During the second week of NAU’s fall camp two coaches came halfway around the world to observe and learn more about football.
Vlado Lazic and Aleksandar Ristic, coaches of the Kragujevac Wild Boars, a semi-pro football team from Serbia, spent a week with the Lumberjack coaching staff and players.
NAU football coach Jerome Souers welcomed Lazic and Ristic, who presented him with a team hat and T-shirt. The two coaches spent most of their time in Flagstaff attending practice, sitting in meetings, watching video, and eating with the team. Lazic and Risic found their way to Northern Arizona University through former NAU football coach Larry Kentera, who coached the Lumberjacks from 1985 to 1990. In 2003, Kentera traveled to Serbia as part of a USAID envoy to help teach football to the local youth. Lazic and Risic learned the game under Kentera and developed a passion for football. Kentera gathered up equipment and jerseys from Arizona State University and NAU and donated it to the new grassroots teams that were starting to come together. Today there are 22 American football teams in Serbia and the game’s popularity is growing, according to the coaches.
Kentera said he was especially grateful to equipment manager George Fox and the NAU Athletic Department for their generous donations of jerseys, helmets, equipment, and cleats. Without NAU’s help it would have been difficult to start up the league, Lazic said. Because of the difficult economic situation in Serbia, players would not have been able to afford their own equipment. The NAU staff enjoyed interacting with the two coaches who come from the Balkans, a corner of the globe that isn’t well known by many Americans. Serbia, a former republic of Yugoslavia, unfortunately hit the world stage in the early 1990s when it became involved in a war that lasted most of the decade.
Although soccer is still king in Serbia, Lazic and Ristic are doing their best to spread American football to other young athletes throughout the country. The Wild Boars have won four national championships — 2004, 2006, and 2008 — and this year when they finished the regular season with a perfect 9-0 record.