A Little Bit Of Deja Vu For National POY Daniel Simmons

* American Fork's Daniel Simmons won his second straight Gatorade National POY trophy on Monday

Photo Credit: Joe Greer/Gatorade

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It was deja vu for Daniel Simmons on Monday. 

The American Fork (UT) senior was named Gatorade's National Cross Country Player of the Year for the second consecutive season after a campaign that saw him win 10 straight races -- including a Utah Class 6A title and an NXR Southwest title -- before a 13th-place finish at Nike Cross Nationals, which was the final race of the high school season. 

"I'm like jittering bro," he said. "It's very exciting." 

Two-time Gatorade Player of the Year Grant Fisher, 25, making the short trip up  from Flagstaff where he is currently training, presented Simmons with the honor. 

"It's really cool," said Fisher, who once was presented his Gatorade national POY trophy by Dathan Ritzenhein. "Brings back a lot of memories. It's weird being on both sides." 

Now, you may be asking yourself: But Danny Simmons did not win the national championship? 

This is true. 

But perhaps this welcomes another discussion. Is Player of the Year about the best runner of the season, or should it honor the best runner on the final day of the season? These things, of course, are subjective. 

"The things that happened, for me and everyone else on that day, that was the best I could do," Simmons said. "The whole season, getting basically every record that I raced on the course, just helped fuel every single next race and helped me stay excited for everything that came.

"I think it was a balanced season to have that," he added, "not perfect." 

It's easy to say the best runners always win on the day. But a wet and muddy national championship did not allow for the best of starts, and ultimately Simmons -- and American Fork -- came up a little short. 

"Little things count," Simmons, 18, said. "Every little thing matters. There were things I did that I would say probably cost the race. But I am not disappointed. It was the greatest race I could have had." 

For large stretches of the season -- perhaps even up until that final day on Dec. 2 -- Simmons was the best runner of 2024. 

MileSplit ranked him No. 1 from the start of the season up until the last ranking of the year, when we decided that Foot Locker Nationals winner Drew Griffith would be our MileSplit50 Runner of the Year

How does one win 10 straight races, including the Utah Class 6A Championship and the NXR Southwest Regional, without being an absolute force? The BYU signee credited much of his success to the work he put in with American Fork.

"This last season of cross country at American Fork was crazy," Simmons said. "I mean, every day it was like, 'Let's lock in. This will be great.' It was less about, 'Are we going out there to beat other people?' We wanted to win and be the best, but it was more like, 'Are we having fun? Are we doing great?' That focus really help build the elasticity of the season in my mind." 

Naturally, he was surprised by Fisher's appearance on Monday. 

It was only until recently that Fisher, who owns American records in the 5K and 10K and reached the Olympics in 2021 and the World Championships in 2022, left the only professional group he had ever known to work with his old high school coach, Mike Scannell. He also moved to Park City, Utah. 

"It's my permanent residence now," Fisher said. "I'm a Utahan. Car, House, everything." 

Nevertheless, there was Fisher, a former POY winner in 2014 and 2015, right in front of Simmons. A year ago, that honor went to former American Fork great Casey Clinger. 

Fisher said he gave Simmons a few pieces of advice.

"One thing I mentioned to him was not to put too much pressure on yourself," Fisher said. "...You don't need to force anything. The things that made you successful as a junior will make you successful as a senior. Let yourself grow." 

"My entire running career, the most I ever grew was my freshman year of college," said Fisher, who won an NCAA title in the 5K as a sophomore. "The level is so much higher and you have to adapt. You grow and figure out who you wan to be within running and within life. It's a fun time period. But you don't have to put too much pressure on yourself." 

Next up for Simmons is a series of big meets across the country. 

He's headed to Boston for the New Balance Grand Prix, then New Balance Nationals Indoor, Arcadia in April, the Utah State Championships and then more national meets in June. 

"A month or two, I'll have more concrete plans," he said. 

Simmons said he's planning on racing his first semester at BYU before he takes his mission with the LDS church. 

What does he credit for much of his success? 

"It just helps a lot to have that positive energy around you," he said. 

Fisher commented on his impending season, confirming he will open up at the Millrose Games in New York City in the 2-mile. From there, he'll race a 5K at Boston University and then will try to grab an Olympic standard in the 10K, hoping to drop below 27 minutes. "Haven't really set the races outdoor yet," he said. "My main target is the Olympic standard." 

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

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