A knee injury essentially wiped out the 2006 soccer season for LSU's Melissa Clarke. It also slowed her down some the following season.
But the Norcross grad is finally back to full strength, and playing better than ever for the Tigers, who were 4-1-1 going into the weekend.
Clarke, a speedy attacking midfielder, has five goals and two assists this season. She ranks among the SEC leaders in most offensive categories, tying for first in the league in points per game, goals and goals per game.
Her biggest game came last Friday with two goals and an assist in a 4-0 win over Oklahoma.
"Melissa's battled injuries off and on during her time here and she's finally healthy," Tigers head coach Brian Lee told The Daily Reveille, LSU's school newspaper. "She's as fit as she's ever been and has worked really hard over the last offseason to get ready."
Clarke made a huge impact when she arrived as an LSU freshman in 2005, earning second-team All-SEC honors. But an early-season knee injury - and surgery to repair a torn LCL and meniscus - the following year brought a medical redshirt.
She had a solid 2007 season, but last fall looked more like her old self. She had six goals and six assists in 2008, including four goals and four assists in SEC matches. That season earned her second-team All-SEC honors again.
Clarke is one of a handful of local players who are key members of SEC women's soccer teams. Here's a look at some other teams with Gwinnett grads in prominent roles:
· South Carolina
No SEC team leans more heavily on local talent than the 6-0 Gamecocks, whose starting lineup features Brookwood's Sam Diaz-Matosas. The senior has a goal and ranks among the SEC leaders with three assists.
Freshman Christine Watts, a Peachtree Ridge grad, has a goal and an assist. She has played in all six games. Fellow freshman Maria Petroni of Buford has played in three games, scoring once, while two other newcomers, Brookwood's Jocelyn Spurrier and Greater Atlanta Christian's Sammy Abrahart, have played in one game each.
The Bulldogs feature two players, Marah Falle (Parkview) and Sarah Jordan (Providence Christian), who were high-scoring Gwinnett products in high school, as well as goalkeeper Ashley Baker (Parkview). Falle has a goal and an assist for the 7-0-1 Bulldogs, while Baker hasn't allowed a goal in 41 minutes of action as a reserve.
Lizzie Hamersly, a Providence grad, has started every game for the 3-1-2 Tigers. She has one goal in her six starts.
North Gwinnett's Sam Au has scored once this season for the 2-2-2 Wildcats.
Brooks scores game-winner for Berry
The Berry College women's soccer team closed last weekend's Birmingham Southern Classic with a 1-0 win over the tournament hosts on a game-winning goal by Collins Hill grad Kristen Brooks. The sophomore reserve scored in the 32nd minute.
The tally allowed senior goalkeeper Paige Banham, a North Gwinnett grad, to record her third shutout for 3-1-1 Berry. Banham made four saves.
Berry senior starters Mary Brugh (Parkview) and Laura Phyfer (Brookwood) were named to the all-tournament team.
The starting lineup at Berry also features senior Shannon Hackett (North) and sophomore Katie O'Brien (Collins Hill). Jenna Davis of Dacula and Brooke Hoppmeyer of Mill Creek also are on the team.
Trio of Gwinnett grads excel for UAB
Alabama-Birmingham's roster features six Gwinnett products, including three major contributors.
Dacula grad Zach Lankford, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound senior, starts at tight end/H-back for the 1-1 Blazers. He has one catch for 35 yards this season.
Junior safety Justin Smartt, a Shiloh grad, has six tackles (five solos) in two games, along with a fumble recovery. Senior running back Jim Mitchell has four rushes for 21 yards and is UAB's punt returner. He returned two punts for 27 yards last week against SMU.
The Blazers' roster also features three reserve linemen - junior Logan Creel (Grayson) and freshmen Blake Bennett (Buford) and Kaycee Ike (Central Gwinnett).
Brogdon gets his kicks
Brookwood grad Wade Brogdon - a jack of all trades last season for the Broncos - is doing it again on the college level.
Brogdon missed time at defensive back with a sprained ankle, but when he returned he mentioned to the coaches that he could kick. Soon the kickoff woes were over for Carnegie Mellon (Pa.), which has made Brogdon its kickoff specialist.
Brogdon's roommate, Peachtree Ridge grad Vincent Brown, also is a starter on special teams.
Brodie helps shut down Eagles
South Dakota State dominated Georgia Southern last week in a 44-6 victory and the stingy defensive effort was led by Dacula grad Cole Brodie.
Brodie, a starting cornerback, made six tackles and didn't allow a pass of more than five yards to his receiver. He was aided by a defense that recorded nine sacks, most on Georgia Southern starting quarterback Lee Chapple, a Greater Atlanta Christian grad.
Coffey anchors powerful line
Campbellsville (Ky.) defeated favored Cumberland 38-37 last Saturday with the help of 509 total yards, including 414 yards on the ground. The offense line, featuring Collins Hill grad David Coffey, paved the way for the big effort.
Coffey, a true sophomore, is in his second season starting at center for Campbellsville. He also wrestles for the Tigers.
Martin gets on field for Jackson State
Brookwood grad Chris Martin has earned a starting spot on special teams as a true freshman at Jackson State (Miss.). The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder plays linebacker and saw his first action against Mississippi State in the opener.
Bronco grads shine at Berry
Three Brookwood grads finished among the top 15 runners at last weekend's Berry Invitational college race, led by Shorter College freshman Doug Kalmbach.
Kalmbach was sixth overall in the 8K race with a time of 26 minutes, 17 seconds. He was the top freshman runner in the event.
Berry College freshman Michael Sexton was 10th with a time of 26:43. He was second-best to Kalmbach among freshman runners.
Columbus State senior Stewart Helton was 15th in 26:54.
Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting the achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or via fax to 770-339-8081.
SideBar: IN FRONT OF THE CAMERAS
A quick look at where to watch former Gwinnett standouts in today's college football action:
Noon - California at Minnesota, ESPN
Brookwood's David Pittman (No. 9) plays wide receiver for Minnesota.
Noon - Boston College at Clemson, WUPA
Parkview's Michael Palmer (No. 86) plays tight end and Brookwood's Dawson Zimmerman (No. 96) is a punter for Clemson.
12:30 p.m. - North Texas at Alabama, WPCH
Grayson's Lorenzo Washington (No. 97) plays defensive line and Norcross' Darius Hanks (No. 15) plays wide receiver for Alabama.
3:30 p.m. - Tennessee at Florida, CBS
Buford's Omar Hunter (No. 99) plays defensive line and Buford's T.J. Pridemore (No. 45) plays fullback for Florida.
3:30 p.m. - Tulsa at Oklahoma, FSS
Dacula's Cameron Kenney (No. 6) is a wide receiver for Oklahoma.
3:30 p.m. - UAB at Troy, CSS
Dacula's Zach Lankford (No. 84) plays tight end, Grayson's Logan Creel (No. 72) plays offensive line, Buford's Blake Bennett (No. 54) plays offensive line, Central's Kaycee Ike (No. 60) plays offensive line, Grayson's Jim Mitchell (No. 40) plays running back and Shiloh's Justin Smartt (No. 26) plays defensive back for UAB.
7 p.m. - Mississippi State at Vanderbilt, FSS
For Vandy, Duluth's Kennard Reeves (No. 28) plays running back, Parkview's Greg Billinger (No. 56) plays defensive line, Collins Hill's T.J. Greenstone (No. 74) plays defensive line, Grayson's Tristan Strong (No. 24) plays linebacker and GAC's Blake Southerland (No. 35) plays linebacker.
7:30 p.m. - SE Louisiana at Ole Miss, CSS
Parkview's Julian Whitehead (No. 28) plays defensive back, Peachtree Ridge's Brandon Sanders (No. 14) plays defensive back, Buford's Melvin Harris (No. 5) plays wide receiver, Buford's Tyler King (No. 33) plays fullback and Peachtree Ridge's Trey Trip (No. 44) plays linebacker.
7:45 p.m. - Georgia at Arkansas, ESPN
For UGA, Norcross' Fred Munzenmaier (No. 48) plays fullback, GAC's Caleb King (No. 4) plays running back, Brookwood's Rennie Curran (No. 35) plays linebacker, GAC's Christian Robinson (No. 45) plays linebacker, Peachtree Ridge's Drew Butler (No. 13) is a punter, Buford's Dallas Lee (No. 64) is a center, Dacula's Jeremy Sulek (No. 11) is a wide receiver, Parkview's Jason Veal (No. 49) is a linebacker, Wesleyan's Josh Parrish (No. 55) is an offensive lineman, Parkview's Jordan Stowe (No. 92) is a kicker, Buford's Billy Johnson (No. 94) is a snapper and Brookwood's Andrew Jensen (No. 96) is a kicker.