Since its inception in 1985, Player of the Year award recipients, in multiple branches of sport, has gone to win countless professional and college championships. Previous recipients who have gone on to become household names include Abby Wambach, six-time US Soccer Athlete of the Year, and twice an Olympic gold medallist; American football star Peyton Manning; NBA’s Karl-Anthony Towns, and Derek Jeter, who plays Major League Baseball.
Each year a selection committee made up of sports journalists, and coaches, trainers and administrators choosing national winners from 12 different sports – boys’ and girls’ soccer; American football; girls’ volleyball; boys’ and girls’ basketball; baseball, softball, and boys’ and girls’ cross country and track and field.
The 12 winners are then whittled down to one male and one female athlete, who then earn the accolade Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year.
Awards are based not just of athletic excellence, but also high academic standards, and the demonstration of exceptional character on and off the pitch.
The 2019 Winner
Omar Hernandez of Dalton High School in Dalton, Georgia, was named the Gatorade National Boys’ Soccer Player of the Year for 2018 – 2019, having been chosen from nearly 460,000 soccer players nationwide in the US.
A midfielder, Hernandez led his high school team, the Catamounts, to a 100% winning season, finishing with a record of played 23 and won 23, and claiming the Class AAAAAA state championship in the process. He scored 16 goals and provided 17 assists and set-up two of the Catamounts’ goals in the 4 – 1 defeat of Gainesville, which clinched the state title. The Catamounts ended the season as America’s number one ranked team.
Hernandez finished his high school career, with 78 goals and 64 assists, which were both records for his school. He is widely admired for his ability to strike the ball with either foot, the power of hi shooting, and the ability to create space for himself on the soccer field.
It was not just for his feats on the field that he won the award. In his spare time, he volunteered as a youth soccer coach and worked at nights and weekends in a local carpet factory, while maintaining a 3.30 GPA in the classroom.
Hernandez has signed with Wake Forest University playing soccer on a scholarship. Whether he goes on to have a prosperous professional career remains to be seen, but if the example of some of his predecessors to have won the award are anything to go by, then the omens look good.
2013 – Christian Roldan
Christian Roldan, who played for El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera, California, won the award after a season in which he scored 54 goals and provided 31 assists, helping his side win the California Interscholastic Federation Division Three Championship.
He attended college at the University of Washington, for whom he made 41 appearances in two years, scoring ten goals and providing seven assists, as well as assisting them to a Pac-12 title. Roldan left college a year early and entered the Major League Soccer draft, where he was picked up by the Seattle Sounders. He has since gone on to appear for them 150 times and was part of the team that won the MLS Cup in 2016.
Having won two caps for his country at under-20 level, Roldan made his debut for the senior USA team In 2017, and, to date, has played 16 times for the national side.
2010 - Soony Saad
Saad, who attended Dearborn High School in Michigan, earned the award after setting a state record by scoring 76 goals and providing 15 assists in a single season. He was named ESPN RISE Player of the Year and was selected in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) first team for 2009.
He subsequently attended the University of Michigan, where he had a successful freshman year, scoring 19 goals, a record. He left after his first year to try and secure a professional contract with a European club, and, although that did not pan out, he joined Sporting Kansas City for whom he played three seasons.
Since then, he has had a more itinerant career, including spells in Thailand, Kansas again, and now Lebanon, where he currently plays for Ansar. Capped by the United States at under-20 level, he switched his international allegiance to Lebanon, and has 14 full international caps to date, scoring three times.
2008 – Casey Townsend
The forward, who attended Traverse City West High School in Michigan, won the award after tying the state record by scoring 53 goals and adding 11 assists, leading his school to their first-ever state title. He finished his High School career with a history of 105 goals and 47 assists and was a member of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) under-20 national team.
After attending the University of Maryland, where he finished fourth in terms of all-time goals scored, he was selected by Chivas USA in the MLS Super Draft. Unfortunately, his professional career failed to match his high school and collegiate achievements; he played for DC United, Tampa Bay Rowdies, and FC Cincinnati, amongst others, but was unable to stay for long at any of them, and retired from the game in 2017.
2003 – Greg Dalby
Whereas most winners of the award have been strikers or midfielders, Dalby was an outstanding defender in high school, twice named California Player of the Year. A graduate of Poway High School in California, he also managed to score 15 goals and provide 16 assists in his high school career.
He then went to the University of Notre-Dame, where he became a team captain and was named an All-American in 2005 and 2006.
Dalby was chosen by Colorado Rapids in the MLS draft but instead opted to move to Europe, signing for Belgian side Charleroi. However, he failed to make a single appearance for them and returned to the US, where he signed for Colorado.
He was named the captain of the US Men’s under-20 National Team and featured for them in the 2005 FIFA Youth Championship, but his career failed to live up to that early promise, and he moved into coaching instead.
While soccer is a growing sport in the United States, it continues to lag behind Europe and South America when it comes to the development of the game, and few American male soccer stars have yet to emerge.
With the women, though, it has been different, and the USA has established itself as the most international team of all, with four World Cups (including in France this year), four Olympic gold medals, and eight regional CONCACAF Championships to their name.