Dec. 2, 2009

By Amy Farnum

For Lees-McRae College senior forward Berin Boracic, the battles he will face on the soccer field at the Division II Championship this week pale in comparison to spending his childhood in a warzone during the Bosnian War.  

Boracic grew up in Sarajevo, Bosnia, during the conflict in the 1990s, and he and his family felt the effects of war firsthand.  His father Isam was a soldier and was apart from the family for much of the war, but still urged his son to play soccer like as he did.  Boracic began playing the sport when he was five years old for one of the major soccer clubs in Sarajevo -- Veljo.  

“(My dad) always wanted me to play and knew a lot of players and good coaches,” said Boracic.  “His buddies were coaches at the time, and they coached me.  They saw talent in me and still wanted me to play even though it was during the war and my dad was always away on the battlefield.  I had to do a lot of it on my own.  I took trips to practice on my own even though I was a little kid.”  

Boracic’s mother Hajra was pregnant his little brother at the time, making it difficult for her to travel.  His grandmother did help him for awhile, but then she passed away in 1994 and he had to find his own way to practices and games.

During the course of the conflict, Boracic saw his friend shot on the way to practice, and directly suffered as a casualty of battle.

“In 1995, I got hit by shrapnel playing outside of the house from a bomb and was in the hospital for about eight months,” said Boracic.  “I recovered really well.  At the same time, my dad was in (war) prison and didn’t know it happened.  I survived, but it was frightening.”

Although he still has shrapnel in his body, Boracic kept going back to the soccer field as an escape from the war-torn city.  And despite the fear and danger of living in that situation, he knows it helped mold him into a better person.

“The war kind of shaped me into what I am now -- tough and responsible and wanting to do my best,” said Boracic.  “Growing up in that city was really crazy – the percentage of me staying alive was less than being dead.  You lived life on the edge every day, but I got through it and I’m really happy where I am now.”

In 2001, the Bosnian government offered Boracic and his family a chance to start a new life, and they decided to relocate to Orlando, Fla.

“The Bosnian government gave us an opportunity to move on and have a better life, and we chose the United States because it’s the ‘land of opportunity,’” said Boracic.  “It was great.”

Boracic began playing for a club team in Florida, and eventually attended Oakridge High School, where he was on the soccer team.  At a soccer tournament at Disney, Boracic caught the eye of Lees-McRae head coach Chris Whalley, and after his high school graduation in 2005, he headed up to Banner Elk, N.C., to start a stellar college career.

After recording 18 goals and 47 points for the Bobcats in 2007, he was named the 2007 Conference Carolinas and Daktronics Southeast Region Player of the Year.  The Bobcats swept the league regular season and tournament championships for the first time that season.  

Last year, Boracic was forced to sit out the season after suffering a torn ACL while playing with Premier Development League over the summer.  He had surgery and rehabilitated the knee, and has come back this year as strong as ever.  Boracic has scored 15 goals and nine assists for 39 points, and was once again selected the Conference Carolinas Player of the Year.

And, he has led the Bobcats to their first-ever NCAA semifinal appearance.  LMC is the first Conference Carolinas or Southeast Region member to advance to the national semifinals.

“It’s a big accomplishment for our school and soccer – the whole program,” said Boracic.  

The Bobcats (18-2-1) will face Lewis University (16-3-2) on Thursday, Dec. 3 at 2 p.m. ET following the first semifinal match-up of Le Moyne (17-2-3) and Fort Lewis (22-1-0) at 11 a.m. ET.  The winners of the two games will meet on Dec. 5 at 3:30 p.m. ET in a contest that will be nationally televised on CBS College Sports.

The games will be held in Tampa, Fla., at the University of Tampa’s Pepin Stadium, just a short drive from Orlando, giving Boracic’s family and friends the chance to watch the culmination of a great college career.