Special Photo: Joshua McCoy North Gwinnett grad Nick Jones is a standout pitcher and hitter for Chattahoochee Valley Community College.
Nick Jones' longtime goal, a chance to play professional baseball, nearly happened for him after he finished his senior season at North Gwinnett.
A strong left-handed hitter, he heard promising things from scouts with one major drawback --his frame.
Jones, who stands 6-foot-6, weighed a high of 258 pounds after his North playing career finished. He signed with Valdosta State, but nothing happened for him in the draft.
"In high school, I had a pretty good opportunity to get drafted," said Jones, now a sophomore on the successful Chattahoochee Valley Community College (Ala.) baseball team. "I felt like the one reason I didn't get it was because of my body. I eventually realized that if I wanted to reach my goal of getting a chance to play professional baseball, I had to do something about it."
Jones did just that and it's paid off with a breakout season at CVCC (36-7), a longtime junior college power that was ranked No. 1 nationally earlier this season.
Now at 220 pounds after extensive workouts, including CrossFit training, the left-handed pitcher and first baseman has developed into one of the nation's top JUCO players.
"Nick was just OK his freshman year," CVCC head coach Adam Thomas told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer last week. "But ever since then, he's been a man on a mission. He had a good summer season and fall and he turned into the straw that stirs the drink for us."
Jones hit just .264 with three home runs, 20 RBIs and seven doubles in 20 games last year as a CVCC freshman, but has taken it to another level this season.
He has a .433 batting average with six homers, 45 RBIs, 15 doubles and two triples. He has a .695 slugging percentage and a .542 on-base percentage.
"I've been putting in time on and off the field," said Jones, who spent last summer playing with the local Atlanta Crackers. "Before practice, hitting and lifting. My life consists of school, baseball and sleep."
Always known more as a slugging first baseman, Jones' best shot at the next level may be as a pitcher, a bigger focus of late. He has dropped to a side-arm delivery, developing into a tall, intimidating lefty.
He is 3-0 in 13 appearances this season with a 2.31 ERA. He has a whopping 33 strikeouts to only two walks in 23 innings.
"Even if I'm not on (pro scouts') radars right now, if I maintain these numbers, they have to take a look."
Jones also recently made a decision on a four-year college, choosing the new program at Georgia Gwinnett College.
"I like that, A, it's 25 minutes from the house, and B, with the players there and the players coming in, I really think they will be a contender for the NAIA World Series next year," Jones said of GGC. "I like Coach (Brad) Stromdahl a lot. I like the facilities, they're top-notch. The school is growing a lot. It just seemed like the perfect fit for me."
Herbert named SAC player of the year
Greater Atlanta Christian grad Emee Herbert is finishing her Tusculum College (Tenn.) career in a great way, earning South Atlantic Conference player of the year and a first-team all-conference honors this season.
Herbert, a sophomore who will transfer to Coastal Carolina to play in the fall, has a 75.77 scoring average this season, which is on track to break the school record of 76.71, a mark she set as a freshman.
She has finished in the top 20 in six of her seven events this season, including four top-five finishes.
Rajek helps team to conference title
Jackie Rajek of Collins Hill helped her Florida Southern golf team to a breakthrough title in the loaded Sunshine State Conference Championships, which featured five teams in the NCAA Division II top 10.
Florida Southern won a one-hole playoff with No. 1-ranked Nova Southeastern, which has won the past four NCAA titles and had won the previous three conference titles.
Rajek tied for 11th, highlighted by a second-round 72 that helped FSC turn a 10-shot deficit to Nova into a six-stroke lead going into the final round. She shot 77 in the first round and 81 in the final round.
Marksberry gets All-Independent honors
Collins Hill grad Carly Marksberry, a Newberry (S.C.) freshman, made the Division II All-Independent Women's Lacrosse Team on Thursday. She also made the all-freshman team and was named freshman of the year.
Marksberry had 26 goals and 20 assists along with 23 ground balls, six draw controls and 12 caused turnovers. She ranks 54th nationally in total points and 28th nationally in assists.
Franklin named to All-Independent team
Young Harris freshman Ivey Franklin, a Mountain View grad, was selected to the Division II All-Independent Women's Lacrosse Team on Thursday. She was a second-team selection and also made the all-freshman team.
Franklin, a defender, led Young Harris with 21 caused turnovers and was third on the team with 26 ground balls. She had five draw controls and scored one goal for Young Harris, which just completed its inaugural lacrosse season.
Mills named league's top freshman
Tusculum College's Erin Mills, a Peachtree Ridge grad, was named the South Atlantic Conference co-freshman of the year on Wednesday.
Mill went 14-4 in singles and 15-3 in doubles during the regular season for the Pioneers. She also had an 8-1 singles record in conference play and earned SAC player of the week honors three times this season.
Hirsch gets conference honor
Oglethorpe sophomore and Duluth grad Ben Hirsch was named the Southern Athletic Association player of the week on Thursday.
Hirsch went 2-0 at No. 1 doubles and 2-0 at No. 5 singles last week against Rhodes and Hendrix. He is undefeated in conference play in singles this season.
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 email@example.com.