by Troy Misko

Autumn Friday nights have been a pretty big deal in the Emmerich house for some time — at least since when Grant Emmerich, the family’s oldest son, began playing varsity football for Andover in the early years of the school’s program.

This year those Friday nights are bigger occasions than ever for the Emmerichs. That’s because fraternal twins Justin and Ryan Emmerich are both playing their senior seasons with the varsity.

This is Ryan’s third varsity season while Justin, the younger of the two by about two hours, is playing varsity for the first time. Both have been solid contributors to an Andover defense that has helped the team start the season 4-0.

Justin and Ryan Emmerich have been looking forward to this season for some time. The opportunity to play alongside each other, to wear Andover ‘s black and gold, to star in and win games on Friday nights, is something the brothers have been waiting for since they were first introduced to Huskies football.

“Since we were third-graders we’ve been watching the Huskies, watching my oldest brother, Grant, play for them,” Justin Emmerich said. “We’ve just been living in the program. I bleed gold, black and white. Knowing that this is my last year as part of it, I want to make it special.”

It couldn’t be more special.

The Emmerich brothers — the 6-foot, 205-pound Ryan playing mostly strong-side linebacker, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Justin playing mostly weak-side linebacker — have turned in highlight-reel plays that have helped ensure victories for the Huskies this season.

Ryan Emmerich, who’s tied for second on the team in tackles with 28, including five for a loss, has turned turnovers into touchdowns twice.

He stripped the ball from the quarterback on a near-sack and returned the ensuing fumble 82 yards for the Huskies’ first score in the first quarter of Andover ‘s 28-14 victory over Armstrong on Sept. 16.

Then, in the team’s 27-17 win at Anoka Sept. 24, he intercepted a pass in and returned it 33 yards for a touchdown in the game’s waning moments.

“My personal highlight is probably the pick six against Anoka ,” Ryan said. “It was against a rival. It came at a perfect time to close the game.”

While Justin hasn’t returned a turnover for a score this season, it doesn’t mean he hasn’t made a big play in an end zone.

He extinguished an Armstrong drive by intercepting a pass in the right corner of the end zone late in the first half of the Sept. 16 game to help Andover maintain momentum into halftime and preserve its 21-0 lead.

He calls that his season’s “highlight.” So far.

The entire season, however, has been something of a highlight for both Justin and Ryan Emmerich.

Part of that has to do with their individual play.

Part of that has to do with the success their team has enjoyed through the first half of the regular season, as Andover , ranked seventh among the state’s Class AAAAA teams, remains undefeated and tied with Blaine atop the Northwest Suburban Conference standings.

But perhaps the biggest reason this season has been particularly special for the Emmerich brothers is because they’re playing together again.

Ryan Emmerich, the self-described “shorter and bulkier” of the brothers, got the nod to play varsity for Andover as a sophomore.

He played in all 10 games, contributing 44 tackles to tie for fourth on the team in that category as the Huskies posted a 4-6 record.

He repeated his performance last year, as a junior, finishing fourth on the team with 48 tackles, including 10 for a loss as Andover went 7-3 before losing to eventual section champion Centennial in the Section 7AAAAA semifinals.

Justin Emmerich, meanwhile, toiled as a linebacker on Andover ‘s junior-varsity squad during his sophomore and junior seasons. It marked the first time in their lives that the brothers hadn’t played together on a football field.

“I just knew that [Ryan] had been given a great opportunity with his size and playing ability,” Justin said. “I just wanted him to do the best with it. I was there cheering him on the whole time, knowing that hopefully one day I would be there right with him, to play with him. I was just doing all I could to get there one day.”

Said Ryan:

“It was difficult because ever since we were little we played together on the same team. We were pretty good together. We were both really supportive of each other.

“We both knew that coming down to our senior year we would be starting together and sharing that.”

And so far this season things couldn’t be going any better. Ryan is playing as well or better than he had during his previous two varsity seasons and Justin has quickly adapted to the bigger bodies and faster pace of the varsity game.

“I knew I was ready for the role with my training,” Justin said. “Being behind [former Andover linebacker] Mike Schmalzer and my brother last year, they really taught me a lot of things. Over my summer workouts and training with the team, I’ve [developed] a lot of experience. I was ready to step into the role.

“I’m feeling really comfortable, especially with my brother playing across from me. It brings a lot more chemistry to the defense, I feel.”

That chemistry, which exists on and off the field in a way that is unique to brothers, has enabled both of them to find success.

“We just really help each other a lot,” Justin said. “I don’t think either of us would be the players we are today without each other.”

That’s not to say the chemistry between the brothers is always perfect. As with most brothers, they have their moments in which their all-too-familiar interpersonal communication works against them.

But they don’t allow those situations to interfere with their performances on the field.

“There are little moments,” Justin said. “With brothers, you have the little fights between each other, but we work it out relatively fast and nothing translates to the football field. When we come to the football field it’s all business.”

And when they return home on Friday nights following games, it’s all celebration. At least it has been through the first four weeks of this season.

“We usually come home at 11:30 after the safe party,” Ryan said.

“My brother and his girlfriend and my parents will be there. My sisters come home from college. They’ll all be there and some of our friends will be there.

“We’ll stay up to until 12:30 or 1 just talking about all the big plays so far this year. We’ll look back at the win.”

And they’ll cherish the opportunity to be together on the football field. Again.



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