Omar Hernandez received a number of high-profile awards during his high school soccer career, and now the former Dalton High standout is among the finalists for a national award.
Last week, Hernandez was named by USA Today as one of five high school players from around the country who are finalists for the 2018-19 ALL-USA Boys Soccer Player of the Year. A poll is available on the USA Today website, although according to the site the "voting results will not factor in final selection for Player of the Year."
The ALL-USA boys and girls teams will be announced this week, along with the Player of the Year awards and the Coach of the Year awards.
"It's just crazy," Hernandez said. "You don't really think someone from a small town can even be on the list, especially against players and teams that are from bigger cities where you can get more exposure. Everyone in Dalton has shared the poll and it feels great to know you have a whole community behind you like that."
A recent Dalton graduate, Hernandez finished his high school career as the program's all-time leader in assists with 64. This spring Hernandez helped lead the Catamounts to their fifth state championship, their first since 2015. Dalton began the season as the No. 1-ranked high school boys soccer team in the country and finished 23-0, defeating Gainesville High School 4-1 in the Class 6A state championship.
Hernandez had two assists in the state championship match, and finished his senior season as the team's leader in both goals (16) and assists (17).
"I'll remember those last 20 minutes in the state championship game, just soaking it all in," Hernandez said. "Especially for us seniors, who've been trying and dying to get a championship, to win one was a huge relief.
"Starting the season as No. 1 is a huge target on your back, and teams will try to see if you're really deserving of that No. 1 spot. We knew we had to play well every game."
For the next month, Hernandez will train and play with Dalton's first-year USL League Two franchise, the Dalton Red Wolves, before moving to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on July 7 where he will enroll at Wake Forest University. Hernandez will begin classes at Wake Forest on July 8, and said his mindset right now is one of excitement and anticipation.
"For the next month I'm going to be devoted 100 percent to the Red Wolves," Hernandez said. "I'm excited to transition from a high school career to a great college, and I'm excited to play with older players who are with professional academies and see where I stand with them."
In his 25 years as the boys soccer coach at Dalton, Matt Cheaves has won five state titles and coached a number of players who have gone on to play college soccer. Cheaves said Hernandez is among the best he's ever coached.
"He's so creative on the field," Cheaves said. "He has great vision, great anticipation, and he trains really hard. What a great recognition for him to be nominated. He deserves it, not only for his play on the field and his academics, but also for his interactions with people. Everyone likes Omar."
As a junior, Hernandez was named the 2017-18 Gatorade Georgia Boys Soccer Player of the Year, the Daily Citizen-News Boys Soccer Player of the Year and a first-team All-American by TopDrawerSoccer.com. His club soccer experience includes time with the Chattanooga Football Club along with Atlanta United Academy, and he said he hopes to enjoy his time with the Dalton Red Wolves this summer.
For a player with so many accolades, those who know him well say his humility is what shines through the brightest.
"I try to stay humble," Hernandez said. "I'm really a quiet guy and I try to let my game do the talking."