When Andrew Elchert was in grade school playing football for the East Side
Raiders, he and his father, Michael, would practice field goals and extra points in the family's backyard.
Elchert, 18, a senior at Cardinal Stritch, was already playing soccer by age 6.
"I was big compared to most kids back then," he said. "I played soccer and I said why not give football a try."
Elchert played running back, linebacker and kicker for the Raiders, but soccer was and still is his sport of choice.
"It started when I was young, in grade school," Elchert said. "Me and brother, Nicholas, always played soccer together until he graduated from Stritch two years ago. He's a different player than I am. I'm the small, quick one and he's the big monster (6-6, 160)."
The younger Elchert has been a monster, so to speak, for the Cardinals' soccer team for the past four years. The 5-10, 160-pound Elchert is a three-time first-team All-Toledo Area Athletic Conference selection. He also handles kickoffs, field goals and extra points for Coach Joe Gutilla's Stritch football team.
"He's probably the second or third best player in the TAAC right now," Stritch soccer coach Dave Skoczyn said. "That says a lot, because Ottawa Hills was first in the state last year and they're ranked No. 1 right now."
Skoczyn is in his first season as the Cardinals' head coach, but he has been coaching soccer for 21 years. He was a volunteer assistant at Stritch last season, so he is familiar with what Elchert has meant to the soccer program.
"He plays a lot of positions for us," Skoczyn said. "He's a very good player. Probably his biggest strength is reading the game. He's been playing so long, not just in high school but he plays club soccer. His ability to read the game and react to what's coming at him is just really extraordinary for his age level. He's very good with both feet; he's scored left- and right-footed this year."
Skoczyn added that Elchert, who leads the Cardinals (5-11, 2-6 TAAC) with 15 goals and also has four assists, plays all over the field.
"We look at each game and say, 'this is where you need to play,' " Skoczyn said. "He may be more of a defensive midfielder when we play Ottawa Hills or Maumee Valley. Andrew is the best player on the team, and other teams mark him with four or five guys. His big leg is a huge advantage for us. He can knock the ball 50 or 60 yards in the air, easy. That's a huge advantage."
Which is why Gutilla likes having Elchert on the Cardinals' football team, even if it is only part time.
"He's obviously got a real powerful leg," Gutilla said. "He's one of those kind of kickers where you can turn your back and when you hear him strike the ball, you know he's kicking it a long way. It's pretty consistent. You hear this thump and you know he has the ball off going a pretty good distance."
Elchert, who has been kicking for the football team since his sophomore year, is 6-for-9 on field goals and 11-of-16 (five have been blocked) on extra points for the Cardinals, who were 1-7 and 1-3 in the TAAC heading into this Friday's home game against Hilltop.
Last Friday, in a 33-12 loss to Edon, Elchert kicked field goals of 39 and 34 yards.
"On a good field anywhere from 35 yards in, he's going to make it," Gutilla said. "If I'm on a good field, I have absolute confidence he has a shot to make it anywhere from 45-50 yards. Put him on an artificial surface and he's really dangerous."
Pulling double duty in soccer and football has been a unique experience for Elchert, who also has a part-time job three days a week at the Holiday Inn French Quarter. He generally kicks with the football team two to three times a week.
"I have soccer right after school and football starts at 4 or 4:30, so it overlaps a little bit," he said. "I run over there after soccer and do my kicking. I do a lot of extra points, to get the timing down with the snapper (sophomore Christian Peters) and holder (senior A.J. Zalewski). The farthest field goal I've made in practice is 55 yards. That's usually where I stop kicking field goals. I practice onside kicks or pooch kicks once a week."
If there is a conflict with soccer and football practice, Elchert sticks with the soccer team.
"They had a football game (Oct. 10) near Cleveland and we had a game the same day, and he came with us," Skoczyn said. "Soccer is his first love."
Elchert's soccer background came into play on the football field in the Cardinals' Sept. 25 home game against Danbury, when the right-footed Elchert booted a kickoff with his left leg.
"I tore a muscle in my (right) quad, so I kicked it left-footed," he said. "It went to the 12-yard line (from the Stritch 40-yard line), so it wasn't too bad. On a good day I can kick it in the end zone."
One kick Elchert, who holds the school record for longest field goal, would like to have back is a 52-yarder he missed in the final minute in Stritch's 33-30 loss at Ottawa Hills. The ball was spotted on the right hash mark and Elchert's kick had plenty of distance, but it was wide right.
"I got a good hit on it," Elchert said. "It had the distance, but ... I was pretty upset about that miss. That was my shot, so far. Hopefully I'll get another shot and put it through. I hit it straight. It probably was five feet to the right from the right hash. That was a bummer."
Elchert has a 4.17 GPA and is ranked in top five in his senior class. He is also a member of the Cardinal Stritch Spiritual Life Committee. Elchert said he is looking at colleges right now, and he plans to major in mechanical engineering.
As for continuing his football and soccer career after high school, Elchert said that is still an option.
"It comes down to football and soccer and which school's giving me a good look," he said. "I love doing both. It's a tough decision. It's looking like a lot more people are looking at me for football right now. There aren't that many kids out there who can kick 50-plus-yard field goals."
Gutilla laments the fact that he's only been able to use Elchert as a kicker and not as a position player because of the senior's soccer commitment.
"He's a pretty good athlete, and we have to share kids (at Stritch)," Gutilla said. "I didn't want to jeopardize Andrew's soccer experience. I didn't want Dave (Skoczyn) to find out the next week he wouldn't have his kid because I played him at cornerback and he got hurt. I kept him strictly as a kicker and he's responded well. If he was out there every day kicking footballs, everybody would be looking at him."