Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Central Gwinnett boys soccer player Rigo Gudiel works on his soccer ball juggling skills beside head coach Bryan Allen and goalkeeper Ricardo Ortiz during practice in Lawrenceville Wednesday.
Three years ago, Central Gwinnett head coach Bryan Allen knew he had something special on his hands.
He had a group of promising players that were starters on the JV boys soccer team and backups on the varsity.
"We had a chance to develop something," Allen said. "We tried our best to keep them together."
That JV team won the county championship that season and three years later they are taking the county by storm.
Central Gwinnett is off to the best start in more than a decade with a 10-1 record and ranked No. 4 in the state.
"It started three years ago with us identifying the talent that could help us," Allen said. "I've been really pleased with what they are able to do."
Central reached the playoffs last season for the first time in three years. The Black Knights were led by a pair of seniors that graduated, so leadership was a concern with this year's team. With eight returning starters, Central had the experience coming back, it just needed the leadership.
Samir Ramic has filled that role as the team captain and helped the squad to a 6-0 start. Then the Black Knights tasted their only loss of the season, a 1-0 defeat to Norcross.
"Norcross humbled us early in the year," Allen said. "I think they helped focus us and work on the little things."
The next game, Central took down defending Region 8 champion Brookwood 1-0, ending the Broncos' 13-game region winning streak dating back to 2011. It was the first time Central had defeated the Broncos in more than 20 years.
"It's the first time we've beat Brookwood since I was a student at Central," said Allen, a 1991 Central grad. "It was a really special night when that happened. I just hope it doesn't take another 25 years."
Despite the big win over Brookwood, Allen has to remind his team there are still a lot of good teams left to play in the region. The Black Knights are on the road at Grayson and Berkmar the next two games. A date with traditional power Parkview in mid-April also still looms.
"I think Berkmar is the team to watch out for in the region and Grayson is always powerful," Allen said. "Parkview and Brookwood are the standard for Gwinnett County soccer. Our tests are coming up."
Ramic is a four-year starter and team captain. He leads the team in goals scored with five. Forward Rigo Gudiel, a transfer from Meadowcreek, is also a goal scoring threat.
Ricky Ortiz, a 6-foot-1 athletic sophomore goalkeeper, has six shutouts this season. He has help up front with senior Erick Morales, who is the anchor of the defense, and junior Ensar Graskovic.
Allen is in his ninth season as Central's head coach and has led the Black Knights to the playoffs five of the last eight years. His first season in 2005, the team jumped out to a similar start and was ranked No. 5. Allen feels this year's squad has something special to make a long run.
"Potential wise, I would say yes," Allen said. "We have a lot of work to do. We need to come to work focused on the little things."
Attention to detail is what has helped Central get off to a great start. Allen pays special consideration to things like how the team warms up at practice to who they schedule and when they play them.
"Our motto is, 'It's the little things," Allen said. "If you take care of the little things it will make it happen."