By Sean Lewis, Santa Barbara News-Press Correspondent
LOS ANGELES - After all the highlight reels were shown, and all the stats read off, there could only be one male and one female winner of the coveted Gatorade Athlete of the Year award Tuesday evening in the Grand Ballroom at the Loews Hollywood Hotel.
Cate School soccer standout Ema Boateng was among the nominees in attendance, but had to watch as presenters Landon Donovan and Robert Griffin III called the name of Texas running back Johnathan Gray, who rushed for an astounding 65 touchdowns in his senior season.
"Winning the National Gatorade Athlete of the Year and just being surrounded by amazing athletes, it's an amazing feeling," Gray said. "I'm blessed to win the award and I'm just glad to be here."
The feelings of gratitude were shared by the female winner, Syracuse, N.Y., basketball player Breeana Steward-who is committed to play for UConn and averaged 26.4 points with 14.2 rebounds per game.
"I was shocked and surprised at the same time," Stewart said. "I wasn't thinking of winning the award, but when they called my name I was shocked and happy to win it and I plan to represent them to the best I can."
Ten other high school standouts, including Boateng, had to settle for the company of their peers and the professional athletes on hand as presenters such as Griffin III, Donovan, former U.S. women's soccer star Brandi Chastain, retired WNBA star Lisa Leslie, retired NBA center Alonzo Mourning and retired U.S. national volleyball player Ogonna Nnamani.
Boateng, who led Cate (20-2-1) to back-to-back sectional titles with five goals and seven assists in the Division 7 playoffs to go along with 32 goals and 19 assists in his final season, was seated next to Donovan as dinner was served and he got a rare chance to pick the brain of the all-time leading scorer in U.S. history.
"I think it's been a great experience," Boateng said. "At my table, Landon Donovan was sitting there. Getting to talk to him -like, he was one of the guys that started playing pro early at like 17 he was away in Germany. Getting to know his experience and that stuff was awesome."
Boateng, who will matriculate to UCSB in the fall with enough credits to graduate high school as a junior, seemed to impress his more famous tablemate with his poise and intelligence. Specifically, Donovan remarked on his clear-headedness and decision-making that led him toward the Gauchos.
"At the end of the day he wanted to go to a good soccer school, and he thinks going there for a year can be really good," Donovan said. "It gives him a chance then to get drafted into Major League Soccer, and if he wants to go elsewhere he can do that. He's very grounded for a young kid, and that's refreshing for a young kid because it's so easy to get caught up in the other stuff."
The U.S. soccer star also reminded Boateng, who came to the country from Ghana in 2009 to play at Cate, that he is responsible for his own actions, which means nobody else can choose his path for him.
"We were talking about his future and what he's sort of deciding to do," Donovan said. "I think at a young age, athletes get a lot of input from a lot of places. One thing they forget is that they can do what they want; they don't have to take the advice that everyone else is giving them. A lot of time you have family, or agents or advisers or friends saying you should do this or you should do that, but I told him: do what you want to do. If you want to quit soccer tomorrow, then do it. If you want to go to UCSB, which he's going to do, then go. If you want to go pro, go pro. You choose what you want to do."
Donovan's advice was likely a memorable moment for Boateng, but even being in the presence of other high school stars was a pivotal moment for him.
"This morning we had a conversation, we were talking about what drives us and how we would react to different situations," Boateng said.
"Everytime someone else spoke, I felt like it was me. That's the kind of voice I'd use to describe myself.
It felt really good that we all had the same goals, we're all working hard to be the best that we can. I think that's great, it keeps me on the right path and knowing that I have to keep working hard."
Those athletes included Gray, Simeon Career Academy (Chicago) basketball player Jabari Parker, Jesuit High School (Tampa, Fla.) pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., South Grand Prairie High School (Grand Prairie, Texas) sprinter Abraham Hall, North Central High School (Indianapolis) distance runner Futsum Zeinasellassie, Berkeley Preparatory School (Tampa) outside hitter Jordan Burgess, University Lake School (Hartland, Wisc.) distance runner Molly Seidel, Stewart, Milford High (N.H.) soccer player Morgan Andrews, Oconee County High School (Watkinsville, Ga.) pitcher Geri Ann Glasco and Legacy High School (Mansfield, Texas) thrower Shelbi Vaughan.
For more coverage of Boateng, click here.