Coach Adam Laney senses this might be a special soccer season in the making at Milligan College, and Sandre Wilson is right at the heart of it.
The senior forward from Jamaica has scored 10 goals in nine matches for the Buffs, who were 7-2 and had won five in a row heading into Thursday’s match with Young Harris. They are currently tied for first place in the Appalachian Athletic Conference.
In his three seasons at Milligan, Wilson has scored 29 goals and impressed virtually everyone with his work ethic and attitude. There’s not much evidence of the laid-back, carefree mindset associated with the Caribbean lifestyle.
“Sandre is very conscientious about life,” said Laney. “He wants to earn his place in the world, no handouts. That’s his upbringing … as a young guy he was taught you have to go out and earn what you get. It shows in the way he plays.
“Most guys, when they get fouled, they go down, but he doesn’t. So he doesn’t get a lot of calls that other players get. I don’t think the officials understand.”
At 6-foot and 195 pounds, Wilson is hard to keep up with, much less bring down.
He was at the height of his powers Tuesday night at Montreat, scoring all of his team’s goals in a 4-0 victory that left the Buffs 4-0 in the conference. In his mind, that eclipsed the five goals he scored in a match a few years back, or the three he had against King last season.
“I think it was my best performance,” said Wilson. “My team definitely helped. They made opportunities for me.”
Wilson has learned to take advantage of his opportunities. One of the most important was deciding to come to Milligan after a short, unhappy stint at Wingate University in North Carolina.
He had some injury issues and was admittedly homesick.
“I think it was a great decision to come here,” Wilson says now. “When I was at Wingate, the atmosphere was more businesslike and there was more pressure. At Milligan it’s more family-oriented. Coach allows you to grow as a player and as a person.
“I’m fine now. This is my home away from home.”
Laney, of course, was pleased to add Wilson to his roster. There was little doubt about his soccer potential.
“He had some injury stuff at Wingate and felt like he didn’t perform to his ability there,” said Laney. “Their coaching staff contacted us because we had another player transfer from there, and Sandre came up for a tryout. We saw he had a big body and was strong, but a couple of times during the tryout you could see he just had a different level of speed. He’s a really fast guy.”
Putting all those physical skills to their best use has been the challenge as Wilson has matured.
“When I came to the U.S., I was more of a raw talent,” he said. “The more I work with coach Laney, the more tactical I become. I’ve grown more in terms of being a smarter player. The raw talent has always been there.”
Good as Wilson has been, he’s not a one-man show at Milligan this season.
The Buffs have gotten six goals from Nahom Tekle and five from Chris Ochieng, who also leads the team with four assists. There are seven seniors in all, so the leadership is strong.
“We kind of knew this would be one of those years where we could do something special,” said Laney. “We only lost one starter from last year’s team. What’s big about this team, we’ve got multiple guys scoring. If a team keys on Sandre, other guys are going to punish them.”
The Buffs still have their toughest matches ahead of them.
They’re tied at the top of the AAC standings with Tennessee Wesleyan; the teams won’t meet until Oct. 26. Bryan, the defending champion, has just one loss so far and will visit Milligan the previous week.
“Our main goal is to make the national tournament,” said Wilson, “and we have the talent. It all depends on the mental ability, the ability to stay calm and focus as a team.
“If we make the national tournament, whatever happens after that we will be grateful for it.”