By his own admission, Chris Thomas wasn't himself last season.
A knee injury at the end of his sophomore year didn't help matters, but he knows that wasn't the only issue.
"I hate to put it all on my knee injury," the Greater Atlanta Christian grad said. "I wasn't working hard to get on the field. I wasn't getting in shape, getting fit. I needed to get my leg strength back in the weight room and I didn't do that. Last year, I wasn't really in shape."
It's safe to say Thomas is back now.
The Elon University (N.C.) senior, bolstered by an offseason of hard work, is once again among the top Division I soccer players in the country and is in the middle of his best college season.
Thomas ranks first among NCAA Division I players in goals per game (1.27) and goals (a school-record 20) and is second nationally in points per game (2.87). The two-time Daily Post player of the year --he scored 143 prep goals, including 53 his senior season, at GAC --couldn't be happier with the current season, especially after a disappointing junior season that saw him start just 10 of the 22 matches he played.
He's back to the form of his first two college seasons, when he was Southern Conference freshman of the year in 2009 and player of the year in 2010.
"This season's been unbelievable," Thomas said. "Everything's just mixing well for this team. We're playing great. We've beat some ranked teams. Everything's just going great."
Thomas scored his 50th career goal --he was already beyond the previous school record of 46 --on Tuesday and sits just three points from another school record of 110. His latest score came in the 16th minute as Elon defeated 13th-ranked Wake Forest 1-0. He also hit the post in the 57th minute.
Elon (11-4-1) is now 4-1 this season against ranked teams, bolstering its case for a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
"We just got tired of what we've been doing the last three years and losing close matches to these ranked teams," Thomas said. "We tied Duke and beat Wake and Clemson last year, so last year let us know that we could beat anyone we played against."
Thomas' personal stock is rising, too.
Leading the nation in scoring tends to open pro soccer opportunities and he has heard positive reviews regarding the Major League Soccer Draft. He plans to pursue pro soccer at some level when he graduates in December.
"It's definitely a goal to play pro soccer," Thomas said. "I would love to have a shot anywhere in the future. My coach said the scouts are saying good things. But my main thing is staying focused on this season, getting to the national tournament and then hopefully things after the season will work out."
Another Gwinnett grad who played soccer at Elon, Norcross' Steven Kinney, already has made the jump to MLS.
"I am not surprised that Chris is doing so well at the college level," GAC boys soccer coach Thom Jacquet said. "He wasn't a player who piled up stats against weaker opponents. He scored against everyone. He just had a knack for finding a way to put the ball in the back of the net. He had no real weaknesses as forward. I can watch highlights on the Elon Website and it is the same old Chris Thomas. I think he has a very good chance of being drafted in January."
Pascutti's clutch goal brings title
Down a player and on the road in overtime, Armstrong Atlantic got a game-winning goal from Parkview grad and reigning Peach Belt Conference player of the year Kristina Pascutti for a 3-2 win over Flagler that locked up the regular-season conference title.
It was the second goal of the match for Pascutti. The Pirates (14-1-1), ranked second nationally, also extended their school-record winning streak to 14 games.
Nelson, Chapple key figures as Princeton shocks Harvard
Though Harvard's 14-game winning streak was stopped by Princeton's amazing comeback last Saturday, Crimson quarterback Colton Chapple had a huge game. And fellow Greater Atlanta Christian grad Lavondre Nelson played a major role in Princeton's stunning comeback for a 39-34 victory.
Chapple threw for a school-record 448 yards and tied his own school mark with five touchdown passes, giving his team a big lead.
But Princeton scored 29 fourth-quarter points and shocked Harvard with a game-winning TD pass with 13 seconds left. Nelson made a pair of key plays in the fourth-quarter rally with a 7-yard TD catch and a punt block that set up another score.
Parkview runners shine at SEC meet
Georgia's men finished second Friday in the SEC Cross Country Championships with the help of several Parkview grads.
Leading the way was former Panther Brian Detweiler, a senior who was 16th on the 8K course in 24 minutes, 21.36 seconds. Two other Parkview grads placed highly for UGA -- Brett Richardson was 20th (24:29.94) and Steven Spevacek was 52nd (25:27.88), earning All-SEC Freshman Team honors. Spevacek was seventh among freshman runners at the meet.
For the UGA women, North Gwinnett's Nicole DiMercurio (21:36.96 on the 6K course) was a career-best 38th. Teammates Sarah Perry of Brookwood (92nd, 22:42.13) and Erika Ramsey of Wesleyan (93rd, 22:45.39) also were in the top 100.
McFall leads locals in Peach Belt
Parkview grad Ryan McFall was a second-team all-conference selection and his Columbus State team won the Peach Belt Conference Championships last weekend. McFall was 14th in the 8K race with a time of 26 minutes, 35 seconds, nearly a minute faster than his previous season best.
The Augusta State men finished second in the meet behind Gwinnett products Shane Huckeba of Mill Creek (24th, 27:19), Matt Johnson of Buford (25th, 27:22), Jordan Herbert of Norcross (30th, 27:37) and Adam Aldridge of Dacula (43rd, 28:35).
Coleman sixth at conference meet
Shiloh grad Donye Coleman, a junior runner at Xavier (La.), placed sixth in the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference cross country championships last weekend.
Coleman ran the 5K course in a career-best time of 20 minutes, 42.52 seconds. She earned All-GCAC honors for the third straight season and helped Xavier win the team title.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.