Lucas Mendes saw the news break on Twitter just before walking into school this morning: His play for Washington-Lee High (Arlington, Va.) this spring had earned him Gatorade Virginia State Player of the Year honors. A few hours later, the senior forward got a much bigger shout-out, and it didn’t require a download. Former Major League Soccer MVP Taylor Twellman surprised him face-to-face with the 2015-16 Gatorade National Boys Soccer Player of the Year award
“I still can’t get my head around the fact I’m holding this trophy,” said Mendes, 18, a Virginia signee. “I’m speechless,” he added before burying his face in his hands and breaking down in tears.
The 5-foot-5, 125-pound playmaker has led the Generals to a 11-0-2 record entering the postseason, which begins on May 12. Mendes has scored 13 goals and passed for seven assists in his first year playing high school soccer after previously playing with D.C. United in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. Ranked as the No. 24 recruit in the Class of 2016 by College Soccer News, he attended a training camp with the U.S. Soccer Under-20 Men’s National Team in January.
“This is a part of my job that I absolutely love,” said Twellman, 36, a two-time Gatorade Missouri Player of the Year as a prep and now an ESPN analyst. “It really makes you reflect on what it takes: a team, coaches, administrators and a community. Lucas is a tremendous soccer player, but this moment has more value than the piece of hardware he’s holding. This program brings people together.”
Mendes was named a Youth All-American for club soccer by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America in 2015. He was also recognized as a U.S. Soccer Development Academy First 11 honoree. Mendes still leads his D.C. United club squad in goals (8) and points (17) despite leaving the team to play as a prep two months and six games ago.
“Lucas really puts the ‘attack’ into the title attacking midfielder,” said TopDrawerSoccer.com’s Senior Editor for High Schools Sheldon Shealer. “He’s always a threat to score, and so often sets up a teammate for a chance. He’s quick, shifty and excellent one-on-one. He’s very competitive and very confident. I expect him to be an immediate impact player in college and, despite his small stature, he’ll pose matchup problems for a lot of the taller, physical defenders given his speed and skill in tight spaces.”
The Gatorade Player of the Year award recognizes outstanding athletic excellence as well as high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field. Mendes is now a finalist for the Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year award. USA TODAY High School Sports administrates the nationwide selection process in collaboration with Gatorade.
Mendes has maintained a weighted 3.22 GPA in the classroom. A member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, he has volunteered locally as a youth soccer coach. He has also donated his time to the Color of Leadership Conference, where he served as a mentor and participated in workshops to help middle school students of color discover and apply resources to achieve their personal goals.
Mendes becomes the 13th athlete from Virginia to earn national Gatorade honors in any sport, and represents the second in boys soccer. Only four states have produced more. Mendes joins Alan Webb, who still owns the fastest American mile in history (3:46.91—2007), along with well known past national winners from the Old Dominion State, including seven-time NBA All-Star Alonzo Mourning of Indian River (1987-88) and Detroit Tigers outfielder Justin Upton of Great Bridge (2004-05).
California, with 65, has produced the most national Gatorade winners across the program’s 12 sports. Texas (30), Florida (21), Illinois (15) and Virginia/Indiana (13) round out the top five.