Omar Hernandez, an attacking midfielder who has signed to play soccer at Wake Forest, has won the national Gatorade Player of the Year award.
Hernandez, from Dalton, Ga., received the award Tuesday afternoon.
He was the state winner of the award for the past two years.
“It’s just unreal to be even a part of this program, and it’s unreal that I won so I’m just blessed to be in this position,” Hernandez said by phone Tuesday.
Hernandez helped his high-school team to a 23-0 record and the state championship with 16 goals and 17 assists this past season.
Coach Matt Cheaves of Dalton said Hernandez was dominant. It was Dalton’s fourth state championship in the past six seasons.
Hernandez almost didn’t play his final season of high-school soccer after earning a spot on the Atlanta United developmental team. But Cheaves said Hernandez decided to play for his high-school team.
“He wanted to help us win another state title and wanted to play with his friends in his final year of high school,” Cheaves said of Hernandez, who is 5-foot-10 and 145 pounds. “He’s such an all-around good person, as well, and I don’t think anybody has ever been mad at him — not even opponents.”
Hernandez said it was difficult choosing between the chance to chase his dream of joining Atlanta United’s developmental program or being with his high-school teammates.
“It was a big decision, but we won the state championship and that was obviously one of our goals,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez, who was a four-year starter, is the all-time leading scorer at Dalton High School with 78 goals and 64 assists. He is a two-time first-team All-State selection and was the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s co-player of the year.
Dalton finished the season ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation by USA Today and Top Drawer Soccer.
Hernandez is the third incoming Wake Forest player to have won Gatorade’s national player of the year award, and if history is any indication, then Hernandez will make an immediate impact for the Deacons and Coach Bobby Muuss.
Jack Harrison, who played one season for the Deacons before turning professional, is the last Wake Forest player to win the Gatorade National Player of the Year for soccer. Also, Pat Phelan, who was on the Deacons’ 2007 national championship team, was the national Gatorade Player of the Year in 2004. Phelan is one of the best defenders in school history.
Harrison won the award in 2015 as a senior playing for the Berkshire School in Massachusetts. In his freshman season with Wake Forest during the fall of 2015, Harrison was named the ACC freshman of the year with eight goals and 11 assists and was a semifinalist for the Hermann Award.
“Just knowing that Jack won this award and then played at Wake Forest and then has done well in the pros is a good path for me,” said Hernandez, who had a 3.3 grade point average in high school. “There are so many big names who have won the Gatorade National Award and to see my name is unreal.”
Hernandez will report to Wake Forest on July 7 to begin summer school, and he’ll also have informal workouts with his teammates. He said he’s looking forward to playing for the Deacons.
“Coach Muuss was just a really good guy during the recruiting process and he was straight forward with everything,” Hernandez said. “I just felt a real good connection to him and to Wake Forest, so I’m looking forward to the next step.”