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Denis Maric

It would appear that Dennis Maric might have been in an uncomfortable situation. He was the oldest (23 years old), tallest (6-foot-4) and the newest (transfer student) player on the 2011 Dominican University men’s soccer roster. Yet the stoic forward was strangely at ease because he’s been through much rougher patches of uncertainly in his life.

He went almost eight years without knowing if he’d ever see his father again alive.

“That might have helped,” Maric said. “I don’t fear much.”

Maric was born in the country once known as Yugoslavia and was living outside of Sarajevo when a bitter and violent civil war broke out in 1991.  Serbian forces eventually attacked the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Maric vividly recalls sitting in his bedroom at night, looking out a big window toward the balcony and seeing the flash of tanks exchanging enemy fire from hilltops off in the distance.

It was determined that the women and children of Bosnia needed to evacuate to safety, leaving behind the men – including Maric’s dad, Radomir -- to fight a war.

“If we had stayed there, there probably would have been no future for us,” Maric said. “I don’t know if we would have survived.”

The ethnic war resulted in more than 100,000 casualties and more than two million people were displaced. Maric and his mother, Persida, and younger brother, Dean, boarded a bus to take them to a military plane to fly them out of harm’s way. Radomir Maric stepped on the bus, kissed his wife and kids good-bye, and then stepped off.

His oldest son, five years old at the time, stared out the window and watched his father as the bus pulled away.

“I remember him sitting outside and he was smoking a cigarette. He looked sad on his face, but he  didn’t want to tear up and cry,” Maric said. “I’ve had that picture in my mind my whole life.”

Their escape in a military plane took them to Serbia, the very state was attacking Bosnia. Maric was living in the vacation home of family friends in a small village outside of Belgrade. He harvested fruits and vegetables to make ends meet. In Maric’s free time, he played in pick-up soccer games – the villagers versus the vacationers, kids coming from the city on weekends and holidays.

Meanwhile, Maric’s father, through odd jobs, sent money and letters but that was the only contact he had with his kids. The war went on through 1995 and Radomir finally reached a breaking point before the war did.

“One day he told the (army unit’s) captain, `I can’t do this anymore. You can shoot me but I’m going to leave,’ ” Maric said. “The captain was the type of guy who would shoot anyone. He was really strict and there was no way he was going to let any of his guys go. For some reason, he let my dad go.”

Maric’s father escaped through Croatia and found refuge in several other European countries before he was able to flee to America. Once he had the necessary funds, he arranged to be re-united with his wife and children. They arrived at San Francisco International Airport.

That was in 1999.

“We all cried at that point,” Maric said.

So coming to a new school to play with new teammates in a new stage of his soccer career was no big deal to Maric. Though the Business Administration major needed foot surgery and he was limited to playing in only seven games for the Penguins in 2011, he had no problem fitting in at Dominican. He’s in a better place all the way around.

There’s nothing to fear.

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