Nico Young Wins Gatorade National XC Player Of The Year

* Nico Young was announced as Gatorade's National XC Player of the Year in 2019

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Nico Young was suspicious. 

As the Newbury Park High School senior was sitting inside his biology class on Thursday -- learning! -- a knock came at the door. In came athletic director Michael Godfrey, all serious looking. 

"He told me I had to come with him for a special meeting," Young said. 

Now, while recent weeks had been a little different -- incredible success in cross country had yielded extended periods out of school and Young's celebrity had risen among the high school community -- things had died down in recent weeks. 

Well, kind of ...  there was that indoor national record for 3,000 meters just a few weeks ago, after all. 

By now, Young was waiting for his outdoor track and field season to begin.

There weren't supposed to be any more surprises!

"I was a little confused," Young said. "I wasn't sure why I was being taken out." 

Then he entered the cafeteria, and it all clicked. There was one more moment worth getting excited for. 

"I knew what was happening then," he said. 

Young, the breakaway star of the 2019 cross country season, a multiple record-setter and recently crowned Nike Cross Nationals champion, was named as Gatorade's National Cross Country Player of the Year on Thursday among family and friends at Newbury Park High School. He's the second straight California athlete to be named Player of the Year in cross country, following last year's winner, Liam Anderson.

"I'm super excited about it," Young said. "It was a really cool experience, them surprising me and everything." 

This was an easy decision. 

On the road to a dream season, Young broke record after record and finished the fall unbeaten, winning a national title in a new meet record of 14:52.30 at the Glendoveer cross country course in Portland, Oregon.

It capped off a year that also saw Young set a national 3-mile best at the WoodBridge Cross Country Classic in 13:39.70, a meet record at Clovis (14:28.90) and another on his Riverside 3-mile course in 13:54.10.

Young recently set a new indoor national record for 3,000 meters at the Millrose Games, finishing in 7:56.97.

"I think this is definitely an awesome way to cap off the season," Young said. "It's a super prestigious award, so it definitely showed everything paid off." 

Young said his most challenging race of 2019 was the Clovis Invitational. It was there where he sensed a difficult challenge, against a tough competitor and on a course he had set high ambitions on. 

"I hadn't run the Woodward Park course yet that year and the competition with Leo (Dashbach), after the 5K he raced that was fast, there was a little bit of an unknown for me beforehand." 

But Young was continually reminded of his work ethic. He hadn't missed a practice in ages. 

"I think what was important was (head coach Sean Brosnan) just reminding me to be consistent and talking to him about being there every day and doing my best," Young said. "Consistency was the main thing." 

In December, Young ended the mystery surrounding his future college home, too, deciding to sign with Northern Arizona University. The Lumberjacks were runner-ups at the NCAA Cross Country Division I Championships in 2019, after three straight titles from 2016-2018. 

Photo Credit: USA Today Sports

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He was enamored by Flagstaff, the chemistry of the team at NAU, and his future coach. 

"When I was on my visit, the atmosphere there with the team and the coach really reminded me of our team," Young said. "They were really serious sand I could tell they really wanted to run well and do well. It was a better atmosphere that I hadn't seen elsewhere.

"I think (NAU head coach) Mike Smith, he's super experienced and really successful and I think that he is the coach to get me where I want to be." 

Young said his outdoor plan is undecided past April. He'll return to the Arcadia Invitational in the 3,200m, and he'll try to break the national record in the race a year after posting a time of 8:40.00. 

He wouldn't comment on whether he would go after an USA Olympic Trials qualifying time, or whether he'll look to make the USA U20 team for the upcoming World U20 Championships this summer. 

He'll figure that out soon enough, he said. 

In the meantime, Thursday represented a day of reflection. He can rest easy on an honor well deserved. 

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A Look Back

NXN Champion Interview

California State Championship Race

Woodbridge Classic Sweepstakes Race

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