Each season, Gatorade recognizes one student-athlete from each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. who embodies its Player of the Year program’s three pillars: athletic production, academic achievement and exemplary character.
Each week during its Gatorade State Player of the Year selection process, USA TODAY surfaces one candidate who meets those criteria and deserves recognition as a serious Gatorade State Player of the Year contender.
Name: Alex Thomas
School: Ben Franklin (New Orleans, La.)
Sport: Girls’ soccer
Athletic Production: Odell Beckham Jr. proved to be one of the NFL’s most explosive wide receivers as a New York Giants rookie, and the woman whose genes Beckham benefited from—his mom, Heather Van Norman—has also played a small part in developing Alex Thomas into one of the fastest and most explosive soccer players in the South.
Thomas scored a school-record 57 goals while leading Ben Franklin to a third consecutive Division 2 state championship this past season. The 5-foot-1 senior striker netted the first two goals in the 3-2, title-clinching victory against Shreveport (La.) Loyola College Prep, capturing the game’s Most Outstanding Player honor.
Thomas, who scored the game-winning goals in the 2013 and 2014 title games, led the Falcons to a 63-0-2 record in three varsity seasons. Most of x her success, which includes 189 career goals and the 2013-14 Gatorade Louisiana Girls Soccer Player of the Year award, can be credited to her own hard work and natural ability.
Thomas, though, has also spent time training with Van Norman—the head track coach at nearby Nichols State University—and her significant other, former Olympic gold medalist Derek Mills. Van Norman captured 1986-87 Gatorade Minnesota Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year honors before earning All-American status at LSU.
Thomas expects to graduate this spring after just three years of high school and will follow Beckham Jr. and Van Norman’s footsteps to LSU, where she’ll add her explosive feet to the Tigers’ soccer team.
Academic Achievement: Thomas has maintained an A average.
Exemplary Character: In addition to donating her time as a peer English and Latin tutor, she has also volunteered as a youth soccer instructor and as a caretaker for the elderly at an area nursing home.