Meet The 2023-2024 Gatorade National Players Of The Year

The Gatorade Player of The Year award honors the top high school athletes in the country.

Collage of various people in sporty attire, with basketball themes, including a person posing by lockers and another peering through a hoop
Collage of various people in sporty attire, with basketball themes, including a person posing by lockers and another peering through a hoop

Athletic greatness doesn’t just happen at the professional level. It’s built day-by-day in the weight room, in practice, and during games. It’s in the endurance, grit and sheer willpower to keep going when fatigue and mental exhaustion creep in. Fighting through what can feel like crippling moments, just to do it all over again the next day, are the building blocks to being a great athlete. 

All of these skills and experiences crystalize when an athlete enters high school. These formidable yet short four years determine if they’re in it for the long haul, and if they are, the real chase for excellence begins. High school is also when others take notice, and by “others’ we mean Gatorade. 

For nearly forty years, Gatorade has paid attention to the nation’s top high school athletes and honored the very best through its Gatorade Player of The Year awards program. This distinction celebrates players across all sports for their leadership and success on and off the field. 

Each season, a selection committee evaluates the nation’s top talent to choose one state winner from each of the 50 states as well as Washington D.C., in 12 different sports. In total, 610 high school athletes are honored each year. From the pool of state winners, one national winner is selected in each of the 12 sports.

Some of today’s most electrifying players were once selected as a Gatorade Player of The Year, and there’s no question the names on this list will also make their future mark. Read below and get to know the first six National winners and swing back to see the remaining six athletes to be awarded this June. 

Daniel Simmons, Gatorade National Boys Cross Country Player of the Year

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“No way was I expecting that. It was so crazy. I was so excited. Having my team there made such a difference. It’s hard to celebrate something great without people you love being there with you. It was insanely awesome,” Daniel Simmons on winning Gatorade National Boys Cross Country Player of the Year.

By the time you lace up your running shoes, Daniel Simmons will have run to Jupiter and back. Think we’re joking? The American Fork High School senior earned the nation’s fastest 3-mile (14:41.14) and 5K (14:44.0) among prep boys this season. Simmons isn’t a stranger to Gatorade’s Player of the Year (this is his second time making the list) but this year, the 5-foot-10 runner outdid himself in all areas of his young career. Academically, he’s earned a 3.93 GPA and when he’s not studying or running, he volunteers his time reading to children at the local public library, is an active member of his church youth group and he’s also organized fundraisers for both young people and the needy. Yeah, Daniel Simmons gets it done.

Cooper Flagg, Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year

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"It's just an incredible honor to be included in this list of players. Just seeing how all the hard work is paying off and it just motivates me to keep getting better and better." Cooper Flagg on winning Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

At 6-foot-9 weighing 195 pounds, Montverde Academy power/guard Cooper Flagg is not an athlete you can underestimate even if you wanted to. (But why would you want to?) Flagg averaged 16.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.7 blocks this past season and led his team, the Eagles, to a 31-0 record, all while maintaining a 4.10 grade point average. Going above and beyond via his studies and athleticism isn’t all the young basketball star can do. Cooper also lends his skills to noteworthy causes. He’s played in a local fundraising game which helps raise money for parents to pay the medical bills of their kids fighting cancer. It’s only a matter of time before Cooper Flagg is dominating at the next level.

Joyce Edwards, Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year

Person seated with a basketball, styled in casual attire, beside Gatorade bottles and a towel, in a locker room setting

"For Gatorade to consider me the best girls basketball player in my class is it’s just crazy. I have no words for it. I’m just happy that other people see the work that I’ve put into the game,” Joyce Edwards on winning Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year.

Joyce Edwards is beyond impressive. The Camden, South Carolina high school senior maintains a 5.08 grade-point-average while also dominating the basketball court. Averaging 31.3 points, 13.3 rebounds, 4.5 steals, 4.0 assists and 3.3 blocks per game this past season, she led the Bulldogs to a 28-2 season. This young basketball star’s greatness doesn’t stop there. If she didn’t want to ball anymore, she would also find success playing soccer as she’s an All-State soccer player. She’s a member of the National Beta Club and National Honor Society and tutors middle school students at the Jackson Teen Center, an after-school education and sports program for at-risk youth. Is there anything Joyce Edwards can’t do? We wouldn’t advise holding your breath waiting to see.

DJ Lagway, Gatorade National Football Player of the Year

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"To see all the greats who have this award, I feel like it's a good building block to what going to come. It's truly a blessing," DJ Lagaway on winning Gatorade National Football Player of the Year.

When you set the 6A Texas highschool football state record for touchdowns in a season, you’re doing something right and then some. That’s DJ Lagway, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Willis High quarterback who threw 58 TDs last season as a senior. He also passed for 4,604 yards and led his Wildkats to a 12-1 record, a district title, and the 6A-Division II regional final football game. That earned him Gatorade National Football Player of the Year honors. Lagway also excels in the classroom, where he’s maintained a 3.48 GPA, all while giving back to his community volunteering at a community foodbank, eldercare facilities, and speaking at schools and churches. With a quick release, accurate arm, size, speed, and all intangibles, look for Lagway to be a team leader at UF soon. 

Ayden Ames, Gatorade National Volleyball Player of the Year

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"This is the granddaddy of all awards, so I couldn't be happier," Ayden Ames on winning Gatorade National Volleyball Player of the Year.

Ayden Ames is special. Not only is she the 2023 Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year, she’s the first person to hold that honor from Prosper High in Prosper, Texas. Ames, a 6’ 4” middle/outside hitter earned that award after racking up 575 kills with a .399 hitting percentage and a .500 kill percentage while leading the Eagles to a berth in the 6A state semifinals. She also made huge contributions on defense, with 165 blocs and 481 digs last season. Those stats were more than enough for the Dallas Morning News to name Ames Player of the Year and to garner her MaxPreps and American Volleyball Coaches Association First Team All-American honors, as well as a spot on the gold medal-winning United States women’s under-19 national team. The athletic and imposing volleyball player also excels in school, maintaining a 3.9 GPA, while volunteering to collect clothing, blankets, and towels to donate to women’s shelters and pet shelters. 

Addison Ritzenhein, Gatorade National Girls Cross Country Player of the Year

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"“I was so surprised...It gives me a lot of confidence. I can’t wait to see what I can do (next)," Addison Ritzenhein on winning Gatorade National Girls Cross Country Player of the Year.

Colorado has a long history of producing top distance runners. Niwot’s Addison Ritzenhein is among the best, earning the Gatorade National Girls Cross Country Player of the Year award while only a sophomore. Last season, the 5-foot-3 runner won her first national title, finishing the Nike Cross Nationals Final with a time of 17:10.40. Ritzenhein also won the Colorado Class 4A state championship with a state class-record time of 17:08.2, beating her next-closest competitor by 29.8 seconds, which was enough to earn her Cougars team the state title. She’s also a star scholar with a 4.33 weighted GPA, as well as student aide at her high school and a volunteer with the REAL Training youth running club. Even more astonishing, Ritzenhein has two more years of high school running to go, giving her more time to establish further dominance in the sport before moving on to college and beyond. 

These were the first six national athletes to be honored for Gatorade's National Player of the Year. Swing back around in June to see who the remaining six athletes are.

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