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ALL-COUNTY BOYS SOCCER PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Hayden Fontana, Lambert
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Hayden Fontana knows that it’s time.

There was still a lot for the Lambert senior to process in the week following the state championship game, unsurprisingly: He’d played soccer with and against a group of peers for most of his life, and now that group was breaking up for good.

“I don’t know if it’s sad yet, I don’t know if it’s good yet,” Fontana said. “But I’m sure I’ll figure that out.”

But Fontana can take comfort in the fact that his high school soccer career couldn’t have ended in a much better fashion. The Longhorns, state champions in 2018, returned most of that team and barreled through the season in even more dominant fashion, going 22-1-1 and beating Lakeside-DeKalb for another state title.

Fontana was technically kept off the state sheet in that game, but he certainly played a role in both goals of the Longhorns’ 2-1 win: In the first, he hit a shot that was saved and fell to Nick Alliston, who finished easily, and in the second, Fontana’s shot banged off the far post and fell to Yeonsung Lee, who hit a high-quality strike low and past the diving Vikings keeper.

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With Fontana not planning to play varsity soccer in college, the Longhorns' state title win gave him a storybook ending to his career. - photo by Ian Frazer
That summed up the essential, do-everything role Fontana played in the Longhorns’ offense throughout the season, one he finished with 25 goals and 7 assists. He showed off pace, touch and composure in finishing situations, but also an uncanny awareness of his place in the defense, which caused Fontana to go unmarked more than would be expected of a player of his caliber.

“You get a scouting report before the game, but you don’t always have the mental strength to follow that through the entire game, especially defenders,” Fontana said. “If they get a scouting report on me or any of the other forwards, they’re not necessarily focused on it the entire time, and it’s just (in) that little gap that you just have to sneak past them.”

Fontana doesn’t plan to play varsity soccer in college. He had schools reach out to him and could have pursued the option, but the desire wasn’t there. He’s set to go to the University of Georgia, where he might join the club team but will more likely take the intramural route.

And because Fontana had made that decision before this year’s state title game, the matchup with Lakeside-DeKalb carried a unique sense of finality. Against South Forsyth in 2018, the Longhorns had strong familiarity with the rival War Eagles and were convinced of their superiority.

“It was kind of a thing where I don’t think we were cocky going into it, or arrogant, but we went into that game knowing we couldn’t lose,” Fontana said. “It just wasn’t going to be possible.”

The Vikings, on the other hand, were more of an unknown and looked like more of an equal to the Longhorns. And with the knowledge that this was going to be it for Fontana, the game felt much bigger.

Things might be different if Lambert had lost. Fontana said he might be more inclined to play club in college if that had happened. The win brought a satisfying sense of closure to Fontana’s competitive soccer career, but also opened up another pressing question: What’s next?

“I don’t know yet,” Fontana said. “I think it’s definitely a challenge that I’m going to have to face. I think I definitely have enough people around me and enough possibilities for me to reach out and try a few.”