Friday, September 4, 2009

Catching up with ... Ogi Perucica

It’s been a little over three years since I got to sit down and talk with senior USF forward Ogi Perucica. Then, it was because I was writing a feature story on Perucica, who was the 2006 Tampa Tribune All-Hillsborough Player of the Year for Wharton High.

Since then, Perucica has grown into a member of the Bulls line-up, taking on a bigger role this season with the graduation of former Bulls standout Jordan Seabrook. On schedule to graduate in May with a degree in marketing, Perucica took time to sit down and talk about his time at USF and Wharton, and his future.

Tampa Bay Soccer Blog: What have the last four years been like playing soccer for USF?

Perucica: It’s just a completely different level from what I was used to. I’ve elevated my game so much, just with the international guys that we’ve got coming in, the national team players and the coaching staff. It’s been a great experience.

TBSB: When you were coming in here, the season before USF had been the Big East champions, and it seemed as though in 2006, when you were a freshmen, it started that new cycle. Now, though, it seems as though there’s going to be a continuous cycle of quality. Have you seen that development as you’ve come through the program?

Perucica: Yeah, sure, I mean my freshman year we didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. That was the year where we got ourselves together, got the players that we needed and so on, and ever since 2006, my freshman year, we’ve gone further and further. Players are wanting to come to the school, last year we made it to the Elite 8 as well, won the Big East championship. It’s a great school, great weather out here, players are wanting to come, and the coaching staff does a great job of recruiting the guys who fit the team. They usually look for people with great attitudes, as well as soccer players, so that we all click together as a team. They don’t want individuals, they want one team, that’s what they try to do.

TBSB: Has it been nice to be part of that growth from your freshman year to your senior year?

Perucica: It’s been a building experience, every year we’ve been taking it one step further. We’re doing team activities all the time, especially during preseason, we do things outside the soccer field, we got out and do stuff together, hang out. It’s a good team to be with, it’s fun.

TBSB: Coach Kiefer seems like a tough guy to play for, but he’s very earnest in what he demands of the team.

Perucica: He demands a lot of us, just like any other coach, but he has a good way of getting the best out of you. He knows how to talk to people, and motivates you to do better and better and better.

TBSB: Let’s go back to your high school career at Wharton. When you think back, is it disappointing that with the players you had on that team that you weren’t able to accomplish more as a high school team?

Perucica: Sure, we definitely had some talented players in my high school days, but high school is weird. There’s ups and downs, you never know. It could be this team’s night, it could be the other team’s night. It’s unfortunate we didn’t win a state championship, we actually won it the year after I left, but it was a disappointment to me that we didn’t win.

TBSB Note: The Wildcats actually won in 2008, two years after Pericica graduated, with a 2-1 win against St. Thomas Aquinas in the final.

TBSB: Do you still stay in touch with some of the players and coaches from that team?

Perucica: Oh yeah, Christian Silva is here (on the USF roster), I stay in touch with Coach (Mike) Rowan as well, we talk every once in a while just to see how he’s going. There’s still a friendship.

TBSB: You stay in touch with (New York Red Bulls player) Nick Zimmerman?

Perucica: Yeah, actually me and him played in a summer league for the Brandon Flames, so we got to travel some places together, so we stay in touch.

TBSB: When you found out he’d been drafted earlier this year by New York, how did you react to that knowing that someone you had played with growing up had made it to MLS?

Perucica: It just felt great. It gave me more motivation to do better and to keep on playing and playing so I can be there one day like he is. Just gave me a whole different view of things.

TBSB: Would that be something you’d be interested in? Is there that thought in your mind that although you’re about to graduate that maybe there’s something for me out there as a professional?

Perucica: I think every player’s dream is to go pro. I would personally like to go to Europe and play. I have a bunch of family out there, so I’m planning on once I graduate to move back to Europe and try a career over there.

TBSB: Where would you be moving to?

Perucica: First place would be Germany. I have a brother there, a couple of people there, so Germany, then if it doesn’t work out there, travel around, see what happens.

TBSB: You guys won the Big East championship last year, reached the Elite 8, and it seems like this is the first year where there is serious expectation put on the program from outside the program.

Perucica: I believe we’re the No.1 team in Florida, D-I wise, and like every year, people expect something from us, especially this year. Two years ago we made it to the Sweet 16, last year we made it to the Elite 8, people just want more and more. We’ve got a good crowd coming out, our first game we had a bunch of people come out watching us. I think people are behind us, watching us. They want us to do well.

TBSB: Is it exciting to see that, the number of fans that are starting to come out to games?

Perucica: It gives you so much more energy out on the field. You want to perform for them, they’ve come out to see you, you want to give them a good time.

TBSB: Are there certain goals the team has set that if it didn’t attain them, the season would be a disappointment?

Perucica: Yes, actually, our coach has this thing where we all write down goals, we get together as a team and we all have to sign it. Goals in the classroom, out on the field, behavior-wise. Goals like winning the Big East again, GPA-wise, outside the classroom, inside the classroom, on the field, outside of the field, we all set goals. It’s put up in our locker room, actually, with all our signatures on it.

TBSB: That’s got to be something to look at when you walk past it.

Perucica: It’s right next to the door.

TBSB: What do you think the best thing you’ll take away from USF is? Is it going to be what you’ve learnt on the soccer field, or the fact that you’re going to be graduating in the spring?

Perucica: I think it’s a little bit of both. Outside of the field, it’s been managing my time, getting to know people, talking to people class-wise. On the field it’s the great players I’ve been with. I don’t want to give it up, I just want to continue with it. I’m happy out there when I’m on the field.

TBSB: Even if you don’t end up turning pro, I’m sure you’ll want to stay involved with soccer.

Perucica: Oh yeah, I think every player that can’t go pro wants to be a coach. I coach the little guys out at Temple Terrace, and it’s fun just being around the game. I’ve been around it long enough myself, I don’t want to give it up at all.

TBSB: What do you think the biggest thing is that soccer has taught you over the years?

Perucica: I think it’s staying focused, not drifting off like other kids going in the wrong direction. It gave me a path, and that path was college, staying close to family friends. It kept me on the right path.

TBSB: It’s a pretty exciting time of year, the start of the season.

Perucica: Getting through preseason is tough, but you get through preseason, we have our second game coming up (on Saturday). I just want to get the season going. The guys came in fit, it’s the fittest we ever came in this year, coach is excited, the players are excited, we all want to see how it’s going to turn out.

No comments:

Post a Comment