Arik Gilbert sat in a hallway Friday morning waiting to enter a closed room. Once the door opened, he saw gold and white balloons floating near the ceiling and "Congrats" spelled across a wall in gold foil.
Gilbert, an LSU freshman, had won 2020 Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year, becoming the first tight end to receive the award. Gilbert stared at the trophy.
"I'm at a loss for words right now," Gilbert said.
Gatorade has presented the award to one male and one female athlete since 2003. Previous winners, who include LeBron James, Candace Parker and Kyler Murray, have combined for nine MVP awards, 13 national championships, 59 all-star appearances and 20 first round draft picks.
UConn women's basketball player Paige Bueckers won Female High School Athlete of the Year.
[Editor's note: This story been updated to reflect an updated figure regarding LSU's contracts]
Gilbert, who received Gatorade National Football Player of the Year in December, beat five other nominees.
Instead of finding out through an in-person ceremony, Gilbert received a congratulatory video featuring top football players from across the country, including former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow and Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas.
"To end off my high school career basically with this trophy, I can't think of a better way to go out," Gilbert said.
Gilbert caught 105 passes for 1,860 yards and 15 touchdowns last season while leading Marietta High School to a state championship in Georgia's highest classification.
As high school associations make decisions about football, recruits in states that won’t play this fall have elected to skip their senior seasons.
Gilbert also founded a campus-wide program called "Whisper," which supported diversity and inclusion efforts, and volunteered for multiple organizations around Marietta. His off-field efforts and 3.14 GPA contributed to the selection.
The highest-rated tight end recruit in 247Sports history, Gilbert enrolled early at LSU. He underwent shoulder surgery earlier this year, but Gilbert's expected to start in the fall.
As Gatorade representatives interviewed him later Friday, Gilbert shook his head.
"I feel grateful right now," Gilbert said. "I'm thankful for how my life has turned out."