As a toddler, Andrew Malinich loved running, and he loved to kick things.
“It could be a just a water bottle in the back yard or anything,” recalled Paul Malinich, Andrew’s father. “Just anything at his feet, he wanted to kick it. Soccer looked like it matched with the skills he had, and he fell in love with it from Day 1.”
For Malinich, a senior at Lusher Charter School, soccer proved to be the perfect choice.
Malinich has been named Louisiana’s Boys Soccer Gatorade Player of the Year.
He woke up to the news early Tuesday morning.
“That’s a very nice way to start your day,” Malinich said. “It’s definitely a huge honor to win. I knew it was going to be tough with the amount of good players, so I am super excited that I won.”
Malinich, a striker, scored 46 goals and had 23 assists this season in leading Lusher to the Division III championship, the school’s first state title in any sport.
He is the first Lusher athlete in any sport to be named Gatorade Player of the Year.
“Andrew is just naturally gifted,” Lusher coach Dan Perez said. “He is very smart. He manages not only how he plays, but has such a good understanding of how the opponent plays. The thing I will always be fond of about him is his incredible work ethic and his faith in God. His faith is the foundation of him. It is very rare to find that type of faith in someone his age.”
Malinich has played varsity at Lusher since the seventh grade.
“From the first day I saw him in practice, I knew he was a special player and he would develop into the kind of player he is,” Perez said. “He just had that kind of talent from the beginning.”
But it wasn’t just Malinich’s talents that were noticeable. You couldn’t help but notice the large prescription sports glasses he wore at the time.
His father remembers sitting in the stands watching his son play five years ago.
“You could hear the girls in the stands saying ‘who’s the cute little boy’ and ‘Go Goggles,’ ” recalled Paul Malinich.
But over the years, Malinich developed a cooler look, with a sleek red pair that he sported this season.
He finished his stellar career with 110 goals and 60 assists and was named Most Outstanding Player in the Division III championship game after the Lions beat Northlake Christian.
He did all of that while maintaining a 4.18 grade-point average. He also spends much of his time doing mission work with his father, who is a missionary.
“Soccer and my studies take up much of my time, so I don’t have much free time,” he said. “But I do a lot of mission work in the city and help with several churches with my dad. He helps with helping to unite churches in the Greater New Orleans area, and we have gone on several prayer walks where we go and pray for different parts of the city.”
Malinich takes great pride in his faith and attributes to his success.
“I would describe myself as a strong Christian,” he said. “It’s definitely made a strong impact just on basic principles of working hard and being honest and having integrity and all the things that have shaped my character on and off the field. That has made me a pretty well rounded person and made me who I am.”
Malinich has signed to play at North Carolina State, choosing the Wolfpack over perennial Division III soccer powerhouse Messiah College in Pennsylvania.
“The main driving force of me choosing North Carolina State was that it was Division I (Atlantic Coast Conference) school, and that was always my dream to play in the ACC,” he said. “And they have a top 35 engineering program in the nation, and I want to study mechanical engineering so that was definitely a good fit for me.”
With graduation approaching next week, Malinich is soaking in what was a memorable senior season including playoff road wins against Episcopal and St. Louis.
“Then to beat Northlake Christian here in New Orleans in front of basically our whole student body for the championship was special,” Malinich said. “We played our hearts out for our school and for ourselves. Looking back to my freshman year, we thought by our senior year that we had a chance to start building for a state title. Lusher is known more for being an arts-based school and the athletics sometimes get overlooked. So I hope us winning a state title, and now this Gatorade award helps put us on the map. “It was definitely a special season.”
Follow Rod Walker on Twitter @RWalkerAdvocate