GAINESVILLE, FL [Jan. 5, 2024] – In its 39th year of honoring the nation’s most elite high school athletes for excellence on and off the field of play, Gatorade today announced DJ Lagway of Willis High School in Willis, Texas is the 2023-24 Gatorade National Football Player of the Year. Lagway joins an impressive group of former Gatorade National Football Players of the Year who have combined for more than six NFL MVPs awards, 31 Pro Bowl appearances, six NFL first round draft picks and two Hall of Famers. Lagway was selected from more than one million other student-athletes who play high school football nationwide after being named a Top-3 finalist for the top-honor in high-school sports.
“I want to congratulate DJ on becoming this year’s Gatorade National Football Player of the Year,” said Gators Head Coach Billy Napier. “We all know what a big deal this award is and we are all aware of DJ’s talent, but this award is also a testament to the type of person he is off the field. The way he carries himself, his character, his work ethic, his drive and his focus are the things that make him exceptional. I’m proud of him.”
“I also want to congratulate Nikita and Derek Lagway. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the job they’ve done in raising DJ and for the values they’ve instilled in that young man.”
Lagway joins a trio of Gators who have received the award including John Brantley (2007), Brock Berlin (2000) and Emmitt Smith (1987) who presented Lagway with the trophy at the University of Florida.
Smith surprised Lagway with the trophy at the University of Florida surrounded by Lagway’s family, coaches and teammates. Lagway, who arrived on campus for move-in that morning, thought he was needed for a content shoot on the football field but walked in to find Smith holding the trophy instead. Afterwards, Lagway got a taste of the pro athlete experience with a styling session, photoshoot and media interviews.
The 6-foot-2, 225 pound senior led the Willis Wildkats to a 12-1 record which was good for their first district title since 2002 and a trip to the 6A-Division II regional final. He completed 289 of 393 pass attempts (72.1%) for 4,604 yards and 58 touchdowns while rushing for 957 yards and 16 scores averaging 9.53 yards per carry.
Gatorade Players of the Year are not only the best of the best in their respective sports, but they’re also leaders in the classroom and in their communities. Lagway has volunteered locally at eldercare facilities, playing games and creating arts and crafts with the residents. He also has donated his time to a community foodbank and as a public speaker at schools and churches in the area, speaking with younger students about what it takes to succeed in school as well as athletics. Lagway has maintained a 3.48 GPA in the classroom and is enrolled at the University of Florida, where he will play football next fall.
“Selecting Lagway as the top high school football player in the nation is a testament to his hard work on the field, in the classroom and in his community,” said Gatorade president and general manager Michael Del Pozzo. “His athleticism combined with his contributions in his community and classroom embody what it takes to be a Gatorade Player of the Year.”
As part of Gatorade’s commitment to breaking down barriers in sport, every Player of the Year also receives a grant to donate to a social impact partner. To date, the Gatorade Player of the Year program has provided more than $4.9 million in grants to winners across more than 1,900 organizations.
Image provided by Gatorade National Player of the Year Award