He might be the best soccer player in Anne Arundel County, but the question that defines Old Mill senior Andrew Engel hints at an even greater potential: How good could he be?
How good could he be if he kicked a soccer ball just once or twice between December and August, if he played a few games for a club team, if he made time for a summer camp so he could refine his skills?
How good could he be if he perceived soccer as anything other than light entertainment, an occasional break from his year-round basketball obsession? How good could he be if he decided soccer really mattered?
"The answer to that question is scary," Old Mill Coach Jeff Martin said. "He's the best player around, and he plays four months a year. It's pretty crazy."
Engel had eight goals and five assists to lead Old Mill to the 4A state final last season, but he never touched a soccer ball in the months that followed the Patriots' 2-0 loss to Sherwood in the championship game. Instead, he played basketball for Old Mill (averaging 13 points to lead the Patriots to the 4A state semifinals) and for the First Baptist Crusaders Amateur Athletic Union team. He only started thinking seriously about soccer against last week, when Old Mill opened practice.
"I play soccer, but my topic of interest or my main concern is always basketball," Engel said. "Basketball has always been my thing. I just love it. Soccer is great, too, but it's not like basketball for me. It doesn't give me quite the same thrill."
Even during the soccer season, Engel's focus sometimes diverts to basketball. During a break in a drill last Wednesday, Engel unconsciously revealed his passion: After kicking a soccer ball up into the air, he slapped the ball with his hand, dribbled three times behind his back and tossed an imaginary layup into the air.
He came to soccer practice this season in incredible shape, running two miles in 11 minutes 29 seconds -- almost a full minute faster than any teammate. He's in shape because of basketball. During the summer, he played more than 40 basketball games and traveled to tournaments in New Orleans, Las Vegas and Indianapolis, attracting some attention from small colleges.
The skills that make him an excellent soccer player -- speed and great vision -- also fuel him in basketball, where he plays point guard. He played club soccer until eighth grade, when he decided he wanted to take basketball more seriously. In both sports, he prides himself on distribution and game management.
"He can make passes that nobody else can," said Derek Harris, Engel's teammate in both soccer and basketball. "He's so athletic that he just adapts from one sport to the other. He can play no soccer all summer, then come to practice and be better than anyone else."
Said Martin: "How can I complain about him not playing soccer when he shows up in better soccer shape than anyone? When he's at practice, he's dead serious about soccer."
After practice, though, Engel goes back to basketball. He has a half court in his back yard -- "and I don't even own a soccer ball," he said -- where he spends most afternoons. A few of his friends from the Old Mill team meet at his house and play pickup games for three or four hours. The only time soccer comes up in conversation, Engel said, is when his friends ask to see a soccer dribbling trick.
"They think it's cool I play both, so they'll ask me to show them some stuff with my feet," Engel said. "It's fun to do both. But in the end, I'm always coming back to basketball."