It is a rare occurrence to return to your alma mater to coach after your playing days.
Dejan Mladenovic, a 2006 graduate of John Carroll University, was lucky enough to return as the men’s soccer graduate assistant.
Shortly after his final game with JCU, Mladenovic met up with former coach Ali Kazemaini to discuss the possibility of coming back to JCU as a volunteer or graduate assistant.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Just keep your eyes and ears open, there are a lot of things happening’,” Mladenovic said. “I didn’t know what he meant but sure enough a couple days later he took the job at CSU.”
While Mladenovic did not enter his name into the running for head coach he was brought on for the fall 2006 season as a graduate assistant.
Although the business management graduate is working outside of his course of study, he has enjoyed every minute he has spent coaching for JCU.
“I will stay here as long as I can. I love John Carroll, as an institution and athletically,” Mladenovic said. “I think it is great all around. It fits me perfect. As long as they want me here, I want to stay.”
During his playing days, Mladenovic set the JCU record for games played with 80.
The 2005 OAC co-midfielder of the year he finished his career with 19 goals, 13 assists and 51 points.
Mladenovic was a member of two JCU teams who won an OAC crown and reached the NCAA National Tournament.
Mladenovic’s senior year was his most successful. He led the OAC with eight goals and 18 points as he led JCU to an improbable NCAA tournament berth.
“Both sophomore and senior years going to the tourney was incredible,” Mladenovic said. “Especially as a senior, when we weren’t predicted to do as well, to prove everyone wrong and go farther and do better than we ever did on a personal level was great.”
Mladenovic played his final two years with many current JCU players.
While some may see the familiarity as a conflict of interest, it has made coaching a better experience for Mladenovic.
“It is really cool because we know where to draw the line. Off the field we are good friends and we get to hang out, but on the field we all know where the line is,” he said. “I feel they can come to me with certain things they don’t feel comfortable going to Hector with.”
He is also blessed with the opportunity to coach under one of the most successful players in the history of indoor soccer, Hector Marinaro.
“He is such a class act and is so professional about everything he does,” Mladenovic said. “He brings a wealth of knowledge to all of us, to the players and myself. It is great to be around a person like that who has been successful at the highest level.”
During his time as a player and coach Mladenovic has been influential with his on field contributions.
However, it has been his work off the field that has increased the JCU soccer footprint.
Mladenovic is the organizer of the annual JCU soccer Autistim Clinic.
Additionally, he was one of the organizers of the John Carroll Classic, which was held for the first time this fall.
Along with Athletic Director Laurie Massa and Associate Athletic Director Gretchen Weitbrecht, Mladenovic brought the Continental Cup to John Carroll this past summer.
The tournament is an international competition featuring teams as far away as Barbados and India.
John Carroll hosted the teams and Mladenovic hopes to see the tournament return again in the near future.
He has goals for future events as well. For example he hopes to have high school games before JCU games, and eventually combining the John Carroll Classic with the women’s program for a bigger tournament.
“Anything we can do to expose the University and bring people on campus to show them how awesome of a place John Carroll is,” Mladenovic said. “If I can be a part of that I will do anything I can to help.”
The alum is valuable to the JCU athletics department both on and off the field and will surely continue increasing JCU’s exposure.