Morgan Andrews shoots for more

Matt Cashore

Notre Dame freshman Morgan Andrews is not only technically gifted, her coach Randy Waldrum said, it's her mental understanding of the game that sets her apart from others.

At least in the eyes of one observer, Morgan Andrews is hardly the next great thing in women's soccer.

Mind you, that's not because Notre Dame sophomore Cari Roccaro, part of the U.S. side that won last year's Under-20 World Cup and a player named by one soccer publication as national freshman of the year, is skeptical of her new teammate's ability. Nor is she jealous of the attention and awards already lavished on one of the sport's higher-profile new arrivals in recent years.

It's just that she has witnessed the Andrews effect since the latter was 13 years old and they played together on a regional select team, Roccaro from Long Island and Andrews from New Hampshire.

At some point, next is now.

"She's been dominant ever since she was that age, and she still is," Roccaro said. "She's amazing, so technically gifted and so smart on the ball and off the ball. She's the full package."

Matt Cashore

Morgan Andrews, a two-time Gatorade National Player of the Year, not only played high school soccer but also earned all-state honors as a kicker for the football team.

Hype is the universal language of sports in this modern world of ours. What is good sometimes seems less important than what might be good in the future. We impatiently search out and prematurely crown the next star. That those words are written by way of introduction to someone who has yet to play a conference game and only recently first sat through a college class means this is no exception. There are players around the country who are more accomplished and have experienced more than Andrews. For that matter, there are players in South Bend, such as Roccaro, who qualify on both counts.

Through five games, Andrews has three goals (including this one) and an assist. Good numbers, particularly for a freshman. Not world-changing.

But sometimes a player comes around and it seems worth getting to know her. If only to beat the crowd.

Andrews is one of only nine high school athletes to repeat as Gatorade National Player of Year in a sport, winning for women's soccer as a junior and a senior at Milford High School in the Granite State. The rest of the list includes names such as LeBron James, Marion Jones, Greg Oden and Candace Parker. She is one of only two women's soccer players honored as Gatorade National High School Athlete of the Year. The other is Virginia junior Morgan Brian, who is already forcing her way into the U.S. national team conversation for the next World Cup and Olympic cycle.

Andrews has captained youth national teams in her own age group and trained beyond her years with older groups.

There is just a touch of folklore about her, too. How strong is her leg? Strong enough she didn't just kick for her high school football team but earned all-state recognition on the gridiron. She hit a field goal from 42 yards in a game and connected from as far as 55 yards in practice. She is in South Bend to play soccer, but she joked that, if Brian Kelly asks, she's ready. At least, she might have been joking.

The thing about soccer is that it's a creative sport. You don't have to stick to one play, you don't have to stick to passing it to one person. You can do what you want with the ball and do what you want with your passes. That's why I fell in love with it. I fell in love with the creativity.
Morgan Andrews

There are no sure things in sports, but there are occasionally players about whom certainty offers the shortest odds.

"She's technically very gifted, but there are a lot of technical players in the U.S.," Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum said. "I think the thing that separates her is her understanding of the game. She knows where to run and when; she knows how to show for the ball. It's those little nuances of getting your body in the right shape to receive a certain ball depending on where the pressure is coming from, those kinds of things.

"She just gets that, and I think she is years ahead of her age in that kind of intelligence."

You learn something about the person behind the praise by discovering that, during soccer preseason on an otherwise sparsely populated campus, she made a point of scouting out the buildings for all her classes. Meticulous, she didn't want to be that freshman, the awkward one wandering aimlessly on the first day of school. You learn a little more when she admits she still wound up asking a teammate for help when the time came, only to learn the building she sought was next to the one from which she had just come. Sometimes you can't escape being that kid.

She comes still more into focus in discovering that the first class of her college life was an art class. With two of them on her schedule this fall, photography and 2-D design, she begins each day with one or the other. Art is a release, an escape from whatever stresses occupy the rest of her life.

In its own way, it's also part of her passion for soccer.

"The thing about soccer is that it's a creative sport," Andrews said. "You don't have to stick to one play, you don't have to stick to passing it to one person. You can do what you want with the ball and do what you want with your passes. That's why I fell in love with it. I fell in love with the creativity."

That she found the passion in the first place had a lot to do with her two older brothers, mostly because she found most things by first following their lead. They didn't last all that long in soccer, but, by the time they moved on to other interests, she was hooked.

Her siblings still hold sway. Eight years her senior, Mike Andrews teaches and coaches track in Roxbury, a Boston neighborhood where almost half of children live in poverty. One year younger than Mike, Matt Andrews is a member of U.S. Army Special Forces, the Green Berets, and is deployed in Afghanistan.

The youngest of the three might be the only one who has rubbed shoulders on the red carpet at The ESPYS with LeBron James and Alex Morgan, but the attention seems less likely to go to her head, given the stories her brothers can tell. In that sense, she still follows their lead.

"You worry when you have somebody coming in who has those kinds of accolades," Waldrum said. "That could either be really good for your team or it could be a problem for your team. If they have a prima donna attitude, then that kind of a player could destroy team chemistry."

It is clear the latter scenario isn't one that causes him to lose much sleep in this instance.

Those who know Andrews even better would agree. Passion can be its own reward and its own motivation.

"Morgan rides herself really hard, and she does put a lot of pressure on herself, but it's because she wants to be the best that she can be," Mike Andrews said. "I don't think that she's ever felt like she has to be like my brother or I, or like my parents, or fit this mold that anyone wants her to be in. She does it for herself. I think that's pretty incredible for an 18-year-old kid to kind of know herself that well that she doesn't have to be anybody else."

One goal she doesn't shy from talking about is her desire to make the senior national team. Although the timeline in her head might include the 2015 World Cup or 2016 Olympics, which will take place before her junior and senior years, respectively, the cycle beginning with the 2019 World Cup is a more likely starting point for speculation.

"I haven't seen enough to make a judgment just yet," U.S. coach Tom Sermanni said. "But she's done pretty well in the Under-20s and she's somebody that's sort of on the radar."

On the radar will do for now. There is so much soccer still ahead of her. She will make sure of that.

"I don't think passion is something that can be forced upon someone," Andrews said. "You find it on your own."

Just as soccer fans find her. She isn't next. She is now.

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