Eden Phillpotts once said, "The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper."
The 20th-century English author’s inspiring words have been music to Robby Albrecht’s receptive ears for quite some time.
He’s particularly intrigued with a certain orange-reddish heavenly body that is relatively close to the globe.
Here’s a hint: Ancient Chinese astronomers referred to it as the "fire star."
"His long-term goal is to be involved with the mission to Mars," Case Western Reserve University head football coach Greg Debeljak said of his rising junior kicker.
Albrecht, a 2018 Aurora graduate, hopes to know everything about the "Red Planet" when his extensive research is complete.
For now, the Spartans’ version of their "Sojourner" will continue to focus on blasting footballs into outer space.
And unlike the robotic rover that was launched in 1997, this future "martian" hasn’t lost communication with his trusted base station.
Albrecht enjoyed another solid season on the gridiron for Case, a private research university in downtown Cleveland. The Spartans finished 9-2 in 2019 and reached the Division III playoffs for the second time in three years. Case also won the Presidents’ Athletic Conference title, thanks to an 8-1 record against its rivals.
Like his teammates, Albrecht considers academics far more significant than football. He plans to major in both physics and astronomy and is an undeclared math minor as well.
So with this brutally rigorous schedule in place, how does Albrecht find time to launch rockets from the gridiron?
When your ultimate goal is to be the master of the universe, you do everything you can to avoid falling into a perilously deep black hole.
"They have been able to modify my practice schedule," Albrecht said. "Since I’m a kicker, I’m not necessarily used 24/7. During a three- or four-hour practice, you’re standing and watching most of the time."
His role is quite different when he takes the field, though. When that happens, everyone’s eyes are on Albrecht.
And that means the affable 20-year-old stargazer must make sure his reusable orbiter is in proper working order.
So far, so good.
Albrecht’s kicking statistics practically reached the moon during his first year with the Spartans. He converted all nine of his field-goal attempts and also nailed 48 of his 49 point after tries as a freshman.
As a result of his pinpoint accuracy, Albrecht earned first-team All-PAC and All-University Athletic Association recognition. He was named the UAA Special Teams Player of the Year too.
"He has been great," Debeljak said. "Obviously, he comes from a great program. Aurora always has great football. He comes from a place that wins. We couldn’t be happier with how he has done with us."
Albrecht’s 2019 season might seem like a significant step backward since he was just about automatic the previous fall.
Albrecht converted 45 of his 46 extra-point attempts, but he was far less accurate on field goals. Albrecht made just seven of his 15 three-point tries.
Nevertheless, he received honorable mention to the All-PAC team and was responsible not only for putting points on the board, but also pinning opponents deep in their own territories with well-placed kickoffs and punts.
"I don’t think it was the best season I ever had," Albrecht admitted. "My responsibility increased. I picked up a larger load and they trusted me more."
Like a closer in baseball, kickers have a tendency to become noteworthy because of their failures rather than their achievements.
Albrecht admits he fits such a negative description.
With his team trailing by three in last year’s regular-season finale, Albrecht was summoned to try a 43-yard field goal with no time left on the clock.
The ball was struck cleanly and powerfully. At that point, the stars appeared to be aligning toward sending the contest into overtime.
And then, in a cruel nanosecond, the pigskin moved in an unpredictable direction and wound up bouncing off the upright.
As a result, the Spartans’ chances of an undefeated regular season were cruelly dashed by their version of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That would be Carnegie Mellon.
"I hate telling this story," Albrecht said. "It took the opposite bounce I wanted. I missed a 46-yarder too. I had a little more power behind that one. There was a slight head wind. It looked dead in the middle and then I heard the ding. It was heartbreaking."
It was especially heartbreaking since it took place against his team’s main rival. If Albrecht didn’t care for the "Steel City" before he enrolled at Case, he’s even more spiteful to a place known for its three rivers.
The Tartans topped the Spartans 29-23 in overtime the previous year.
"We practice every day as if we’re playing against Carnegie Mellon," Albrecht said. "It’s basically the Michigan game. Every practice, from week one to week 10, we work on some small details to get ready for them."
Albrecht converted 97% of his kicks during his time with the Greenmen, who earned their 14th playoff appearance in the last 15 years in 2019. Thanks to his reliability, Albrecht earned All-Suburban League honors during his final two years.
It’s a good bet Albrecht spent more time at Veterans Stadium than anyone during his senior year. He was the starting goalkeeper for Aurora’s soccer team too.
By the way, the Greenmen reached the Division II state semifinals on the pitch during Albrecht’s senior year.
During the offseason, Albrecht kept busy by competing for Aurora’s tennis and track and field teams.
"I reach out to (Greenmen head football coach Bob) Mihalik once in a while," Albrecht said. "I’m really good friends with my soccer buddies. I became the goalie when Jacob French got injured diving into the pole. I was a center midfielder prior to that."
Not surprisingly, Albrecht did his work in the classroom too.
He graduated summa cum laude during his time on West Pioneer Trail. And despite the constant challenges of juggling two majors, a minor and football, Albrecht managed to keep his grade point average close to 4.0 at Case, which is the alma mater of former NASA astronaut Don Thomas.
"For a place where there are incredibly intelligent people, top students in the nation, Robby stands out at the very top," said Debeljak, who has been the Spartans head coach since 2004. "He’s a really, really smart kid. He has a lot going on."
Debeljak knows a mission to Mars doesn’t involve much football expertise. Nevertheless, the gridiron guru hopes his version of John Carter isn’t transported away from DiSanto Field prematurely.
"I just hope he’s able to keep doing it," Debeljak said. "After his freshman year in his offseason meetings, he talked a little bit about, ‘Hey, this is going to be tough to do. I don’t want to leave you guys, but the reality is, I’m a double major with a minor in something else. I’m trying to find a way to do both.’ He struggled with it.
"We also made clear that we were going to do everything we could to accommodate his academic requirements and still have him play football. I’m just happy if he’s part of the team. We just hope he finishes up and plays two years and continues to have success."
As for Albrecht, he’ll let his right foot be his booster rocket for another two years. And then he’ll focus on becoming the next Neil Armstrong, John Glenn, Buzz Aldrin or Alan Shepard.
Perhaps 20th-century astronomer Carl Sagan may have the best advice when it comes to exploring our boundless but perplexing universe.
"Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."
If everything goes according to plan, Albrecht hopes to acquire this profound knowledge.
A close-up of the Olympus Mons sounds enticing too.
"There is so much to space that we don’t know," Albrecht said. "It is so mysterious and vast, but it contains so many keys to the future. I love astronomy and physics and these two areas of study are laying the groundwork for me to achieve my goals."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Faceto_Gannett.