Michael Engelhardt, who broke his collarbone just three weeks ago, has been cleared to play in Friday’s playoff game at Algonac. Well, let’s rephrase that. Michael Engelhardt has been cleared to kick in Friday’s playoff game at Algonac.
So he can’t play football; but he can play FOOT-ball.
The Father Gabriel Richard senior quarterback helped lead the Fighting Irish to six straight wins before breaking his collarbone early in the Oct. 6 game at Dearborn Divine Child. He’s continued to contribute to the team’s success with his enthusiasm and leadership skills but he’s pretty pumped up to help give his team a real kick of support in the first round of the Division 5 MHSAA football playoffs.
“Yeah, I’m going to kick for the team,” he said. “It’s pretty crazy.”
It’s not crazy if you know Michael Engelhardt. In fact, if you do know him you may be wondering what took him so long.
He’s one of those players every coach loves to have on the field and earns the respect and appreciation of not only the coaches but his teammates. And since he’s been hurt, he’s found ways to contribute, whether by giving advice to anyone who will listen, to supporting his teammates in any way he can, to be the role model younger players look up to and even by leading the team out of the tunnel carrying the team flag.
Now he gets to contribute in an even more meaningful way, by making points with his right foot and not just with his guidance and intelligence. And these points actually show up on the scoreboard – literally.
“My father and I pushed the doc a little bit to allow me to kick this week,” said Engelhardt, who added that the collarbone has been feeling much better over the last week. “At least I can put on pads and not just have to stand on the sidelines with only my jersey.”
Memo to Michael: NO FAKE FIELD GOALS!
“I know, I know,” he said, laughing. “I don’t want to break it again. But I’m only going to be kicking and I don’t need my collarbone for that. It’s going to be pretty special to be out there.”
It’s been a physical and emotional rollercoaster for Engelhardt.
“There has been a lot of emotion going on with not being able to play,” he said early this week. “The worst part is not being there for my teammates. That’s the hardest part of all this.”
He was on sideline for the UD Jesuit game and Saturday’s Prep Bowl at Ford Field against Divine Child. He was glad to be there but he wishes he was even more there.
“Standing on the sidelines has been rough,” he admitted. “I still consider myself a leader of the team but trying to channel that on the sideline is tough. I want to be out there with them but I can’t right now.”
Before the Prep Bowl on Saturday, Engelhardt gave his Father Gabriel Richard teammates a pep talk and then led them out onto the field carrying the team’s flag – with one arm of course.
“On the sidelines I try to keep everyone’s morale up and helping out wherever I can,” he said. “I am trying to do whatever I can to contribute but it’s not easy.”
Seeing Engelhardt on the sideline and hearing his voice and feeding off his enthusiasm certainly provided a spark for the Father Gabriel Richard players. While he admits it’s an emotional struggle dealing with not playing, he doesn’t show it. Instead, he shows how being a teammate and leader can make an impact.
He’s not out there throwing passes or running with the ball or guiding the offense down the field. But he’s still contributing and that’s helped him deal with the pain.
This isn’t the first time Engelhardt has broken his collarbone. He broke it as a freshman during the last game of the junior varsity football season. His spiritual side and faith have been something he’s leaned on for support to help show him the way forward.
“Breaking it now was just crazy to me,” he said. “Knowing that it is part of God’s plan I try to make the most out of it because I do believe it’s part of his plan for me. It’s hard standing on the sideline but it happened for a reason and I’m trying to make the most of it.”
It was a simple read play, he said. Engelhardt took the snap and met running back Chris Hill near the line of scrimmage, deciding what to do with the ball – hand it off to Chris or keep it himself – based on what the defense was showing.
“The end bit down on the handoff so I kept it,” he said of the play he was injured on against the Falcons. “I ran up the sideline, cut back and the safety got me. I was down and two or three other guys landed on me and fell on top of my shoulder. You could just hear the glass break. I didn’t really feel it because of all the adrenaline.”
Engelhardt even ran over to the sideline ready to get the play call from head coach Brian Lewis.
“I told him that I think I just broke my collarbone,” he said. “I tried to head back to the huddle and only got like six steps before the adrenaline wore off and I felt a stabbing pain.”
He was checked out on the sideline right away and once the pads came off the self-diagnosis was confirmed by the team’s trainer. An ice pack and sling helped him hang around the sideline until halftime when he left for the hospital.
“It was really hurting but I didn’t just want to walk off and leave my teammates right away,” he said. “I felt it was important to tough it out until halftime.”
Engelhardt also plays hockey and baseball for the Fighting Irish and he’s even considering playing hockey this season.
“I should be ready for hockey,” he said.
The problem or at least concern with playing hockey is getting hurt for baseball, the sport he hopes to continue playing in college.
“Baseball is my best sport,” said Engelhardt, who plays either shortstop or second base and was both All-Catholic and All-District as a junior last year. “I’m getting looked at by a few colleges to play baseball. It’s pretty exciting.”
The risk-reward of playing hockey has been “discussed at length” and something that won’t be an easy decision no matter which direction he goes. But the deciding factor could come right back to why he’s planning on kicking on Friday night for the football team.
“The hockey team is counting on me and I don’t want to let down my teammates,” he said. “I have to consider what’s best for me but I also have to factor in my teammates and my responsibility to them. There is a risk but it’s my last year. I don’t want to come across as selfish but I have to consider too what’s best for my future and I hope baseball is a part of my future.”
His immediate future isn’t about hockey or baseball – it’s all about FOOT-ball. And the Fighting Irish are glad to have his right foot back on the field.