On top: Dalton's Hernandez wins Gatorade National Player of the Year for boys soccer

Matt Hamilton/Daily Citizen-News

Recent Dalton High School graduate Omar Hernandez answers questions from the media after being presented the Gatorade National Boys Soccer Player of the Year trophy on Tuesday at the school. 

DALTON, Ga. — Omar Hernandez was relaxing on a dock with a fishing pole in his hand a couple of weeks ago in Cape Coral, Florida, when his phone began to ring.

On the other end was a representative from Gatorade.

"I picked up the phone and after they had told me who they were, they told me I won national player of the year for boys soccer," Hernandez said. "At first I was wondering if they had the right number. I didn't even think I could be in the conversation for something like this."

A recent Dalton High School graduate, Hernandez was officially awarded the 2018-19 Gatorade National Boys Soccer Player of the Year during a ceremony on Tuesday at the school. He, along with members of his family, friends and coaches, were first shown a video Gatorade produced with the official announcement. Afterwards, Amanda Turak, who manages the company's player of the year program, presented Hernandez with his award trophy.

For long-time Dalton soccer coach Matt Cheaves, there wasn't any way to explain how much the midfielder meant to the program.

"You can't replace Omar Hernandez," he said. "He's just a special guy and I'm so proud he's gotten to play with us."

Hernandez was eligible for the award after he won the Gatorade Georgia Boys Soccer Player of the Year on Friday. It was his second year in a row to receive the award, which is given to one player in each of the 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia. Gatorade honors the top high school student-athletes in 12 varsity sports for their "athletic excellence, academic achievement and exemplary character."

Hernandez finished this season with 16 goals and 17 assists, including two assists in the Catamounts' Class 6A state championship victory over Gainesville in mid-May. He finished his career at Dalton with 78 goals and 64 assists. This season, Dalton was ranked the No. 1 team nationally by both USA Today and TopDrawerSoccer.com. He will attend Wake Forest University on a soccer scholarship this fall.

Though his fancy footwork and quick speed might speak for themselves on the field, it is that exemplary character that most say carries him to greatness.

"He cares so much about his family and that's his No. 1 priority," Hernandez's girlfriend Myah Bishop said. "As long as everyone else around him is happy, Omar is happy. He never thinks about himself — always everyone else first."

One in a family of five, Hernandez has an older brother and older sister, along with his parents. In Gatorade's award video, Hernandez is described as possibly being his family's best bet at a better life, hoping to one day make it to the professional level.

"We were hoping for things like this," his sister Patricia said of her brother's long list of accolades, "but we didn't actually think it would really happen. We are really proud that he's gotten all of these awards in his high school career.

"This is the biggest one, though. To be player of the year nationally is incredible."

With the honor, Hernandez is now entered for the chance to win Gatorade's National Athlete of the Year, awarded to one male and female at a banquet at the beginning of July in Los Angeles. Hernandez is invited to travel to California for the ceremony where he and the 11 other athletes will walk the red carpet and attend the ESPYs, ESPN's national event honoring the top individuals and teams in sports for their athletic achievements.

This year's Gatorade's National Athlete of the Year banquet is hosted by Peyton Manning, a former quarterback who starred at Tennessee and in the NFL.

Along with winning Gatorade's Player of the Year for the nation and state, Hernandez was also named a finalist this year for the USA Today ALL-USA National Player of the Year. He was honored as a first-team member, as well as co-player of the year with his teammate Tony Saldana by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

On top of it all, Hernandez said the day he received the news of his national honor is one he will never forget. Somehow, it still hasn't changed that one-of-a-kind character.

"I don't think that anything is going to be able to top this," he said. "I was just super stoked and amazed, but halfway through the phone call I felt a tug and had to put the phone down so I could catch my fish."

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