Last fall, there was a chance that the 2018-19 Boys Gatorade National Player of the Year might not even play his senior season at Dalton.
Omar Hernandez, who was crowned as the top high school player in the country on Tuesday in North Georgia, had joined the Atlanta United Academy last summer, and had he remained there, wouldn’t have played his senior season.
However, the hours in the car added up as he made the drive from Dalton several times a week. Situated roughly an hour and a half drive each way to Atlanta’s training grounds in Marietta, it provided a significant challenge for Hernandez.
But there were several reasons to head back to Dalton, and not just individual accolades. There was the lure of a state championship, as Dalton had come up short in the playoffs during his three previous years where Hernandez was a huge contributor (he won the Georgia State Player of the Year last year as well).
“It started making me think I needed to go back to high school, try to play for high school,” Hernandez said after receiving the national player of the year award. “Not having that championship on my record is something that strived me to go back.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
A No. 10 that can do it all: score goals, set teammates up, beat defenders off the dribble, Hernandez was a whirlwind force for Dalton as a senior. Leading from the front with 16 goals and 17 assists, Hernandez was a central figure as Dalton secured the Class AAAAAA championship on May 18, the fifth in program history. The team won all 23 of its games, beating Gainesville in the final by a 4-1 score; Hernandez assisted on two of the goals in the final. They’ve secured the No. 1 ranking in the Boys Spring FAB 50.
Even after winning the most prominent individual award, Hernandez made it clear that the state championship was his favorite part of this past season.
“Getting to that state championship, winning it, finally knowing after all those years coming up short you finally got to win it, especially during your senior year,” he said about his favorite moment.
His time with Atlanta United’s Academy was valuable as well. There was one session where Hernandez scrimmaged against the first team, helping them prepare for a league match.
It was an eye-opening experience for an aspiring pro soccer player, getting the chance to see that kind of quality up close and what it takes to compete at that level.
“They have higher expectations, they are way faster, way smarter, just knowing how they play is something you have to look up to and try to reach that same height or level,” he said.
But Dalton became his priority as his senior season progressed, and Hernandez returned to lead his team to the state title and garner a slew of individual awards. For his career, the attacking midfielder finished his career as the program’s leading scorer, finishing with 74 goals and adding 68 assists.
This fall, Hernandez is off to Wake Forest, as he’s part of the 2019 recruiting class that’s ranked No. 5 in the country. His arrival and adjustment should help the program accommodate the departures of key contributors Omir Fernandez, Sam Raben, Logan Gdula and Brad Dunwell to the pro ranks.
Part of his decision to sign with Wake Forest is the way the team plays, and he’s looking forward to working and continue to improve under head coach Bobby Muuss later this year.
“The way they play is just amazing, is the way I love to play,” Hernandez said. “The package that came academically as well really appealed me.”