For the 12 honorees at the Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year awards, it wasn’t a coronation of their greatness, but more an acknowledgement that now is where the real work begins.
It would be easy for these high school sensations to get caught up in the glitz and the glamour of their own accolades, especially last nights winners Breanna Stewart and Jonathan Gray. But the message throughout the night, and in my one-on-one interviews with pro-presenters Alonzo Mourning, Landon Donovan, Robert Griffin III, Brandie Chastain and Lisa Leslie, as well as from the athletes themselves was consistent: The work begins now.
Alonzo Mourning may know better than anyone what it takes to get to that next level. After all, he was a back-to-back honoree in 1988 and 1989. He realizes now that while the accomplishment was impressive, it was just the start. “If I knew then all the things I knew now I’d be a billionaire.”
Mourning, in his speech at the awards ceremony, preached perspective, humility and kindness. Having had his share of ups and downs, the NBA legend knows that there is nothing guaranteed on their journey forward. “You get out of the game what you put into it.” Even Mourning, when reflecting on the approach he took towards the game, knows the journey wasn’t perfect. “I still had a great career but I could have had a better career had I known then what I know now.”
That wisdom wasn’t lost on these young athletes. Jabari Parker, perhaps the most publicized of any athlete to appear at the awards ceremony last night, knows his game is far from perfect. “I think I need to work on my aggressiveness. I think I lost that my junior season because there is a lot that your skill can make up for but going forward I need to work on my aggressiveness.”
Jonathan Gray knows that as he heads to the next level it’s not just one thing he’ll need to grow at. “Right now it’s about working on everything I do. I have to better myself in all aspects of the game.” It’s that kind of attitude that is likely to lead to success. Gray, who amassed 205 touchdowns during his prep career isn’t expecting anyone to roll out the red carpet to him at Texas. “I just have to take advantage of what my coaches give me and just try and make the best of it.”
Robert Griffin III, a presenter and the No. 2 pick for the Washington Redskins believes that Gray has the ability to reach that next level.
“He’s gotta stay focused and not lose himself within the program that he’s in. Some high profile prospects go to college and expect things to be given to them. But talking to him and sitting next to him I can see he’s very grounded and I don’t see that happening to him.”
Griffin also believes that Gray, as well as all the athletes looking to get to that elite level, can do so by “knowing their why.”
“If you know your why you can endure any hows. A lot of people think that we do this for the money and the fame, and of course those are byproducts of that, but what people don’t see is that a lot of these guys are doing it for their communities and their families because a lot of people from those communities don’t make it out and it gives them hope.”
Still, while every honoree dreams big, US Soccer star Landon Donovan reminds them that the here and now is worth living in and not looking past. “Stay present. It’s easy to get caught up in the big goals but none of those are possible if you aren’t putting in the work now.” Donovan knows that it’s the experience of the journey that matters. “I think because we watch these shows like American Idol that we believe there always has to be a winner, but sometimes the journey is just as rewarding.” Being honored on Tuesday wasn’t a bad way to start.