Sunday, April 14, 2024

Hometown Excellence: Gatorade Names Southlake Athlete Best Cross Country Runner in Texas for 2024

Gatorade’s slogan, “win from within,” is a fitting description of the athlete they named as their 2024 Texas Cross Country Player of the Year – Southlake’s very own Carroll ISD Sophomore Caden Leonard.

Leonard grew up watching Dragon Cross Country runners stirring up Southlake soil between strides for years before tugging on his own shoes and taking his first step toward a legacy of long-distance running. Having a dad that coaches the high school Cross Country program has allowed ample exposure to the impressive athletes raised in Southlake, and now as a Sophomore, Leonard proves to be one of them.

A man and young boy riding on a golf cart

Two-year old Caden Leonard at Cross Country practice

With the Dragon Varsity Cross Country boys coming off of their fifth consecutive Team State Championship title win, placing third as a team in the Nike Nationals competition, and becoming the first Carroll Dragon to win the individual state title for boys with a time of 15:00, it’s clear that Leonard is a fierce competitor and talented athlete.

But it takes more than that to be Gatorade’s Player of the Year.

A major piece of the selection process lies not in how hard Leonard worked to get to the top, but in the exemplary character he displayed on the journey to get there.

A large part of Gatorade’s selection was due to Leonard’s extracurricular involvement with volunteer organizations within the Southlake community. Some of these include his participation with the Young Men’s Service League, youth ministry at White’s Chapel Methodist Church, and the Southlake Special Olympics – where he intends to donate a $1,000 grant awarded by Gatorade to an organization of his choice.

A Country Team posing with a trophy

The Carroll Dragons after their State Championship win

This heart for encouragement and compassion for others are core values that contribute to his knack for leadership.

“Caden helps push us every day,” teammate Blake Bullard said. “He is morphing into a team role that is much needed as the seniors graduate.”

When asked about what this award meant to him, Leonard was quick to give the spotlight back to his teammates – who he says he wouldn’t have had a successful season without.

That, and the strenuous training it took to prepare.

Under the direction of Caden’s father, Coach Justin Leonard, the boys’ and girls’ teams put in countless hours of practice together in order to compete at the level they do.

“I hope people understand how dedicated these young men & women are,” Coach Leonard said. “They train 52 weeks out of the year, regardless of the weather. These kids sacrifice a lot of time, effort, and energy in order to be great.”

On paper alone, the hard work of these athletes reflects not just greatness, but a legacy of excellence. With an impressive track record boasting 14 consecutive years of the Carroll boys’ team either placing 2nd or 1st in the State Championship, and both the boys’ and girls’ programs having more Nike National appearances than any other public or private school in America, the program’s future seems to be on track for success as Leonard prepares to step into a new leadership role as an upperclassman next season.

An athlete posing with a championship trophy

Caden Leonard with the 2023 State Championship trophy

“It’s such an honor to be named Gatorade’s Player of the Year, and I’m really thankful for all my teammates who have pushed me over the past two years to get where I am now,” Leonard said. “In my next two seasons, my goal is to be the best teammate and leader to the underclassmen, and to better myself each race.”

As Leonard prepares for his next season, we’ll be rooting for him to continue competing with character, dedication, and teamwork. Wherever his running shoes may take him down the road, we’re proud that it all began right here in Southlake.

To read Gatorade’s official press release regarding their selection of Caden Leonard for Cross Country Player of the Year, click here.

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