NORRIDGE — The idea of Wojtek Gasienica playing two sports began as a joke.
Gasienica, a standout goalkeeper on Ridgewood’s boys soccer team, was in Ridgewood football coach Chris Zack’s gym class during the second semester of the 2013-2014 academic year when he brought up the possibility of playing football and soccer this fall.
“I came up to him and I, just as a joke, said, ‘Do you need a quarterback?’ ” Gasienica said. “He said, ‘No, but I’m looking for a kicker.’ From then on, we just talked about it.”
Gasienica remained interested in playing football throughout the semester, and Zack approached Ridgewood soccer coach Rob St. John near the end of the school year and asked St. John if he was OK with the idea.
St. John, who’s also the school’s athletic director, had mixed emotions.
“I wear two hats here,” St. John said. “The athletic director in me says, ‘Whatever’s the best for multiple sports. If we can get kids that are going to help the soccer team and help the football team, definitely. Why wouldn’t we do that? It’s great.’
“But then the soccer coach in me says, ‘Damn, I don’t want him to get hurt.’ You see how important he is. If just one little random missed tackle or something like that [happens], he gets hit — or a hamstring pull — all they lose is their kicker. We lose our star goalie.”
Gasienica, a junior, showed just how important he is to the Rebels boys soccer team on Thursday in its 5-1 victory over Elgin. He made 15 saves against the Maroons, and many of those were spectacular diving efforts that a lesser goalie likely wouldn’t have made.
Furthermore, St. John called Gasienica, the captain, “the spiritual and the vocal and the emotional and the physical leader of this team.”
However, Gasienica also represents a potential big weapon for Ridgewood’s football team. He showed just how good he could be in Zack’s class one day. After he and his classmates ran the mile, Gasienica said he crushed a 55-yard field goal through the uprights on his first attempt.
It was with a smaller, non-regulation football and there was no snap, but it was still enlightening.
“I was amazed by myself,” Gasienica said. “I was like, ‘How did I just do that?’ ”
St. John agreed that Gasienica could juggle the two sports, and Gasienica has been a natural on the football field ever since.
“He came out there and it was like he’d been kicking a football for his whole life,” Zack said. “He was bombing field goals, bombing extra points and kickoffs.”
Gasienica doesn’t practice kicking a football on his own, he said, and he only attends football practice about once a week.
He spends about 20-30 minutes kicking during practice and then leaves, yet Zack said Gasienica’s kickoffs are regularly to the 5-yard line and he’s accurate. Gasienica hit a 42-yard field goal in practice recently.
Although Gasienica was allowed to play football and soccer, there were a few major stipulations that St. John and Zack agreed upon.
For one, soccer takes precedence over football. The Rebels boys soccer team will play in the championship game of the Lasallian Cup at 3 p.m. Saturday, and Ridgewood’s football team plays Crossroads Academy at 6 that night in Aurora. Gasienica is scheduled to miss the football game.
The same principle applies to practices, which is partly to keep Gasienica healthy and fresh.
Another major thing St. John and Zack agreed upon is that Gasienica won’t tackle or be tackled. He’s not going to punt for the Rebels, and he has been instructed to run straight to the sideline immediately after he kicks off.
Gasienica’s not trained to tackle, St. John explained, and could seriously hurt himself if he uses poor form when trying to make a tackle during a game.