Serbian student finds home on gridiron
Serbian student finds starting role with the Rockets
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
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.
Bay’s Vladimir Miskovic looks for a defensive signal from the bench against Keystone on Aug. 25.