Daniel Simmons Claims Gatorade National POY Honor

* Daniel Simmons reacts to being handed the Gatorade National POY trophy from former champion Casey Clinger

Photo Credit: Gatorade

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The very first run Daniel Simmons took when he returned to American Fork this summer was named 'The Grinder.' 

A 1.3 mile ascent consisting of three variations, it featured a rapid elevation gain, a winding S turn and a flat-hill-flat-hill segment.

The monstrous barn-burner ended with a crack in the road at the very top. 

"It hurt, a lot," he said. "It was the big hill. It was the grind." 

But perhaps it was a signal to Simmons, who had spent his adolescence in American Fork, that all great things require hard work, dedication and a bit of grit. After seven years in Idaho, he was back in the place where it all started. 

Simmons, 17, would go on to execute on his best cross country season to date over the fall, winning six times, including at the Utah Class 6A Championships and the Team Southwest Regional. 

On Dec. 3, he was the national runner-up at Team Nationals.

On Tuesday, Gatorade named Simmons, one of the country's most consistent and prolific athletes, as its National Player of the Year.

It marked the second time since 2016 that a runner from American Fork had earned the distinction. Better yet, BYU star Casey Clinger, who was the last one to do it for the Cavemen, was there to hand Simmons the trophy.

"I still got this, 'Is this actually happening feeling?'" Simmons said. 

So how did we get here? 

His return to American Fork strengthened the Cavemen considerably. An Idaho Class 2A runner-up as a sophomore, Simmons had finished the previous season with a 5K PR of 14:37.00 from the Garmin RunningLane XC Championships. 

Photo Credit: Gatorade

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Then came the transition to the Utah powerhouse.

While his first race of the year began with a loss -- to Tayson Echohawk and Liam Heninger -- at the Timpanagos Invitational, Simmons would change that tune quickly. 

He didn't lose again until nationals, recording six course records in the process. At nationals, he ran the second-fastest time ever recorded at the Glendoveer Golf course. American Fork finished fifth overall as a team. 

"This team has brought the best out of me," Simmons said. "It's brought the best out of each other." 

While Simmons said he just missed out on a couple of goals -- going undefeated and winning nationals -- the season was full of immense highs. 

And to now be named National Player of the Year? 

"I think it's showing just what can be attained through hard work and belief in oneself," he said. "Just having a loving team that has tradition built into it and getting ready to go every single day and getting out of bed every single day and going to work." 

With one more season left, Simmons remains committed as ever to reach his goals. 

Cross country has taught him some very important lessons. 

"It's hard. It's a hard sport, you know," he said. "If you're not focusing on the right things at the right times, sometimes you just want to quit. other times, when you can wrap your mind around what you're doing and who you're with, it makes it to fun and unbelievable what the body can do." 

Photo Credit: Gatorade

More on Daniel: 

Simmons, a high school junior at American Fork, maintains a 3.98 GPA in the classroom and has volunteered through service projects in his community. Previously involved in choir, Simmons says singing is one of his joys. "I enjoy singing a lot," he said. 

Gatorade National Cross Country Player of the Year Winners Since 2007:

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