The Gatorade High School Players of the Year who never became household names
- Emmitt Smith, LeBron James and Clayton Kershaw are just a few of the superstars to emerge from 30 years of Gatorade High School Player of the Year awards, but not every winner has needed a field or a court to find success in the ensuing years.
Many of the premier high school athletes who have won Gatorade Player of the Year honors over the past three decades have gone on to illustrious careers in their chosen sports—and many have not. But some of those who chose other fields have also flourished.
1986: Eric Mastalir, Track & Field
All-America at Stanford in 1990
Surgery on both Achilles tendons prevented Mastalir, a distance runner, from seeking a pro career, but he wanted to stay in sports. He worked in development for Adidas and with Bausch & Lomb, then did stints building corporate sponsorships and running ticket sales for the NBA’s Kings and the NHL’s Sharks before becoming chief commercial officer for the Seahawks and Sounders in Seattle. “These brands have such a loyal fan base, and I loved tapping into that,” says Mastalir.
Since 2014 he has been at Amazon working in global business development, while also dabbling in sports ticketing and video. “I wouldn’t have expected I would be here, nor would I have expected to spend a number of years with teams,” Mastalir says. “I’m pleased with my journey.”
1987: Emmitt Smith, Football. All-time NFL rushing leader with 18,355 yards
1988: Alonzo Mourning, Basketball. Seven-time All-Star; won 2006 NBA title
1989: Chris Henderson, Soccer. 1992 Olympian; MLS leader in games played
1990: Lisa Leslie, Basketball. Three-time WNBA MVP, won titles in '01 and '02
1991: Chris Webber, Basketball. Five-time NBA All-Star
1992: Corliss Williamson, Basketball. Won the 2004 NBA title with Pistons
1993: Mike Fisher, Soccer
Won NCAA titles at Virginia in 1993 and '94
MLS had been in existence for only one year in 1996, when Fisher graduated from Virginia. After surveying former teammates who participated in the inaugural season, he wasn't sold on playing. So he turned to what he had planned for his postsoccer career: medicine. Says Fisher, “I was just like, Why delay the whole thing?”
After med school at UVa he completed two radiology residencies and has worked in a private practice in Wilmington, N.C., for nine years. Fisher and his wife, Kelly, coach their two daughters in soccer; when their three-year-old son gets older they’ll coach him too. “[Soccer has] never really left me,” Fisher says. “I’m out at the field four to five days a week. It’s so fun to see them play.”
1994: Felipe Lopez, Basketball. Played four seasons for three NBA teams
1995: Stephanie White, Basketball. Led Purdue to the 1999 NCAA championship
1996: Kim Mortensen, Track & Field. Competed at UCLA for one season
1997: Baron Davis, Basketball. NBA leader in playoff steals per game (2.28)
1998: Ronald Curry, Football. Seven NFL seasons, 193 catches and 13 TDs
1999: Vanessa Pruzinksy, Soccer
Shared the award with forward Christie Welsh
When Vanessa Peterson (née Pruzinsky) graduated from Notre Dame in 2003, she was not only one of the nation's top defenders but also the first student at South Bend since 1974—and the first woman—to have a 4.0 in chemical engineering. So when the Women's United Soccer Association folded that year, she had other options.
Peterson began working as a chemical engineer at Merck, which underwrote her Ph.D. at MIT. Now she works on immunotherapy drugs used in treating cancer. Kicking the ball around with her one-year-old son has helped rekindle Peterson's interest in soccer, which she credits for her professional success. “I apply everything I learned—being a team player, work ethic, drive,” she says. “It was invaluable.”
2000: Monique Henderson, Track & Field
Won NCAA 400-meter title in 2005
After making three Olympic appearances in track—and twice winning gold in the 4 × 400 relay—by age 25, Henderson was ready to stop competing. But she wasn't ready to leave the track. So she took a job as an assistant coach at San Diego Mesa College. Then a teaching position in an exercise science class opened up, and Henderson stepped in as a sub.
“I loved it,” she says. She soon enrolled in a graduate program in kinesiology and exercise science. Since 2015, Henderson has been the coach of the track and cross-country teams at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, Calif., and teaches kinesiology. “I’m very comfortable,” she says. “Everything worked out.”
2001: Kelvin Torbert, Basketball
Averaged 9.3 points at Michigan State
After a career as a high-scoring guard at Flint (Mich.) Northwestern High, Torbert was the team's defensive player of the year in each of his four seasons at Michigan State and a key cog in the Spartans’ 2005 Final Four run. He played overseas for seven years then returned to Flint and started the Kelvin Torbert Hope for a Better Tomorrow Foundation in honor of his mother, Florine Green, who died of breast cancer when Torbert was five.
Torbert also cowrote a children's book, KT and the Radical Roundball, which promotes the value of hard work, humility, service and education. “I know everybody wants to play ball forever,” Torbert says. “But I think I’m in a great spot. I’m in the thick of things, and I can relate to these kids. I like where I am now.”
2002: Zack Greinke, Baseball. 2009 Cy Young winner, led MLB in ERA twice
2003: LeBron James, Basketball. Three-time NBA champion, MVP four times
2004: Candace Parker, Basketball. WNBA champion and Finals MVP in 2016
2005: Justin Upton, Baseball. Tigers outfielder is a three-time MLB All-Star
2006: Clayton Kershaw, Baseball. Led MLB in ERA four consecutive seasons
2007: Emily Pendleton, Track & Field
Won Big 10 discus title in 2008 and ’09
Pendleton found her second act by accident. After winning two Big 10 titles in discus at Michigan, Pendleton didn't know what she wanted to do—so she walked into the student support services office and asked if they needed help. The staff offered her a position as an assistant academic counselor. “I fell in love,” she says.
She worked with Olympic athletes and football players, helping them transition to college coursework. Last year she moved to Indiana and took a job as a learning specialist at Ball State. Pendleton's accidental job is now a calling. “I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished, both athletically and in the workplace,” she says.
2008: Ashley Brasovan, Cross-country. Finished 55th in 2016 U.S. marathon trials
2009: Skylar Diggins, Basketball. Wings point guard is a two-time WNBA All-Star
2010: Justin Worley, Football
Passed for 3,556 yards at Tennessee
Injuries to both his shoulder and thumb limited Worley’s career as a quarterback at Tennessee and prevented him from getting an NFL roster spot. So Worley returned to a place that’s been a part of his life since he was nine—the Upper Palmetto YMCA in downtown Rock Hill, S.C.—where he serves as the sports and fitness director. “It was an opportunity, fresh out of college, to give back to the community I grew up in,” he says.
Worley enjoys seeing kids compete. And in a town that is sometimes called Football City, USA, he gets to see players who can follow in his footsteps. “We’ve got a bunch of talent,” Worley says. “It’s good to be around that.”
2011: Morgan Brian, Soccer. Golden Ball winner (for best player) in 2016
2012: Breanna Stewart, Basketball. No. 1 WNBA draft pick in ’16 was top rookie
2013: Andrew Wiggins, Basketball. NBA Rookie of the Year in 2014
2014: Karl-Anthony Towns, Basketball. No. 1 pick in 2015 draft was also top rookie
2015: Mallory Pugh, Soccer. Youngest American to score in the Olympics
2016: Sydney McLaughlin, Track & Field. Ran the 400m hurdles at the Rio Games