By Chris Goltermann
What’s better having one of Georgia’s Gatorade Player of the Year roaming a high school’s hallways?
How about two?
And it’s about the only place you’ll see the latest recipient where he’s not in full stride.
East Coweta High junior Kyle Harkabus became the school’s second Georgia Player of the Year from a successful fall to open the 2018-19 school year.
A season capped off by an individual GHSA State Championship in its highest classification — Harkabus’ first in cross-country to go with multiple in track — earned him the state’s Cross Country Runner of the Year accolade from Gatorade, which recognizes 51 athletes nationally.
He joins softball senior and recent University of Washington signee Kelley Lynch, who helped lead the Lady Indians to their second straight Class 7A championship, among a pair of Georgia’s Gatorade Player of the Year winners.
Harkabus led the field at November’s GHSA Class 7A state championship meet in Carrollton before crossing in 16:08.55 with the last of seven first-place finishes during the 2018 high school season.
His victories included efforts in the Bob Blastow Early Bird (15:17.58), Starr’s Mill Panther Invitational (15:58.40), Big Peach Stampede (15:57.45), Wingfoot Invitational (15:46.40), Coweta County Championships (16:04.72) and the Area 2-7A Championships (15:39.99).
Harkabus’ season-best came in a second-place effort at the Asics Alexander Invitational, crossing in 15:15.79 behind only Cambridge senior Jack Filan (15:11.78). The two also ran head to head at the Early Bird and Wingfoot meets.
Among the first to arrive and always the last to leave cross-country practice — with an increased mileage to help train for major events outside the GHSA including the Foot Locker Nationals — Harkabus has been as much a leader by example while also maintaining a 94.5 average in the classroom.
“I’m just doing what I have to do,” Harkabus said in August at the start of last season. “I know I’ll have to do more because I’m getting better and also I have to run the extra miles.”
Harkabus has served as a recreation assistant at SonRise Baptist Church Vacation Bible School, mentoring youth in various activities and sports. He has also donated his time to coaching middle school students training as runners in addition to volunteering locally for the Abby’s Angels Charity Run. “Every success Kyle has had in three short years is attributable to his self-discipline, motivation and humility,” said East Coweta head coach Valerie Rodriguez said in a press release. “Being his coach is a dream, not just because he is so talented, but because of how he trains and accepts his role as a rising star athlete in the community. Kyle leads by example, inspires his teammates to be their best and understands that his successes are due to his hard work as well as the people who support him.”
As a part of Gatorade’s cause “Play it Forward” platform, Harkabus has the opportunity to award a $1,000 grant to a local or national youth sports organization of his choosing.
He is also eligible to submit an essay to win one of twelve $10,000 spotlight grants for the organization of choice, which will be announced throughout the year.