Daniel Simmons, a Latter-day Saint from American Fork, Utah, has been named the 2022-2023 Gatorade National Boys Cross Country Player of the Year.
The distinguished award was presented to a surprised Simmons Tuesday with his family, coaches and teammates in attendance.
“I’m just so grateful for being considered,” Simmons told reporters after the announcement. “It means so much after how I’ve trained and for what I’ve been putting effort out to do.”
His reaction to the news was captured in a YouTube video.
Simmons, a junior, was selected from a field of nearly 300,000 other male student-athletes who excel in cross country nationwide and in the classroom, according to a news release.
Simmons also participated in the prestigious Nike Cross Nationals in December in Portland, Oregon, where he finished second, covering the 5,000-meter course in a time of 14:51.7.
The 5-foot-8, 125-pound runner competed the previous year in Idaho and was the state meet runner-up. He was also named the Idaho Falls Post Register’s All-Area Boys Track Athlete of the Year.
The youngest of 10 children — six girls and four boys — he grew up watching five of his older siblings excel as runners in high school.
Simmons doesn’t have the physical stature or stride length found in the most elite distance runners, but he has other gifts, said Rich Gonzalez, PrepCalTrack editor.
“The American Fork junior broke course records in his final six races last fall, vanquishing an unprecedented slate of elite challengers made up of national record-holders and multiple sub-4 milers to take silver at Nike Cross Nationals,” Gonzalez said in a news release. “That capped a 2022 campaign during which he slugged it out in the nation’s most competitive state and prep cross country’s toughest region. This fall, he’ll aim to become the first prep boy to repeat as Gatorade National Player of the Year since Michigan’s Grant Fisher from 2013-15.”
Outside of running, Simmons is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has participated in community service projects benefitting the elderly and homeless. He has maintained a 3.98 GPA and has developed talents as an actor and singer. He is set to begin his senior year at American Fork this fall.
Simmons said his faith has been the “spark” that has kept him going during difficult moments.
“The power that comes through faith has honestly carried me farther than I could ever go,” he said. “There were times where I wanted to just quit, but the belief of my teammates and my parents, and then a spark in me just helped carry me and allowed me to keep growing. It’s played a huge role in how I’ve grown and learned.”
Simmons said he plans to serve a full-time Latter-day Saint mission after high school. He is still considering his college options but does aspire to run in the Olympics one day.
“I’ve always wanted to go there since I was a little kid,” he said. “I’m thinking about the Olympic trials in 2024. That’s one of my main big goals. Then depending on where I’m at, possibly the Olympics as well.”
The Gatorade Player of the Year award celebrates athletes like Simmons who shine in sports and make a difference in their communities, said Gatorade president and general manager Michael Del Pozzo.
“We are proud advocates for the lifelong benefits that come with playing high school sports and look forward to seeing what Daniel will accomplish in the future,” he said.
Gatorade honors more than 600 student-athletes each year. A selection committee evaluates the nation’s top athletes to choose one state winner from each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., in 12 sports, including football, girls volleyball, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, baseball, softball, boys and girls soccer, and boys and girls track & field. One national winner is selected in each of the 12 sports from a pool of state winners.
Nominate a student-athlete or see a list of past winners at playeroftheyear.gatorade.com.