YELLOW SPRINGS — Sharing special experiences with family is a common wish, and Eli and Jeff Eyrich are gathering plenty of them from the Yellow Springs boys soccer team’s memorable run this season.
The Bulldogs are 20-1-2 this season and preparing to play in the Division III state semifinals for the first time since 1983. Eli as the team’s star player and Jeff alongside as an assistant coach have been two of the primary cogs pushing the team toward success.
Jeff was named athletic director for Yellow Springs in 2019. He had been involved in soccer for years, including playing collegiately and heading the Xenia based Club X Soccer organization beginning in 2012, prior to also assisting the Yellow Springs boys soccer team in addition to his AD duties.
“Jeff, he’s a soccer guy,” Yellow Springs boys soccer head coach Ben VanAusdal said. “He played soccer in college. He knows soccer and having him on the sidelines has been unbelievable for us. Sometimes as a coach you have to make certain decisions with things going so fast. He comes in to give me input.”
Eli started his freshman year the same year his father took the job as athletic director. He didn’t need much time to display his future potential by finishing in the top-five of the Metro Buckeye Conference in goals, assists, and points that season.
He’s gone on to make a habit of it, including twice leading the league in goals and points. Eli’s senior year in 2022 has been the most statistically impressive.
Heading into the state semifinals, he currently sits at 48 goals scored in 23 games for his second career 40-goal season. His distribution totals have increased with a career high 33 assists, helping him reach 129 total points. He hit the 100-goal plateau for his career earlier this season and currently sits at 125 in 77 matches.
Fittingly it was Eli who scored both of the Bulldogs’ goals in their regional championship victory against Troy Christian. It was the first time the school won a regional title.
“Holding back tears on that one for sure because I’ve watched him grow and he’s a leader and he wants to win,” Jeff said. “His legs are destroyed, and he scored two goals. He’s going to fight for the team. He’s going to give all he’s got because he wants it more than I do. And I want it probably more than anybody else in this world.”
The responsibility of being “the guy” on the field also comes with being the same off of it.
As one of 12 seniors on Yellow Springs roster, Eli has experienced teammates close-by that have all made the journey together helping bear responsibilities.
“The support not just from my family but from every other family as well, all my teammates’ families, we’re all just such a tight group and have known one another for so long, and they’ve all just been so helpful,” Eli said.
But according to Jeff and VanAusdal, Eli is the one who is called on to provide everyone the examples for success.
“Everybody knows he’s going to give it his all and he’s not going to do anything dumb,” Jeff said. “He’s going to lead by example. He’s a smart kid and he doesn’t do things that makes kids think, ‘oh, if I do that then I’m OK.’ He does the right things 99.9 percent of the time on the field and off the field and these kids take him in like no other. He’s a blessing.”
Eli and Jeff have talked and practiced soccer together for years. It’s clear watching their interactions on the sideline they know how to communicate with one another to get a quick message across during game action.
There is no buffer space needed between the two as they go through Eli’s senior season together, as Eli said he thinks it’s making the experience even better for him.
“He’s there, right?” Eli said. “Instead of being in the stands where I can’t hear him, he’s on the field. I’m on the field, he’s there as well giving me good advice and I’m just really thankful for that.”
Jeff said he is just as happy getting to be there for Eli and his teammates after watching them play together for four years.
“It’s a blessing for me to come to work every day and to be around my kid and just watch him grow into a fine young man,” Jeff said. “I’m just humbled, and appreciate that I’ve been given the opportunity to be around my kids.”
And with Eli being the star and Jeff the leader of the athletic department to put both in prominent roles, there has not been distractions stemming from it for anyone else on the team, according to VanAusdal.
It’s instead been an example of positive takeaways from their interactions he hopes everyone around them watching obtains.
“There’s the way Eli plays for his dad,” VanAusdal said. “It’s not just about him. It’s about those around him, his dad and his brother. This is all amazing because I don’t know how far we could be without Jeff and my assistant coaches Jared Scarborough and Augie Knemeyer. They’ve been a big part of this.”
Eli believes this season has only made the connection he feels with his father become the highest it’s ever been.
Realizing he’s getting ready to take his next step into college life after graduation, he said learning about more life experiences in addition to the ones being created on the pitch will only make their relationship more relatable over time to create even tighter bonds.
Eli has certainly made plenty of memories with the ball at his feet throughout his high school career and has propelled himself to be considered as one of the best players in the state of Ohio with his play in 2022.
“As a father, I’m going to say yes,” Jeff said when asked about Eli’s case. “As an athletic director, I’ll put him up against anybody. Eli Eyrich is the best player in the state.”
“When I’m at the state meeting, I’m nominating Eli for player of the year,” VanAusdal said.
Winning the award would be special in its own right, but Eli noted he is focused on taking in his final high school games as they occur with those closest to him.
Falling back on his favorite memories, Eli said he thinks not only about the incredible amount of goals scored, but how they lead to the hugs with Jeff after each win and getting to embrace his father with each milestone he and his teammates accomplish.
“I look up to him and love him so much,” Eli said. “I always try to be my best for him and my whole family, but especially for him. That’s why it’s so special. He’s on the field because I love it that he’s there to be that close with me.”
Eli is helping lead Yellow Springs toward a potential state title game appearance. And his dad is right along side during the ride.
“As an athletic director and as a proud parent of a soccer player, this is awesome for little Yellow Springs,” Jeff said.
Contact Steven Wright at 937-502-4498 and follow on Twitter @Steven_Wright_.