In its 35th year of honoring the nation’s best high school athletes, The Gatorade Company announced Isaiah Chavez of Rio Rancho High School as its 2019 Gatorade New Mexico Football Player of the Year.

Chavez is the fourth Gatorade New Mexico Football Player of the Year to be chosen from Rio Rancho High School, following Michael Love (2005), Troy Harris (2008) and Josh Foley (2016).

The award, which recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field, distinguishes Chavez as New Mexico’s best high school football player.

Now a finalist for the prestigious Gatorade National Football Player of the Year award to be announced this month, Chavez joins an elite group of past state football award-winners, including Emmitt Smith, Matthew Stafford and Christian McCaffrey. Other city Gatorade football honorees have been Alan Branch (2004), who played at Cibola High School, plus Cleveland High’s Cole Gautsche (2011), Gabe Ortega (2015) and Dorian Lewis (2018).

The 6-foot-1, 172-pound senior quarterback passed for 2,006 yards and 22 touchdowns this past season, leading the Rams (8-5) to the Class 6A state championship game. Chavez also rushed for 1,407 yards and 21 scores, including 198 yards and four TDs in the 48-40 loss to Cleveland High in the state title game.

The 1-6A District Player of the Year and KRQE-TV’s Football Player of the Year, he concluded his prep career with 4,243 passing yards, 2,268 rushing yards and 77 total touchdowns.

Also a member of the RRHS Leadership Council, Chavez volunteers locally on behalf of Special Olympics and as a youth football coach.

“Isaiah has been the glue that has restructured this program,” said RRHS football coach David Howes. “People wrote us off after a 0-2 start, yet he managed to pick us up and help us win some terrific football games.”

Many fans will remember him from his gutsy leadership during the Rams’ upset of No. 1 Volcano Vista in a semifinal game last month, and his ability to lead the Rams into the red zone for a late shot at a game-tying TD and 2-point conversion in the Rams’ 48-40 loss to Cleveland in the 6A championship game, played on Nov. 30 at Rio Rancho Stadium.

“It still has a little pain in my heart, but, you know, it is a game and sometimes you just have to get past it and realize it’s just a game,” Chavez said.

Chavez has maintained a weighted 3.35 GPA in the classroom. He remains undecided upon a collegiate destination, but told the Observer his “stock” has risen since he received the award, although he is expecting to be a wide receiver or slot receiver at the next level. He’s keeping his choice of colleges, for now at least, he says, on the down low.

“I told them wherever they need to put me is where I’ll fit in.”

Chavez was in Artesia with the Rams basketball team when Howes texted him the news.

“I look at the leadership part of it first,” RRHS boys basketball coach Wally Salata said.

As the public-address announcer at Rams’ home football games, he’s seen Chavez in action frequently.

“He’s a leader on the football field; he’s a leader on the basketball court, and I’ve asked him to be that leader,” Salata said. “I’ll give you a perfect example: In Artesia, first game; we’re playing Roswell and the ball’s going out-of-bounds by the scorer’s table and the dude hops the table to go save the ball.

“I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’ This is the first game back, but the mentality of the warrior comes in: He’s going to play hard whether it’s on the football field or the basketball game, and that’s what I love. … The difference is, he’s not having 11 guys chasing him, trying to knock the snot out of him.”‘

Chavez modestly down-played the Gatorade accomplishment.

“All season, I was trying to work on myself and the leader that I knew I could become, and my teammates needed me to be,” Chavez said. “That was what I was really focused on this year, and I’m glad I achieved that part of it — and I’m also glad that I achieved this amazing award.

“I like challenges: Anytime you have a challenge for me, I’m willing to do that challenge for you,” he said.

The Gatorade Player of the Year program annually recognizes one winner in the District of Columbia and each of the 50 states that sanction high school football, girls volleyball, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball, and boys and girls track and field, and awards one National Player of the Year in each sport.

As a part of Gatorade’s cause marketing platform “Play it Forward,” Chavez has the opportunity to award a $1,000 grant to a local or national youth sports organization of his choosing.

Chavez is also eligible to submit an essay to win one of 12 $10,000 spotlight grants for the organization of choice, which will be announced throughout the year.

Isaiah Chavez prepares to lead his team onto the field before a game in 2019.