MISSOULA — Before getting into this too far, let's make one thing clear:
Missoula Hellgate boys' soccer coach Jay Anderson is not one to toot his own horn. Up until the moment he returned a call to the Missoulian sports department Saturday night, he had kept his unbelievably good news to himself.
A humble family man who has led the Knights to three straight State AA titles, Anderson learned this past week he has been named 2017 National High School Coach of the Year by the United Soccer Coaches of America (formerly known as the National Soccer Coaches Association of America).
"It's very hard to wrap my mind around honestly, being from Montana," the coach said. "There's some coaches out there that have been doing it for a very long time at an extremely high level and have had success at much bigger schools — state's with much bigger populations.
"For us to get recognized at Hellgate in Missoula, Montana, is kind of mind-blowing."
United Soccer Coaches of America is an all-encompassing organization with members from the professional ranks all the way down to the youth level. The High School Coach of the Year process starts with each state naming one representative annually, then 10 regional coaches of the year are honored, making them eligible for the national award.
"I'm kind of shocked actually because I knew about some of the coaches I was up against for the regional award and they had many accolades, many licenses and umpteen amounts of wins that were quite a bit more than someone from Montana," Anderson said. "It's pretty cool for me but I couldn't have done it without my coaching staff and just the talent that I have at Hellgate. It goes to the whole program, not just me."
Anderson, a 15-year head coach who also plays soccer in local adult leagues, has won the United Soccer Coaches' Montana award three times. He has won the regional award the past two years.
"Being around him you can just tell how dedicated and passionate he is about coaching," Hellgate girls' soccer coach Ian Marshall said. "He's always looking for feedback, ways to improve. You can tell he genuinely cares about his kids and his craft."
Anderson will travel to Philadelphia to accept his national award in January. But he sees himself as a representative for the Knights.
"Like I said, it's really about the entire coaching staff and all the players I've had over the years that have helped build the program to where it is today."
A Missoula Sentinel grad who played college soccer at Skagit Valley in Washington, Anderson was not the only western Montanan to be recognized by the United Soccer Coaches organization this year. Hellgate junior midfielder Matt Baldridge and Kalispell Glacier senior forward Cadie Williams earned Montana Player of the Year honors.
Bozeman's Erika Cannon was named girls' coach of the year for Montana. The Hawks lost to Helena in the State AA final this past October in Missoula.