COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — Confused.
That was one of the first emotions Alex Fankhauser could pinpoint feeling after he found out that he was the Deseret News’ 2019 Mr. Soccer award winner.
The Brighton High senior was honored to be sure, but the thought stuck in his mind that somehow he wasn’t quite deserving, that some soccer player out there was better served to hold the title of best player in the state.
Maybe they should have come from the 6A classification, the state’s largest, he thought. That, after all, had been somewhat of a tradition.
Perhaps they scored more goals than he did, or were bigger, stronger and faster than he was.
“It is super cool, but am I really the best player in the state?” he speculated. “I don’t even know. I feel honored, but confused. It’s questionable.”
He needn’t have felt that way.
Fankhauser was the best player on the Bengals all season long, a team that rolled through the 5A classification en route to the state title, the program's first in a decade.
Fankhauser was the engine behind the team’s dominant run, and as it turns out, so much more.
“He was the best player on the best team in the state,” Brighton head coach Brett Rosen said. “He is the most all around and complete player. He changes games with his skill and relentless attack. He is a leader through action and words. He is an all around good kid who makes everyone around him better. He was willing to do whatever was necessary. He was amazing.”
That wasn’t always the case.
As a freshman in 2016, Fankhauser was like most, a bit overwhelmed by the stage.
“He was quiet, as most freshmen are,” said Rosen, “but every year he became a little bit of a better player and developed a little more confidence.”
As a sophomore, he netted his first high school goal, in a non-region contest against Riverton.
“That was fun,” Fankhauser said. “I can’t remember who it was against, but it was fun to finish that.”
He took a leap forward as a junior, finishing the year with five goals scored and nine assists as an important midfielder on a Bengals team that advanced as far as the state semifinals.
Heading into his senior season, however, he was asked to make a change.
Rosen needed him to play forward — Brighton lost 15 players from its 2017-18 team — instead of his usual midfield position.
The hope was to put Fankhauser opposite fellow senior Josh Loomis.
“We needed someone to complement Josh,” Rosen said. “Josh is a really strong, hold it up striker, while Alex is the exact opposite. He is a dynamic, quick, run-around-you type of striker. I felt like that would be a great combination going into the season and that is where we needed him.”
Fankhauser took to the change like a moth to a flame.
So much so, that from his forward position, he recorded a career-best 14 goals, nearly tripling his previous season-best, to go along with 16 assists.
“You play similarly to when you are a midfielder,” Fankhauser said, deflecting any and all praise for how well he made the position change. “Just less defense.”
“It was easy for him,” added Rosen. “He is versatile and was willing to do what was necessary. He increased his goal scoring dramatically. He is always going to put his teammates first, he is always looking to pass the ball, always looking to set up a play, but this year I challenged him to really look for his own shots and his goals increased dramatically.”
So too did his leadership ability.
He was the best player on the best team in the state. He is the most all around and complete player. He changes games with his skill and relentless attack. He is a leader through action and words. He is an all around good kid who makes everyone around him better. He was willing to do whatever was necessary. He was amazing. – Brighton head coach Brett Rosen
Fankhauser became the preeminent leader on the Bengals this season, both in action and word.
“Alex is a leader by example,” said Rosen. “He’ll lead through his play, but he’ll also lead through encouraging words to his teammates. He never puts any of his teammates down and is always encouraging them to improve and get better.
“He’ll go out there and work really hard and they’ll see it and think, ‘Well, if Alex is doing it than we all need to do it.’ He was an example in all aspects of the game, an all-around example.”
But nothing proved more indicative of Fankhauser’s impact on the Bengals — not his lofty stats or leadership ability — than his absence.
Just before halftime, during Brighton’s 5A semifinal bout with the Skyridge Falcons, Fankhauser was injured and forced to the sideline for the rest of the game.
Almost immediately, the Bengals looked nothing like the team that had rolled to a Region 7 title or through the opening rounds of the state tournament.
“We turned into a completely different team because he wasn’t out there,” said Rosen. “That showed just how valuable he is.
“You look at him and he is short in stature” — Fankhauser is no taller than 5-foot-7, if that — “and you think, ‘Oh, he can’t be that great, but the next thing you know he dips his shoulder and goes around someone and everyone kind of wakes up and realizes just how good he is. He is a consistent hardworking player, so the time we saw his impact the most was the time he wasn’t there.”
Above all else, it was his effort and energy, coupled with his ability, that set Fankhauser apart and made him more than deserving of Mr. Soccer.
“He goes nonstop for 80 minutes,” said Rosen. “I think our team really fed off his energy. They saw that every game and they wanted to do that too.”
A valedictorian, Fankhauser will attend BYU this fall, following in his family's footsteps.
“BYU has always kind of been the goal,” he said. “My dad and my mom went there. I’ve always thought BYU was good.”
Westminster made a run at him and offered some enticing scholarships, but ultimately, “the education and atmosphere at BYU” won him over.
As for his future on the pitch, it’s somewhat up in the air.
“We’ll see,” he said. “I love soccer. I want to play at BYU and see if I like it at the higher level. I assume I will. I have thought about it a lot. We will see.”