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GWINNETT GRADS: Hamilton returns to hoops with a strong start

Special Photo Brookwood grad Nate Hamilton, after taking last season off, is enjoying a strong senior season thus far for Georgia College and State University's men's basketball team.

Special Photo Brookwood grad Nate Hamilton, after taking last season off, is enjoying a strong senior season thus far for Georgia College and State University's men's basketball team.

The joy was there again.

That is the best way to describe Nate Hamilton's feelings as he played in Georgia College and State University's Nov. 10 season opener against Palm Beach Atlantic. It was the former Brookwood standout's first real college basketball game since March 1, 2011, the last game of his junior season, and his first game since rediscovering his love of basketball.

The layoff didn't seem to affect Hamilton, who riddled the Palm Beach defense for 28 points and made 8 of 17 shots from 3-point range.

"It felt great," Hamilton said of his comeback game. "It's like riding a bike. All those old emotions, just the love of the game all came back. It's been exciting this season. It's all about us winning and getting back to the NCAA Tournament."

The 2011-12 season would have been Hamilton's last in college basketball, but he stepped away from the sport after his junior season. He continued going to school at GCSU, but no longer had basketball on his schedule.

For a year, he was just a regular student.

"College athletics, wherever you're playing, is a big-time commitment," Hamilton said. "I had a moment where I wasn't enjoying playing anymore. It wasn't fair to my teammates. I wasn't there mentally. I had to take time to figure out why I loved the game."

Although he wasn't on the team, Hamilton still kept up with his friends who were last season. He went to every GCSU home game that his work schedule didn't interfere with, and also traveled to the road games that were nearby.

One particular trip over Christmas break swayed him back to basketball. He was home in Snellville and drove up to Dahlonega for the Bobcats' game with North Georgia.

"I drove up there and the fire came back," Hamilton said. "I saw them play and I knew I wanted to come back and earn my spot. I was lucky enough that Coach (Terry) Sellers allowed me to come back."

The 6-foot-1, 180-pound guard is stronger than ever these days, both mentally and physically. He weighed 150 pounds when he graduated from Brookwood, carrying just 155 when he showed up for college.

He also relied on his best skill --his potent 3-point shooting --way too much back then. Since then, he's become a better all-around player. He's still pretty athletic, showing off the talents that made him GCSU's dunk champion two seasons ago at the Bobcats' Midnight Madness practice.

"I'm more of a complete player now," said Hamilton, who has completed work on a marketing degree, finishes a management minor in December and plans to coach after college. "I'm a lot more technically sound. I could always shoot it, but now I'm not a defensive liability anymore."

The Bobcats, 3-1 after a Wednesday night win over Clark-Atlanta, are getting the rewards of an improved Hamilton so far this season. Through three games, he averaged a team-best 17.3 points and had made 14 of 40 3-pointers (35 percent).

"We really missed having Nate on the team last season and we are glad to have him back," Sellers said. "Nate brings a lot of experience, positive energy and leadership to the team. He is one of the most outstanding shooters in the Peach Belt Conference."

FOOTBALL

Roby makes All-Big Ten teams

Peachtree Ridge grad Brad Roby, a sophomore cornerback at Ohio State, was selected to the All-Big Ten first team by both the media and the coaches this week.

Roby is tied for second nationally with 19 passes defended this season, with a school-record 17 pass breakups and a pair of interceptions. A semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, he is the only defensive player in the nation to score touchdowns three different ways this season --an interception return, a fumble recovery and a blocked punt return.

Roby, who has blocked a pair of punts, is third on the Buckeyes with 63 tackles.

Heinicke one of three Walter Payton finalists

Another huge season by Collins Hill grad Taylor Heinicke has earned the Old Dominion sophomore a shot at FCS' top award.

The quarterback is one of three finalists, along with Stony Brook's Miguel Maysonet and Wofford's Eric Breitenstein, for the Walter Payton Award, which honors the best FCS player in the country and is that level's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. The winner will be announced Dec. 17 during The Sports Network's FCS Awards Banquet.

Heinicke ranks first among FCS passers with 4,158 passing yards, 35 touchdown passes and 4,535 total yards. He has 377 rushing yards and eight more scores. He earned national acclaim Sept. 22 when he set NCAA Division I single-game records with 730 passing yards and 791 total yards in a 64-61 win over New Hampshire.

"It's the Heisman of the FCS," Heinicke said of his nomination. "That's a huge honor, very humbling and I'm very excited about it. I can't thank my family, my coaches and my trainer back home enough. All this hard work is really paying off. I was fortunate enough to run a spread offense in high school my senior year. It's one of the main reasons I came here. I felt very comfortable with this offense."

Chapple, Raymond get another honor

It was a big week of honors for former Greater Atlanta Christian standouts in the Northeast.

Harvard senior Colton Chapple, a first-team All-Ivy League selection at quarterback, and Holy Cross freshman Kalif Raymond, a first-team All-Patriot League selection last week, were both named to the New England Football Championship Subdivision All-Star Team this week.

Raymond returned 32 kickoffs for 777 yards (second in school history in both categories) and a touchdown this past season and returned 19 punts for 101 yards. He was first in the Patriot League with an average of 24.3 yards per kickoff return.

Chapple, one of two finalists for Ivy League offensive player of the year, was second nationally in passer rating (161.51) this season, threw a school-record 24 touchdown passes and broke the school mark for total offense in a season (3,169).

VOLLEYBALL

Smith earns All-SEC honors

Florida senior Betsy Smith, a Wesleyan grad, was named to the All-Southeastern Conference second team for volleyball this week.

The middle blocker is ninth in the SEC with a .338 hitting percentage and has 192 kills this season. She also averages 0.80 blocks per set.

A two-time SEC Community Service Team member, Smith is a four-time Academic All-SEC selection and also was chosen this year as a CoSIDA first-team Academic All-American.

SOCCER

Thomas a semifinalist for college's top honor

Greater Atlanta Christian's Chris Thomas, a senior forward at Elon, is one of 15 semifinalists for the Herman Trophy, the most prestigious award in college soccer.

Thomas had the most prolific season in Elon history as a senior, leading the nation in total goals (23) and points (51). He also became the program's career leader in both categories and was voted the Southern Conference player of the year for the second time in his career.

Fan voting will help determine the three finalists, with the winner being announced at a Jan. 11 banquet. To vote for Thomas, go online at http://machermanntrophy.lockerdome.com/articles/102816194.

Parkview's Mitchell an All-American

After a huge offensive season at Armstrong Atlantic, Parkview grad Morgan Mitchell was a first-team selection to the Daktronics NCAA Division II All-American Team.

The senior had 19 goals and 45 points this season, earning Peach Belt Conference and Southeast Region player of the year honors. She finishes her Armstrong career with 47 goals, second-most in school history and seventh in Peach Belt Conference history. Her 114 career points are also second-most in Armstrong history and rank sixth-most in league history.

Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via email to will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com.