American Fork Athletics is no stranger to success. Before this year’s 6A boys soccer championship, the Cavemen had secured 36 state titles across 11 different sports over the past 25 years.

However, the boys soccer team was conspicuously absent from that list. American Fork won back-to-back championships in the inaugural seasons of sanctioned boys soccer in 1983 and 1984, but it did not lift a state trophy again for 40 years.

It always helps to have an incredible talent to break a 40-year drought, but it helps even more when that talent pushes everyone around them to be great.

Luckily for American Fork, it had just that in 2024 Deseret News Mr. Soccer Lewis Knecht.

“It’s been a project for 10 years,” said American Fork head coach Casey Waldron. “Lewis brought this energy with him that was second to none. The kid has no shortage of energy and charisma. His personality is contagious as well, but one of the things that he’s done in the two years at American Fork is he’s demanded more out of himself and his teammates.”

Knecht has stood out from the moment he first stepped onto a high school field. During his freshman year at American Heritage, he led the team with 22 goals.

In his sophomore year, Knecht transferred to American Fork and has been the Cavemen’s leading scorer ever since.

However, for Knecht, simply scoring goals wasn’t enough. He aimed to bring success to American Fork and transform the perception of Cavemen boys’ soccer.

High school boys soccer: Deseret News 2024 Players of the Year, exceptional leaders who excelled under pressure

“I always felt like soccer was looked down upon (at American Fork),” Knecht said. “(Soccer) was kind of disrespected in a way and that type of stuff can get to you.

“After we had a losing season last year, I was upset because I told myself when I came to the school that I wanted to prove everyone wrong. I wanted to help change the program.”

This season, Knecht set out to do just that. He led American Fork in scoring with 20 goals and made a significant impact by leading the state with 17 assists.

Knecht scored or assisted on 63% of all goals scored by American Fork this season and quickly, his winning attitude became infectious to his teammates.

“Lewis would look at his teammates occasionally and say, ‘We’re not going down this way. We’re going to continue to fight,’” Waldron said. “Without fail, especially in those close games, he’d score the game-winner, or he’d score a goal that got the momentum shifted back to us, and then somebody else would maybe go score the game-winner.”

Knecht undoubtedly made an impact on the field, but also equally impacted the program off the field by encouraging weekly player-only meetings outside of practice to read “Energy Bus” by Jon Gordon together.

“I had a discussion with my team before the season started and I said, ‘We’re going to start reading (”Energy Bus”), we’re going to become a family, we’re going to make this the best culture sport in the entire school, we’re going to win state and we’re going to prove everybody wrong,’” Knecht said.

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Waldron has worked toward instilling a winning culture at American Fork since being hired 10 years ago. He said Knecht’s extra effort for team building was invaluable.

“The boys found a way to bring them together,” said Waldron. “I’m not saying (reading a book) is unique to our team, but I thought doing that weekly forced the boys to be more disciplined.

“They learned from the content of the book, but also it was just it was just an activity that brought kids together. They were able to chat through some things and learn some life lessons that apply to the soccer field, apply to teamwork, and just pushed them to the next level.”

The culture shift led to American Fork’s best season, overcoming multiple close games to take the first state championship in 40 years with a 16-2 record. For Knecht, it was a culmination of everything he’s worked toward in the last two years.

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“It just felt really good to put the work in and do it the right way,” Knecht said. “For us to prove everybody wrong, prove the entire state wrong, prove the school wrong, and completely flip the switch says a lot.

“It shows a lot about the culture that we created this year and it shows the way our coaches taught us.”

Knecht has helped American Fork boys soccer to become a team that opposing coaches must circle on their season schedules. He knows the challenge that brings, and he hopes to bring the same energy into his senior year.

“It puts a big target on our back, but we’ll be ready and we’re going to come back next year,” said Knecht. “It’s going to be another very competitive year and we’re going to be challenged a lot in close games, but I believe that we’ll be able to flourish like we did this year.”

Past Deseret News Mr. Soccer winners

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