ICYMI=Rob Andrulis from the Litchfield County Sports Magazine. Story by Rick Wilson.
LITCHFIELD – “He just looks like a soccer coach.” He was Rob Andrulis, the comment a passing observation from one of a group of friends who were sitting with the Litchfield High soccer coach on a brisk late October afternoon chewing the fall season fat.
What exactly does a soccer coach look like? Men in blazers? Open collar button down shirts with suit jackets, English Premier League style? Warm- up-suit with clipboard? Who knows, but just for the record on this day, just after practice, Andrulis was sporting the warm-up suit and yes, there was a clipboard close by. He even threw in a pair of those up-close reading glasses that sit on the end of your nose.
There is no rule book for the definitive soccer coach look but the point was made. Andrulis just exudes soccer. In his presence you are never far away from soccer balls, bicycle kicks, yellow cards, fifty-fifty saves, penalty kicks and goalie saves.
There is probably no bigger soccer passion in the Northwest corner than that which pushes Andrulis. At the very least there may be no better-known name associated with the game than that of Andrulis.
For 18 years Andrulis has coached Litchfield High posting a record of 178-121-22, a mark that includes a Berkshire League title tie this season with powerful Lewis Mills. When not on the high school sidelines, he is a Regional Director of No. 1 Soccer Camps and owner of Victory Soccer Academy.
By the way, he married an English lass, Clare, a down home Liverpudlian, and is a fervent rooter for Liverpool. Add it all up and you hardly ever find Andrulis very far away from the pitch.
“I love the game on the field and talking to the kids,” says Andrulis. “On Saturday and Sunday mornings I watch it on TV. It gets in your veins. It becomes part of you. “
It is a passion born of family blood and accomplishment. Rob could play but so much of the push came from his brother Greg. Before there was Rob there was Greg who is still making a mark in the sport that has never been lost on Rob.
Greg has one of those resumes that you need a vacation day to pore over. A 1976 graduate of Litchfield High where he earned All-State honors, he went on to play at Eastern Connecticut State University and then in to the coaching ranks.
Greg was an assistant at ECSU, coached JV and freshmen at Springfield College and was an assistant at Clemson. As head coach of Wright State University, he posted a career mark of 134-78-2. Then came the pro ranks. He became coach of the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer (MSL) and led the Crew to its first title, the U.S. Open Cup. In the 2004 he earned Coach of the Year honors.
Since 2006 Greg has been the head coach at George Mason University. His journey along the pitch has resulted in Hall of Fame inductions at Litchfield High, Eastern Connecticut and Wright State.
Rob couldn’t help but be influenced.
“Having a brother that was a D-1 coach and coached in the MSL, it gave me bug to do this,” said Rob. “I watched him succeed at Columbus. We talk a lot these days about both teams (George Mason and Litchfield). Greg has taught me much – especially his favorite word, persistence.”
Rob’s early foray into the world of soccer was fueled by his parents.
“Mom and dad moved us from Waterbury where they didn’t have soccer and we went to middle school and tried out for the soccer team because they didn’t have football here,” said Rob. “We saw guys catching balls with their hands and said let’s be goalies. We learned soccer here.”
After getting a state final under his belt in 1975 as a sophomore (a 1-0 loss) when Greg was a senior, Rob moved on to Southern Connecticut State College where playing soccer gave way to something else.
“There were a lot of good players there, I saw the handwriting on the wall,” laughed Rob. “It was the old playing in the Berkshire League and being a big fish......I moved to track and field. I was good in the sprints.”
Soccer however was never very far away. In 1989 Andrulis became a staff coach win No. 1 Soccer Camp which had been formed in 1977 and where Greg worked as a counselor. It was an experience that kept him on the go.
“I would travel around the country to camps,” said Andrulis. “The kids would come to camp for a week, three sessions a day. We were all over. Ohio was a big spot and Greg was coaching at Wright State at the time. “
Andrulis is also the owner of Victory Soccer Academy (one week during the summer) meaning his days from June through November are saturated with soccer.
In the mid-1990s Andrulis moved back to Litchfield and began to do some volunteer coaching with Litchfield High coach Dan Jewett. For five years he put in his time and when Jewett decided it was time to move on, he was ready to step right in.
“First of all, I had good mentors like Dana and Phil Fowler (JV coach) and my brother,” said Andrulis. “When Greg got into the MLS it gave me the bug to coach. I watched him succeed.”
Litchfield’s soccer pedigree has been a strong one through the years and Andrulis has kept the ball rolling. There was a state final appearance in 2011 (loss to Somers) and over the last five years his teams have steadily risen in BL circles with a 48-31-5 mark marred only be a rebuilding a 3-12-1 mark in 2016. In post-season action the Cowboys advanced to the Class semifinals this season and in 2015.
This past season holds a large dose of satisfaction for Andrulis and his Cowboys. In a league so often dominated by Lewis Mills and Nonnewaug, the Cowboys elbowed their way on to the stage with a tie for the title.
In a topsy-turvy five-day span, the Cowboys looked like they had lost the title with a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Housatonic only to rebound the next night and take down Mills, 1-0. Housatonic then beat Mills to give the Cowboys a share of the title.
The Cowboys were 4-1-1 against the big boys in the league, Mills, Nonnewaug and Northwestern Regional.
“These guys believed in themselves and we thought we could do this at the beginning of the year,” said Andrulis.
Led by sophomore Timmy Donovan (30 goals), All-Stater Charlie Shanks and goalie Coleby Bunnell the Cowboys were hardly short on talent. But the guy guiding things on the sidelines had a lot to say about it.
“Rob is an incredible guy and he knows his soccer,” said long-time Forman School coach Scotty McCarty. “He connects with the kids and he holds them accountable. He takes no crap and he makes them better. Today there is a sense of entitlement and Rob holds the line. He takes players and finds places for them.”
Andrulis does take a break from soccer. During the spring he coaches track and field at Wamogo. In some corners a shaky mix, doing business with the archrivals. Andrulis rolls with the seasons.
“My first A.D. was Mary Stolle and she called me out to center court one night and introduced me as, “sometimes a Warrior and sometimes a Cowboy,’ and that’s what I am,” said Andrulis.
But you know deep down, he’s a soccer guy. He looks like a soccer guy. You just know. He wears the love of the game all over him. You think Andrulis and you think soccer. It is who he is.
Cut him open and you get a fall afternoon and a soccer balls flying all over. He wouldn’t have it any other way. Either would we. One classy soccer guy.