Saul Hernandez named National Boys' Soccer Coach of the Year
Saul Hernandez of Dodge City loves soccer. And apparantly soccer loves Saul Hernandez. On July 12, the National High School Coaches Association (NHSCA) announced that Hernandez, head coach of the Dodge City High School boys and girls soccer teams, as its National High School Boys’ Soccer Coach of the Year.
Last fall, Hernandez, led the boys’ team to its second state title in the last five years. The Red Demons were a perfect 20-0. Dodge City is the only program in Kansas boys' soccer history to have two different undefeated state championship seasons.
Dodge City was ranked No. 5 in the nation in the United Soccer Coaches rankings. The Red Demons outscored their opponents 110-7 with sixteen shutouts.
Over the past five seasons, Hernandez has led the boys’ program to a 91-11 record. “We are extremely pleased to honor Coach Hernandez,” said Eric Hess, Executive Director of the NHSCA. “He has established Dodge City as one of the top soccer programs in Kansas and the nation. He exhibits a strong dedication to supporting and developing his high school student-athletes in the classroom and outside of it.” Hernandez is the second Kansas coach to be named the NHSCA National Boys’ Soccer Coach of the Year. Craig Ewing of St. Thomas Aquinas won the honor for the 2008-2009 sports year.
Hernandez said he was notified of the announcement and national award by email, but he had to do a double-take when he saw it.
"I was already thinking about next year, planning soccer camps and practices, so when I read that email, I wasn't quite sure it was for me," Hernandez said.
Hernandez grew up in Dodge City, playing soccer as a kid both in his hometown and with friends and relatives in Mexico, which helped develop his passion for the sport.
"I was here during the mid-90s and early 2000s when western Kansas was in a transition time," Hernandez said. "More and more Mexicans and people of other nationalities were moving here and soccer was a universal game that we all loved."
Hernandez said there were two coaches that influenced him greatly and paved the way for him to find opportunities to develop his soccer skills and continue his education so he could return and coach.
"Adam Hunter was my coach in high school and then for a few years after that in college," Hernandez said. "He was always an advocate for education and has long been my mentor ever since."
Hernandez played soccer on a team at Butler County Community, then returned to Dodge City where he married and began coaching middle school soccer.
"I loved coaching the kids so much that I wanted to return to school to get my degree so I could coach high school soccer," he said. "I went to Fort Hays State University as a non-traditional student at the age of 25 and really never stopped learning after that."
At Fort Hays State University, Hernandez met coach Chris Michaels, whom became his next mentor, helping him most by hiring him to be his assistant soccer coach for the FHSU team.
"I will always be thanking him for what he taught me, what's he has done for me in my life," Hernandez said. "It is that kind of person that I want to be for my kids, for the kids I coach. I want to always encourage them to find opportunities through soccer, but especially through education, to improve their lives."
Now 39, Hernandez has several state championships under his belt, but also many success stories from the students he coaches.
"This year we graduated nine soccer players from my team, eight of those have scholarships to play in college and the other one is going on scholarship to play baseball," Hernandez said. "I am very proud of the achievements of my players. I am always checking up on them, telling them how important it is too keep their grades up so they can play soccer in college. They see that I care about them, and I am always learning myself, taking classes, reading, visiting with other coaches, so I can pass the best knowledge on to them."
Hernandez has two sons, ages 9 and 10, who already play soccer and show an enthusiasm for the sport.
"My dream is to be the best coach I can be and someday coach my own sons through high school and in college," he said. "Until they get old enough I will keep doing what I love doing, coaching soccer and doing my best to give all of my student-athletes a change to go to college."
This marks the 22nd consecutive year the NHSCA has honored achievers within the high school athletic community nationwide. Hernandez, along with other honorees, will receive a beautiful plaque. In addition, the Coach of the Year honoree will be displayed in the National High School Digital Sports Hall of Fame.
As the 2020-2021 NHSCA National Boys’ Soccer Coaches of the Year 2020-2021, Saul Hernandez joins 2018-2019 honoree Jim Konrad, of Naperville North HS, Illinois in the digital hall of fame.