Each 2006 Deseret Morning News boys soccer MVP was a superb athlete.
Two of the players earned first-team All-State accolades in other sports before the soccer season, while the other decided to focus solely on the sport he grew up playing.
Athletic talent alone didn't turn the trio into MVPs, however. Rather, the thing that made them irreplaceable on the field was their ability to channel that talent into the game of soccer.
One became the anchor of the state's most lethal offensive attack. Another became an unselfish forward who could still score himself, when necessary. The other became a steady defender who captained his side to a state championship.
BLAKE TILLOTSON, Alta
In what turned out to be the first of three meetings between Alta and Brighton, which were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 all year long, Tillotson played majestically in midfield to lead his squad to a thrilling 3-2 win.
It's hard to overstate his play that day. He dominated midfield while leading his squad's offensive attack. He won numerous balls defensively and scored twice going the other way.
Tillotson didn't look back after that. He turned in a host of solid performances and led the Hawks to their first state title since 1997.
"From that point," Alta coach Lee Mitchell said of the first Brighton game, "he started to dominate things . . . That game helped him realize he could be dominant out there."
Tillotson turned into the state's premier box-to-box midfielder. He scored 11 goals and had six assists offensively, which made many people forget all the defensive work he did.
"When we needed him to, he played some awesome defense," Mitchell said.
He was a great leader, too. Tillotson didn't lead the Hawks by getting in the faces of players or by being loud. Rather, he just went and gave everything he had.
"I think his leadership role was the way he played," Mitchell said. "He went out and played 80 minutes for us."
Tillotson picked up first-team All-State honors in football as a safety and in basketball as a guard. Both of those Alta squads had lofty expectations during the season, only to stumble in the playoffs.
Getting over the hump with soccer was clearly on the mind of Tillotson.
"I think he wanted to end his high school career in the right way," Mitchell said.
Just how good of an athlete is Tillotson? After a soccer scrimmage one afternoon during the season, someone convinced Tillotson to run the 800-meter dash at a nearby track meet. With his soccer gear still on, he posted an outstanding time of 2:04.
He didn't run at the state meet because of a lingering knee injury, but he would've been in strong contention for a state title.
JAKE COOK, East
Last year, Cook was the hot shot of East's soccer team. He scored 11 goals as a sophomore and frequently found his name in newspaper capsules.
Defenses keyed on Cook in 2006, but his maturation as a player turned him into Class 4A's MVP.
Cook truly became the workhorse of the Leopards' offense. He scored nine goals two fewer than his 2005 total but he racked up 14 assists, which is a huge number for a forward.
"I like the term workhorse," said East coach Mike Kernodle. "That fits what he did."
Kernodle and assistant Rudy Schenk hoped Cook would become that type of player at the start of the season, and Cook's willingness to accept the challenge made a huge difference.
"From the beginning of the year," Kernodle said, "we kind of tabbed him that way. It wasn't, 'You have to score a goal a game.' It was, 'You have to be a team leader.' "
And that's what Cook did. Rather than worrying about piling up goals, he instead did whatever he could to help his squad. As a consequence, a huge amount of East's offense ran through him. When he wasn't scoring goals or dishing out assists, he opened up things for others because defenses had to key on him.
"He was just as dangerous as a decoy as he was a target player," Kernodle said.
Like Tillotson, Cook excelled on the football field. He made first-team All-State as a running back in 2005, finishing with a 4A-best 1,713 rushing yards.
He will undoubtedly have collegiate offers for both sports. According to Kernodle, Cook hasn't decided yet what he will do. Kernodle said his favorite sport is soccer, but he will probably get bigger offers to play football.
AUSTIN BLAIS, Park City
Blais has been blessed with all the physical tools of a prototype sweeper. He combines blazing speed and skill inside a 6-foot-2 frame.
But the beauty of his game is his ability to blend those characteristics into a steady soccer player who just does what is necessary.
"He's got all the size, speed and skill," said Park City coach Mike Guetschow, "but he doesn't try to do too much. He just does exactly enough to win the ball and start our offense."
After a great junior year, Blais followed that up with another outstanding overall performance in 2006, which paced Park City to the 3A state title.
He stood out on a squad filled with stars. Trying to get so many big names to mesh together can be an impossible challenge for some coaches, but it was something that Guetschow largely didn't have to deal with.
Even when the Miners had a rash of injuries during most of the regular season, Guetschow never really worried about his squad falling apart because of Blais' influence.
"He's the one who kept us together," Guetschow said.
Like the other two MVPs, Blais led by the way he played.
"Austin didn't do it by being a rah-rah (player)," Guetschow said. "He wasn't a demonstrative leader. He led by example in practice, in games and any time he stepped on the field."
Park City's talented offensive players got a lot of press over the season, but people largely forgot how good the Miners' defense was. Park City led Class 3A again with a .47 goals-against average, and Blais was at the heart of the stingy backline.
"Betu (Roberto Linck) and Reid (Baker) sell the tickets they're exciting to watch," Guetschow said. "But it's defense that wins championships."
Blais steadily improved throughout high school. He didn't make the JV playing squad when he was a freshman, but he became 3A's top player four years later.
"That's a huge jump in four years," Guetschow said. "It's a testament to how hard he's worked."
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