The end of a prep sports career isn’t black and white.
A final season does, indeed, end with a loss or a win but it’s the journey, the grey area, that defines a career, a season and an athlete.
Flowery Branch boys soccer player and recent high school graduate Kyle Ellis ended his high school career with a loss in the Class AAA state semifinals but the journey culminated with his being named The Times 2008 Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
Ellis, a forward, scored 29 goals and had 15 assists while leading the Falcons (18-2) to their third appearance in four years in the Class AAA state semifinals and a No. 3 ranking in the season’s final state poll.
"Kyle’s work ethic really helped us out this year," Flowery Branch coach Jeremy Purdy said. "Throughout the whole year he helped the players stay focused and it was clear, as the season went on, that he had the capability to make it special."
Make it special he did, producing 15 more goals than he did in his junior campaign and leading the Falcons, who didn’t make the state playoffs in 2007, to a region title and state semifinals berth.
"I think there were a couple of things that we just switched with his technique," first-year Falcons coach Purdy said regarding Ellis’ scoring improvement. "He had a tendency to kick it high over the goal. We worked constantly on shooting low, aiming at certain points at the goal. But it was his work ethic in that area that really caused his improvement."
Ellis, a Times All-County football selection as a punter, credited the playing scheme Purdy brought in with his improvement.
"I think the formation made a lot of difference in my game," Ellis said. "We played five midfielders and looked for a lot of through balls, a lot of long balls. Last year we played a little bit more of a possession-type game but, this year, we really aimed towards finding the forwards."
It was evident early that Ellis would fit well into his team’s new offensive scheme.
In the Falcons first Region 7-AAA game, against Gilmer County on Feb. 21, and sixth game of the season Ellis scored nine of his team’s 16 goals.
Both Ellis and Purdy, when reflecting on that game, first mentioned the weather conditions as if the 30-degree weather and torrential rain made Ellis’ offensive onslaught that much more superhuman.
"It’s unbelievable to have someone on your team score nine goals in one game," Purdy said. "It’s a Flowery Branch record and seeing it, watching it, it was a great experience."
According to Purdy, Ellis scored two goals within the first minute and his coach, noticing the look of intent on his senior forward’s face, sat him down immediately.
Not wanting him to get too cold, however, Purdy would put him back in in spurts.
"I’d put him back on because of his capability to finish," Purdy said, "especially that night. It was a neat experience for all of us."
"It feels good to score nine goals," Ellis said. "But the main thing was that I was able to contribute to an impressive team win in a game like that with the conditions we were playing in."
While Ellis’ scoring prowess was the individual highlight of his season, he also helped out in the assist department thanks to his uncanny ability to throw the ball in.
From virtually any point on the Falcons side of the pitch, Ellis can throw the ball on a line into the box.
"It started my freshman year," Ellis said. "I’ve always been able to throw it a pretty good ways but, I don’t know, I guess it was all the weight training I did."
Ellis once again pointed to his coach’s formations as the catalyst for his 15 assists on the year.
"We had set plays where they would line up at the top of the 18 and with Will Mundy and David Patino, the could finish well and I just always looked for them because they were pretty big targets and they could finish it in."
According to his coach, Ellis’ throw-in capabilities led to Falcons’ sophomore Philip Abrahamsen being the second-leading scorer on the team.
"We worked on a set play because we knew Kyle had the ability to throw it in," Purdy said. "Philip had 14 goals this season and I’m pretty sure at least half of them he was able to score off headers with Kyle throwing it in."
Ellis’ journey this year gave cause for individual accolades and included record-setting performances, but it was returning Flowery Branch soccer to the state powerhouse it had been his freshman and sophomore seasons that make him proudest.
"I think we had a whole lot more team chemistry this year," Ellis said. "Our team was more like a family, we did everything together. We played for each other.
"It felt good to go out with a bang and to help continue the Flowery Branch soccer name."