The coach stands rather quietly with few outbursts or emotions while his team, the Durango High School girls soccer
squad, runs through a defensive shot-blocking drill. Aaron Eldridge says little, shouting occasional encouragement for
a particularly nice save or well-placed shot, softly chatting up his assistants in the interim.
Suddenly, even-keeled as always, Eldridge interjects, unhappy with the way his shooters are pushing the ball farther
outside. Without any Bob Knight-esque fuming, the Demons' lithe head man calmly jostles his team to simply make one
strong dribble and fire away.
While the command comes with no hint of urgency or vitriol, the players take it as gospel, visibly making an effort to
get to a better shooting angle.
Not bad for a man who never played high school soccer himself.
Eldridge is a bit more of a Johnny-come-lately when it comes to soccer, admittedly carrying little interest in the game
until age 18. After skipping out on footy during his high school years, something inside Eldridge clicked.
I had played a little basketball and dabbled in football," he said. When I started playing soccer, it was like the
light turned on. You just know that it's your game."
For the last four years, Eldridge has run perhaps the strongest girls soccer program in Southwest Colorado. His 42-16-5
(11-4-0 this year) record since taking over for Robert Logan in the summer of 2006 has garnered four consecutive
playoff appearances. More importantly, the former eight-year DHS assistant has racked up a gaudy 34-2-4 (9-1-0 this
year) Southwestern League mark, winning three league titles and coming in a close second to Grand Junction Central in
His body of work has earned him three SWL Coach of the Year awards, with the potential for a fourth when the 2010 list
is announced. It's a level of success he never could've fathomed when he got his start in coaching through the Durango
Department of Parks and Recreation 13 years ago.
You don't really know what to expect when you're put in that situation," he said. I just tried to put the players in
situations where they could be successful.
I have the luxury of having good players that know the game from the youth program."
But before he could start coaching, he had to first discover his love for the game. Eldridge was active in local adult
leagues in Durango, playing as often as he could, often against Fort Lewis College players looking for a run in the
Eldridge also watched his fair share of games on television, and even witnessed a Manchester United match in person in
1992 on a trip to England.
The first World Cup I watched was in 1990 in Italy," he said. I was pretty much glued to my couch."
To hear him tell it, Eldridge's start in coaching was simple. He went to the Parks and Recreation office and simply
stated his desire to coach a team at some level. And much like any other job, the budding high school coach started at
They said, 'How does (Under)-9 (years old) girls team sound?'" he said. I said, 'Great!' From there, I worked my way
As he worked his way up through the Parks and Recreation ranks, and later through the Durango Youth Soccer Association,the soft-spoken coach decided to parlay his love for instructing and working with kids into another career:
People had told me I should teach, and I never really took them seriously until I started working with kids and found
out that I liked it," he said.
Currently, Eldridge teaches English at DHS, and occasionally gets more time with his players than he otherwise would
accrue at practice, and the players by virtue may enjoy just a couple of little perks.
I got to take tests on the bus during soccer trips," said senior Brooke Sinton, who had Eldridge her junior year.
Senior Neely Surmeier not only has played varsity soccer for Eldridge the last four years but also had him for Honors
English her sophomore year. While the three-sport standout said she shares good relationships with volleyball coach
Robin Oliger and basketball coach Klint Chandler, the length of her coach-player relationship with Eldridge makes that
bond stick out.
It's definitely different with him because I've had him all four years," she said.
The clichéd term players' coach" would most certainly apply to Eldridge. His players rarely if ever refer to him by
the coach" moniker, opting instead for Aaron, Eldridge, or Sinton's simple-yet-effective favorite, A." While to some
coaches this would constitute disrespect, according to Surmeier, the laid-back nature has garnered the Demons' coach
nothing but respect.
I think (his style) is great, because it gives you a lot of respect for him as a person," Surmeier said. You get to
know him as a person. He's not just Coach Eldridge, he's also someone you can talk to about things."
Sinton said Eldridge's easy-going demeanor has helped bring the team closer together. That said, she was quick to add
he knows exactly when to drop the hammer when Durango isn't playing or practicing up to snuff.
Especially if he's not in a good mood," Sinton said.
It's a way of coaching Eldridge has gleaned not only from working with Logan, but also alongside Fort Lewis College
national championship winner Jeremy Gunn and former DHS boys coach Scott Emrich, among a bevy of others.
I try to model my program after what (Emrich) did," Eldridge said.
The one knock on Eldridge's résumé is his playoff mark. DHS, seeded 14 this postseason, is just 1-3 heading into
today's first-round game against No. 19 Liberty (7-8-0) at Riverview Sports Complex.
Eldridge said he doesn't view the record as a disappointment, saying each year he sets a postseason ceiling in his mind
that he'd like his team to reach.
While noncommittal on what that mark is this year, a first-round win would be a start, potentially setting up a
second-round game against Pine Creek, which eliminated DHS in '07 and '09. It's a matchup Eldridge assuredly is hoping
to get to.
For me, I think that first goal is to get past the first round," he said.
Regardless of how this latest chapter unfolds, it's not a bad start to a career for an admitted soccer outsider before
Not bad at all.