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HAMMOCK: GGC athletic program aiming high

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Georgia Gwinnett College's Athletic Director Darin Wilson poses for a portrait in front of the new 25,000 square feet GGC athletic complex in Lawrenceville. Wilson who has been the Grizzles athletic director since August 2011 has over seen much success in the school first year of athletics.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Georgia Gwinnett College's Athletic Director Darin Wilson poses for a portrait in front of the new 25,000 square feet GGC athletic complex in Lawrenceville. Wilson who has been the Grizzles athletic director since August 2011 has over seen much success in the school first year of athletics.

Situated in the middle of a county renowned for producing winners, it's nice to see Georgia Gwinnett College with the right plan for its athletic program.

While it hasn't lost sight of its other major goals --educating graduating student-athletes and serving in the community --the school also hasn't shied away from its expectation to win. Kudos to Darin Wilson, the Grizzlies' first athletic director, for making that the mission from the start.

"The Grizzlies will be competitive across the board, including on a national level, very quickly," Wilson said back in 2011 when he was hired.

He made that strong statement during a time when he had nothing to back it up. No coaches. No facilities. No athletic equipment. No athletic website.

Back then, the athletic program was a vision of wishes and wants, plans that were on the way but not there yet. It's come a long way in less than two years, thanks to Wilson and his colleagues.

The fields of kudzu that used to line Collins Hill Road are now plush, GGC athletic fields for baseball, softball and soccer. Just down the road from there is the tennis center that the college acquired, guaranteeing one of the South's top facilities will be tied to GGC. The latest addition --the athletics building with its offices, weight room and views of the fields --is another impressive, tangible sign of the department's continued improvements. It seems as though something new and exciting with GGC athletics happens daily.

Those facilities, a major lure for recruiting athletes, and a top-notch coaching staff have the Grizzlies on the track that Wilson mapped out as soon he arrived in Lawrenceville. In just a few months, it will be time for the GGC athletic program to produce the results that it's built for in the all-important Year Two.

The inaugural year was fun for the GGC teams, which fared well (only one finished with a record below .500) despite some adversity and uncertainty with construction delays. Those issues forced the softball team to play games at Collins Hill High School and the baseball team to play its first 19 games on the road. The success was better than some people assumed for a first-year program with a building year of firsts.

The Grizzlies also didn't have a postseason goal to play for in 2012-13, since the NAIA doesn't allow first-year schools to compete in the playoffs. That disclaimer comes off for the 2013-14 school year, when the expectation will be winning, and winning often. Conference championships are great, but Wilson and his staff are thinking larger.

That's the right attitude to have if you want to make an athletic footprint in a county laden with incredible athletes, ultra-successful high school teams and multiple professional sports franchises.

Two years have passed since Wilson was hired, and he hasn't strayed away from his mission.

"We want to compete at the highest level of NAIA, across the board in all sports," Wilson said in a recent Daily Post interview. "To do that, you are competing not only for conference championships, but national championships. That's our goal. ... Now it's time to compete and compete for championships. I am not one to sit back and enjoy what we have. We are looking for the next thing. We are looking for how we can make this the best department in the nation from an NAIA standpoint."

Will Hammock can be reached via email at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.