Ser­bian stu­dent finds home on gridiron

Ser­bian stu­dent finds start­ing role with the Rock­ets

The Morning Journal (Lorain, OH) - - FRONT PAGE - By Matt Lof­gren sports@morn­ingjour­nal.com @MJour­nalS­ports on Twit­ter

Sit­ting in his room in another part of the world — al­most 5,000 miles away from the shore of Lake Erie — Vladimir Miskovic was days away from de­part­ing for Bay Vil­lage as a for­eign ex­change stu­dent.

Look­ing to pur­sue his dream of go­ing to school in the United States, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound se­nior from Ser­bia also wanted to be­come a Rocket football player.

“His host fam­ily, Bob Reid, he called me over the sum­mer, maybe a month out from two-adays in early July, and said, ‘Hey, he’s coming. He re­ally loves football. He wants to play.’ And I was like, ‘OK, that’s great,’ ” Bay coach Ron Rutt said. “He told me he’s 6-2 to 6-3, 215-220 pounds, and I was ask­ing about him and about his ex­pe­ri­ence in football. I was told he’s played club ball, but I don’t know what that’s like, so there was just a lot of ques­tion marks we didn’t know be­fore he ever got here.”

Ar­riv­ing for the first two-adays, Miskovic was wel­comed to the team by se­nior cap­tain Dil­lon Barry, whom Rutt in­structed to pick up Miskovic on the first day

day and help him get as­so­ci­ated with the team.

“It was a lit­tle sur­real. I heard ru­mors (about him coming), but I didn’t be­lieve it at first, so I didn’t re­ally be­lieve it un­til coach Rutt asked me to pick him up,” Barry said. “I fig­ured it’s on my way to prac­tice any­ways.”

Barry said his first time see­ing Miskovic was a bit of a shock.

“I was driv­ing down Wolf Road and I saw this 6-3 kid and I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s him,’ ” Barry said. “So he got in the car and starts talk­ing with his ac­cent and I thought, ‘Wow, this is re­ally dif­fer­ent from any­thing I’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore.’ When I first saw him on the field for the first time, I could tell he was very in­tense all the time. He’s re­ally try­ing to bring it and be in­tense and you could see that off the bat.”

Play­ing on a club team in Ser­bia, the 18-year-old wasn’t play­ing high school ball, but rather with adults. With the ar­rival of Amer­i­can football pretty fresh in Ser­bia, Miskovic looked forward to the week­ends when he could see Ohio State on Satur­days and hoped to see his fa­vorite team, the Pack­ers, on Sun­days.

“I wanted to join the football team. I used to play a lit­tle bit of football in Ser­bia, but football in Ser­bia is not like football in Amer­ica. Do it was my dream to come here and play football,” Miskovic said. “The feel­ing was amaz­ing. To see all the equip­ment and the sta­dium, it was re­ally amaz­ing to me.”

Work­ing hard, Miskovic not only made a name for him­self, but he also earned a start­ing role at out­side

line­backer.

Rutt be­lieves Miskovic was the spark the Rock­ets needed dur­ing a long sum­mer camp to help push the team to be bet­ter.

“Ini­tially, those first few days of prac­tice, just watch­ing him and the way he went about his busi­ness and his in­ten­sity in prac­tice is some­thing that was very im­pres­sive be­cause the guys that have been here. They’ve been through our two-a-day prac­tices be­fore and there’s a lit­tle bit of com­fort that comes with that and you don’t al­ways get the in­ten­sity that he brought,” Rutt said. “Dur­ing his first weeks of prac­tice, I was im­pressed by how fo­cused and in­tense he was. I think it helped our team in bring­ing over a guy al­most like a Rudy (Notre Dame football spark­plug Rudy Ruet­tiger), but that’s also a re­ally good player.”

In Week 1, suit­ing up in the sleek uni­forms of Bay with glossy blue hel­mets, Miskovic and his team took the field to­gether fin front of a packed home crowd against Keystone. The rush of it all took over him as his dream was about to be re­al­ized.

“I wasn’t pre­pared for that be­cause in Ser­bia we have like 100 peo­ple at our games. So it is noth­ing like this,” Miskovic said.

Miskovic cher­ished the ex­pe­ri­ence of his first game and wanted to build on that. Al­ready pos­sess­ing the size of a col­le­giate-level player, what he needed to do was the lit­tle things to prove he be­longed.

“His dis­ci­pline and his foot­work (have im­pressed me the most),” Rutt said. “If you look at him, he’s a big­ger kid and we thought should we put him at Dline or should we al­low him to play out in space at out­side line­backer? Just ath­let­i­cally and foot­work­wise, he does things very pre­cisely. He’s not the fastest

kid, but if you watch his feet as he takes his read steps and drops into cov­er­age or comes up and ap­proaches the line, he’s just very sound fun­da­men­tally.”

Con­nect­ing with his team­mates per­son­ally, Rutt re­calls a few weeks back when he was try­ing to lighten a mood be­fore a game and find out what Miskovic lis­tens to be­fore a game to get pumped up.

“I men­tioned how I al­ways won­der what Vlad lis­tens to, be­cause he has these big Beats head­phones. I said ‘Vlad, I’ve been won­der­ing for a while what are you lis­ten­ing to on those? Is it Ce­line Dion or is it hard rock, me­tal, or Ser­bian mu­sic,’ ” Rutt said. “He says ‘Ah, it’s like Ser­bian rock mu­sic and me­tal,’ and he played a bit for the team and it was awe­some.”

Ap­pre­ci­at­ing what the team has done for him and what they have meant to him be­ing thou­sands of miles from home, the Rock­ets fam­ily has em­braced Miskovic as one of their own in the fight for post­sea­son suc­cess.

“It was re­ally amaz­ing in the first day of camp. Guys were re­ally wel­com­ing and that is some­thing that re­ally made me com­fort­able here,” Miskovic said. “I am not home­sick be­cause of that. Be­cause the guys are nice to me and we hang out and I think that is the key to our suc­cess.”

Off the field, Miskovic is fo­cus­ing on his stud­ies and hopes to at­tend col­lege in the United States and even­tu­ally get a de­gree in me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing. Hop­ing to have plenty more tape to show with an ex­tended sea­son, he also wants to pur­sue football at the col­lege level.

But, more than any­thing else, Miskovic is still look­ing to be an av­er­age high school se­nior.

RANDY MEYERS — THE MORN­ING JOUR­NAL

Bay’s Vladimir Miskovic looks for a de­fen­sive sig­nal from the bench against Keystone on Aug. 25.

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