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Former GSU soccer star comes home for camp
Pat Parris teaching skills at youth camp
Former GSU soccer star Pat Parris is helping coach at a soccer camp this week at Mill Creek Park. - photo by MATT YOGUS/staff

            Pat Parris has had quite a journey since his playing days at Georgia Southern.

            After the 1997 soccer season at GSU — an Eagle team that finished with a record of 14-4-2, the best in the program’s history, and obtained the school’s first national ranking — Parris pursued a professional career. The competition at the next level was tough, and Parris immediately noticed the difference in the level of talent.

            “I was called up to the Jamaican National team to train with them,” said Parris. “I was too old for the (under 23 team) by a couple of months and not good enough for the senior team.”

            The experience, however, was not without its merits.

            “Playing amongst the best in the world,” Parris said, “when you get to hold your own against them it’s a pretty cool experience. That right there pretty much soothed the soul to know that I tried and I did my best.”

            After trying his hand at professional soccer, Parris returned to Statesboro and received his first coaching job. With plenty of knowledge about the game, the transition from playing to coaching was a smooth one. His career kicked off as an assistant coach at Statesboro High where he helped guide the Blue Devils to back-to-back region championships. Then he returned to the Eagles, where his knowledge and understanding of the game was able to grow at the Division I level.

            “(Former Eagle head coach) Kevin Chambers and Dr. Steve Elliot, a professor at Georgia Southern who was also a coach,” said Parris, “those two guys pretty much gave me all the experience that I’ve learned over the years, with (Lady Eagle head soccer coach) Tom Norton as well.”

            After seven years as an assistant, it was time for Parris to move on. He accepted the head coaching job at Division II’s North Georgia College & State University in February, and he has his work cut out for him. Before he left Georgia Southern though, he had to take care of one last thing.

            First-year head coach Kevin Kennedy took over the Eagles in 2006, and Parris helped in the transition. The team finished the 2006-07 season as Southern Conference runners up and recorded the best record since the ’97 season that capped off Parris’ playing days as an Eagle.

            “It was great,” said Parris. “It was actually 10 years, pretty much to the day. 10 years ago, my teammates and I were playing in the finals, so it was fitting to leave on a good note, to leave coach Kennedy with a great class. That sophomore class will be juniors this fall.”

            His first head coaching job will be a tough one. Parris inherits an NGCSU team that finished last season 5-12 and needs a lot of work.

            “Coming into North Georgia, I only had seven players,” he said. “I finished recruiting at Georgia Southern in January with coach Kennedy, I took the job in February and no recruiting had been done. It was a challenge.”

            Parris still finds some time in his busy schedule for the town that gave him his college soccer start. The Statesboro-Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Department is holding a camp that began Monday and runs through Thursday, and is being headed by Parrish and former Eagle soccer players Andrew Hansen and Brian Thomas. The camp is for youngsters ranging from the under-6 group to the under-18 group, and Parris has been helping out with the event for years.

            Hansen, head coach of SHS’s Lady Devils, came up with the idea for the camp three years ago, and the group has been running the successful sessions ever since. The camps are designed to expose more children to a sport that’s popularity has waned in the Bulloch County area.

            “Even though I moved away, I called up Andrew and said, ‘I’m still here to help out with the camp’”, Parris said. “There was a time when there were travel teams here in abundance. … Basically we’re trying to get the soccer knowledge out to the parents and the kids that there is a certain stage you get past with the (recreation leagues). You can keep building (skills for) those who want to continue on to the next level. For those who just want to come out and have fun, we’re here for them as well.”