibbs has shown he’s unafraid of engaging political enemies, earning Internet fame for clashing with Fox News’ Sean Hannity in the fall.

More recently, Mr. Gibbs poked fun at conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh during one of his briefings, and after being told the radio giant was live on the air at that moment, quipped: “Tell him I said, ‘Hi.’ ”

On Mr. Obama’s third day in office, Mr. Gibbs peeked into the press room a few hours after giving his maiden briefing. “Someone wanted to come see you,” he said, stepping aside to reveal the president, who wanted to thank reporters “for not just completely ripping up Gibbs.”

The president said he gave the press secretary a congratulatory fist bump when the briefing was over.

“He works harder than the rest of us. I haven’t gotten here one day when he hasn’t been here already,” Mr. Burton said of his boss.

Actually, Mr. Gibbs wakes up in his Alexandria home at 4 a.m. and is in place getting policy briefings by 5:45 a.m.

He’s noticed he is losing weight because he often eats just one meal a day: lunch after the daily briefing.

Family man

His mom, Nancy Gibbs, told the Auburn Villager last year that her son may have developed a political interest when she dragged him to her volunteer sessions at the League of Women Voters.

Perhaps the interest in politics is inherited.

Anyone who has spent time with Mr. Gibbs knows how to spark a gleam in his eyes - conversations about his son, Ethan.

Ethan, 5, sometimes was spotted on the trail and bragged he had fun last year when the Obama family baby-sat him during their vacation in Hawaii.

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