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Archive for February, 2009

Founding Fathers

The past couple of days I had the unique pleasure of hanging out with an ex-NCAA coach, ex-NFL player, and ex-NFL coach with 3 Super Bowl rings. These three visitors, Larry Kentera (ASU Def. Coordinator 1974-1979; NAU Head Coach 1985-1990). Gene Felker (Univ. of Wisconsin, Green Bay Packers 1952), and Kirk Mee (Univ. of Wisconsin, Washington Redskins for 25 years & 3 Super Bowls) have been traveling around Serbia for the past week checking the progress of American football in the country.  It was Kentera and Felker who brought the sport to Serbia, which started playing American football in 2003.  Kentera is now a consultant for the Serbian National team.

Kentera calls Kragujevac his “hometown” because he spent a lot of time and energy promoting the game in the city.  He has led many clinics all over Serbia and actually brought over equipment from ASU and NAU for our team to use.  In fact, the Wild Boars donned old ASU practice jerseys during their first season in 2003; and a majority of our yellow practice pants have either a Sun Devil or the word JACKS in cursive writing on them.  Kentera knew about my high school (Blue Ridge) and gave kudos to our great football tradition.

The three amigos were thoroughly impressed with our Wednesday practice, saying that we are not only doing things right, but we are hustling around and excited to play the game.  It was refreshing for our team to hear some praise considering the lack of practice and outdoor exposure we have had the past couple of weeks.

After our practice, a group of us accompanied the coaches to a restaurant on the north part of the city, near a sandy lake area that is popular in the summer.  Laza, China, Alf, Stan and myself ate like kings and shared some football knowledge as Larry and Gene complimented the Serbian women for their attractiveness.  Then Kirk pulled out 2 Super Bowl rings from the Redskins 1987 and 1991 victories, to go along with another NFC Championship ring.  It was amazing to be able to hold a Super Bowl ring, not to mention two of them!

Thanks to Larry and Gene for carrying this sport across the Atlantic, if it weren’t for them I probably would not be having this experience.

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Hoops

Vlade DivacPredrag StojakovicVladimir RadmanovicDarko Milicic (Bust!).  Just a few names and faces you may know from the NBA.  These guys are also Serbian.  Serbia has a pretty good tradition of basketball and an intense professional league (Naša Sinalko Liga).  Serbs are not only fans of the game, they bet on it at local sports books, fight for certain clubs, and go crazy at games.

Tonight I was introduced to Serbian basketball via 3-on-3 basketball at the mathematics University in the city.  Our 6′-5” receiver, Tomic, invited me to play.  Thing is, he doesn’t speak too much English, so by chance I overhead him say “basketball” at practice and showed my interest.  At 5:30 PM I was walking into the gym with Filip, another receiver, and ready to begin our three team round robin games.

As I entered the court one of the players had on a Kobe Bryant #8 jersey; I thought I was back in America!

The style of play was a little different than what I was used to for a half court game.  There were no take-back rules on a missed shot (i.e. past 3-point arc), defensive rebounds can be put right back for points.  Also the ball was not checked up top after a basket, the team that made the shot took the ball to the far wing on either side of the basket to start the next possession.

After our games Filip, Tomic, and I hung out and discussed some basketball and watched a regional Serbian basketball league game, with Filip doing much of the translating.  It was a fun, active night in Kragujevac.

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Practice

It has been brought to my attention, thanks to some recent followers of the blog, that I have not really mentioned football in any posts beyond my first. One reason is because of the recent snowfall which has forced our team to practice inside a gym. All of my teammates are saying that I brought the snow with me from America. I guess this is plausible, considering the night I got here it started.

We have had three practices since my arrival last Tuesday night. It is hard to reserve the gym on short notice and the addition of the Red Bull paper plane challenge didn’t aid our cause, taking up valuable gym time for the entire weekend.

Practice has been productive, as we have gone 7-on7 and 11-on-11. I will be coaching the defensive backs and receivers, as well as the special teams. So far, I have stressed fundamentals and taken things slow. My teammates are open to listening, which is a big bonus. Our defensive backs are grasping a new break-up technique that they put into action during Sunday’s 11-on-11 session. The receivers learned how to “stock” block and to lose the false-step when they fire out of their stances. I will be interested to see how these carry over when we get out to the field.

Here are some pics from Sunday’s practice:

That's me, breaking down for a tackle drill

That's me, breaking down for a tackle drill

Offense lining up

Offense lining up

Eye-opener tackle drill with our DL and LB's

Eye-opener tackle drill with our DL and LB's

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The City

Here are some pictures I took while walking around last Friday.  With the vast amount of snowfall the previous three days it was hard to navigate the city.  Hopefully these pictures will give you some visual representation of Kragujevac.

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Tonight was a crazy night in the fact that crazy things happened.  First off, Stan and I tried Absinthe; don’t worry, these weren’t full strength like you often hear of.  The whole process took a couple of minutes, as sugar was lit on fire and dropped in, then the entire liquid was lit.  Very interesting.  After that, it was off to a plethora of stops, including a couple of nightclubs.  I took full advantage of the opportunity to practice my newly acquired Serbian words – complimenting women multiple times.  I don’t know if my pronunciations were correct, but hey, I gave it a full effort.

At one night club, a guy approached me after leaving the restroom and starting speaking English.  I told him that I was in Serbia playing American football and he said, “Let’s go to the bar.”  To me, that meant he was buying a drink.  He asked me what I drink and then ordered for both of us.  Our drinks were ordered, then he asked if I had money (i.e. Dinars).  Quickly, his English went downhill as he tried to con me into paying.  I played dumb, and acted like I had no idea what he was talking about; then left the bar.  Life skills.

About 30 minutes later, after a walk and entrance into another bar, we saw some teammates of ours – Tomic, Philip, and others.  After a quick stint, we were on foot when I started to speak English to a women on the sidewalk.  Her friend came up and asked if I was from America.  I said yes and he asked why we bombed Serbia.  My quick answer, “I don’t know, maybe we made a mistake?”   Apparently he was joking.  I took the joke in stride.

From then on it was the usual.  I tried to speak some Serbian, my teammates made fun of me and each other, and we walked around the center of town.  It was fun to be around the guys and endure a weekend night adventure in Kragujevac.

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2L

America…

SERBIA…

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First Impressions

My first night in Serbia took me to a local bar called Balkaen, it is here where the Wild Boars go after every game.  I met most of the team right off the bat.  The guys were awesome, except it was hard for me to understand a lot of their names.  Their accents and my lack of eastern European exposure were not a good mesh after my long, 21 hour flight.  Some guys I already knew from the handy dandy creation called Facebook.  Facebook does remain a life changer and can give you unfair advantages when used knowledgeably.  Please remember that.

My first beer was called LAV and cost 95 dinars.  Dinars are the currency here; 95 dinars is approx. $1.30.  For a 20 oz. beer, you can not beat the price.  The night carried on and we checked out about 4 other local bars.  The best of the 4 in my opinion was Visantiga (Viz-AUNT-E).  As we strolled down the stairs I heard some good American rock n’ roll in the form of the Eagles; later followed by the Rolling Stones and Bon Jovi (Yes, mom, they dig that same leather-pants vibe).  Quickly, and easily, Visantiga became my favorite place.

The beer of choice for myself turned to Jelen Pivo (direct translation is Deer Beer).  After some more late night perusing, we stopped to get some food.  This was not the normal Kum N Go runs that I became enthralled with in college.  Charbroil burgers are now substituted with freshly grilled chicken stuffed with ham and cheese.  The shop has its own topping station.  I relayed to Miro and Nemanja, who knew the Serbian-only speaking cook, my desire to have good toppings that were not spicy.  I got some mayo and 2 other sauces, complete with a grease topping.  It was AMAZING.  Perfect food for the walk home.  And get this, the name of the place, when translated, is “To The Balls.”  No joke.

And sorry for the lack of pictures, Serbia has gotten the most snow in the past 3 days since 1984.  I heard figures ranging up to 6 ft.  It is hard for me to tour the city or walk around without the threat of falling on my face.  Everyone is freaking out.  Some people have never seen this much snow.  I plan on taking out the camera tomorrow.  Be patient, they will come.

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