His running mate gone, Chris Thomas suddenly was faced with much more defensive attention this season.
The Greater Atlanta Christian junior had 27 goals and 16 assists in 2007 for a Class AA/A state championship team, but entered this season without Sam Arthur, who moved on to South Carolina. Arthur, the most decorated player in Spartan soccer history, attracted the bulk of the opponent's attention and often freed up opportunities for Thomas.
Now the scoring load was squarely on the speedy Thomas, who didn't disappoint.
The forward had a school-record 40 goals, breaking Arthur's season record, and 11 assists to earn Daily Post boys player of the year honors.
"With losing Sam, we thought Chris would score goals, we just weren't sure he'd score as many as last year," GAC boys coach Thom Jacquet said. "But right from the beginning, he took over for us. He can beat you in so many ways, left foot, right foot, in the air.
"It's almost like he was unleashed without Sam."
Thomas knew this season would be different than his first two with GAC's varsity squad. He admitted he was just happy to be contributing as a freshman, when he scored 18 goals for a state runner-up team. Last year he was constantly trying to get open for Arthur, a strong player who excelled at possessing the ball and holding off defenders.
But this year Thomas did much more work with the ball, creating his own opportunities when he wasn't beating teams on fast breaks with his speed.
"I just knew I had to take on the job Sam did last year," said Thomas, who gave up basketball in ninth grade to focus on soccer. "Just being clutch all the time, knowing what to do all the time and just being the main guy on offense."
That was typically the case as GAC won the area title. Thomas scored seven of the Spartans' eight goals in the first two rounds of the state playoffs, including a huge game-winner in the closing minutes of a 4-3 win over Athens Academy in the first round. He scored all four goals in that victory.
But he scored just once in the state quarterfinals in GAC's shocking 2-1 loss at Dublin, which packed defenders into the penalty box and got a tremendous effort from its goalkeeper to ruin the Spartans' season. GAC had a huge advantage in shots on goal, but it wasn't quite enough.
The loss meant a disappointing finish for a team that was a state title favorite. Thomas had a huge individual season, but not the team goal he wanted.
"I'm glad I got all the goals I did, but my main goal is to win the state championship," Thomas said. "We're going to be ready next year. I think we'll be just as good as next year, maybe even better."
SideBar: ALL-COUNTY BOYS SOCCER
Player of the Year: Chris Thomas, GAC, Jr.
Scored school-record 40 goals and had 11 assists
Coach of the Year: Stan Carpenter, Collins Hill
Led Eagles to Class AAAAA state runner-up finish
Daniel Bullock, Parkview, Sr.
GK had 0.49 GAA, school-record 14 shutouts
Jamie Deal, Brookwood, Sr.
GK had 14 shutouts, 0.45 GAA
Joey Deloney, Brookwood, Jr.
8 goals, 9 assists
Eric Fletcher, GAC, Jr.
9 goals, 13 assists
Jesse Garbowski, Collins Hill, Sr.
GK allowed just 17 goals for state runner-up
Juan Giraldo, Collins Hill, Jr.
11 goals for state runner-up
Andrew Green, Peachtree Ridge, Jr.
13 goals, 7 assists
Kofi Gyawu, Parkview, Jr.
17 goals, 3 assists
Luis Huertas, Dacula, Soph.
23 goals, 5 assists, 8-AAAA player of year
Zack Johnson, GAC, Jr.
6 goals, 15 assists
Nicky MacKain, Collins Hill, Jr.
Sweeper for AAAAA runner-up
Carlos Antunez, Parkview, Sr.
Jon Demonbreun, Providence, Sr.
Alejandro Duque, Collins Hill, Jr.
Tyler Gutzman, North Gwinnett, Jr.
Ado Junuzovic, Dacula, Fr.
Jonny Mercado, Providence, Jr.
Alex Rhodes, Peachtree Ridge, Sr.
Jeff Rhodes, Grayson, Sr.
James Romaniw, Peachtree Ridge, Sr.
John Yang, Brookwood, Sr.
Theo Yang, Brookwood, Jr.