Sports Information Director
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Recent Holy Cross graduate and three-time captain of the men's soccer team, Niko Jelicic (SR/Sucuraj, Croatia) has achieved his life-long goal of playing professional soccer. After wrapping up an impressive four-year career with the Saints, Jelicic joins Knattspyrnufélag Fjarðabyggðar, or simply KFF. The club is named after the municipality of Fjarðabyggð and competes in the 2. Deild Karla, which is the third tier of Icelandic soccer. The club has strong aspirations of getting promoted this season to the 1. Deild Karla, in hopes of challenging for the Úrvalsdeild Karla in the near future, which is the top professional league in Iceland.
"I'm extremely grateful to be playing the sport I love as a profession and to be getting paid for it in return," Jelicic said. "I have God to thank along with my family and friends in Canada, Croatia and the United States, as well as my extended family at Holy Cross College for all the joy I encounter each and every day. The strength to persevere through any hardships I may encounter comes from the wonderful relationships that I have formed in the past.
"I would like to say 'thank you' and 'I love you' to all who have supported me on this incredible journey that is really just beginning."
Due to issues regarding his registration, Jelicic has only recently been granted approval from the Icelandic Soccer Association (KSI) to compete. Having had to already watch his team play two games from the sidelines, Jelicic is in line to make his first start this upcoming Saturday.
"I'm extremely excited for this opportunity to finally be here," continued Jelicic. "It has been somewhat of a hectic process to get where I am today, but I honestly couldn't be happier. Much like at Holy Cross, I feel as if I have every tool necessary in front of me to cultivate whatever I desire."
Despite the early complications regarding his registration, Jelicic has appreciated the early support he's already received from the club.
"I've been entirely pleased with the arrangements made between myself and club president, Mr. Bjarni Ólafur Birkisson, and my head coach, Mr. Brynjar Gestsson, prior to my arrival, but I was pleasantly surprised that more was in store," continued Jelicic. "KFF has provided me with great amenities, and it's solely on me for what I want to achieve in the sport of soccer. At this time I honestly can't ask for much more. The club has provided me with many tools in order to develop my game while contributing to a winning team."
Regarding the mental and physical transition from collegiate soccer to semi-professional, Jelicic feels rather equipped for what is in store.
"The mental and physical transition from collegiate soccer to semi-professional has been rather easy for me thus far," Jelicic said. "Due to the weather here in Iceland, a short season is required in which all 22 league and cup games must be played in a five month window. "I'll be used to that scheduled having already been accustomed to playing 20 or so games in an even shorter period."
A Proud Coach
Despite only being his head coach for the past two seasons, men's soccer head coach Omar Gallo has been around Jelicic each of the last four seasons. Having recruited him out of Canada, Gallo has continued to see Jelicic develop into the player he is today.
"This is a true sign that hard work pays off," head coach Omar Gallo stated. "I think the important thing to notice here is that Niko achieved his goal by putting in the time on and off the field; on the field he would always train like he plays, which goes a long way. The other thing that stands out, which I always stress to my current players, is you have to put the time in on your own while managing your school work. Niko has done a brilliant job at handling this workload and it has paid off for him. Niko is the first player in our program to reach the professional ranks and I'm honored to have coached him. It's because of individuals like Niko that we've not only been able to put our program on the map, but our school as well."
With this opportunity at hand, Gallo believes this is just the first step for his former three-time captain.
"The league Niko has joined is a very respectable league that takes care of its players," continued Gallo. "It's a league that welcomes plenty of scouts and I'm confident that this is just the beginning for Niko. I'm confident that his work ethic, maturity and desire to succeed will allow him to continue to chase his dreams and allow him to reach the highest level he can at the professional level. Thank you, Niko, for everything you have given us. We were truly blessed to have you in our program and will be following you as you begin your new journey.
"Finally, I'd like to thank the faculty, staff and entire Holy Cross community for helping make this dream possible for Niko," said Gallo. "It was the entire community at our school that helped make the 2014 Tourneau Soccer Evolution Academy possible for Niko and myself, and most assuredly played a major part in allowing Niko to put his talents out there for these clubs to see.
"This is just the beginning for players getting to the next level at Holy Cross," Gallo continued. "The talent we currently have, combined with the players we are bringing in, excites me about the possibility of more players from our program reaching the professional ranks."
While Jelicic begins his next journey as a soccer player, it's important to look back at just how much of an impact he made on the program.
In his four years:
- He was named team captain three times
- Made First Team All-CCAC twice
- Named to the All-Academic team twice
- Ranks third all-time in points (34)
- He helped the Saints reach a program-best 14 wins while advancing to the CCAC championship game
- Played for the Ottawa Fury of the Premier Development League (PDL) in the summer of 2013 where his team advanced to the Eastern Conference semi-finals off his game-winning goal
- Was named to the inaugural Tourbeau Sports Soccer Evolution Academy with the top senior players in the NAIA
As Jelicic moves on towards his dream of playing in the professional ranks, the college would like to wish him continued success on his life journey. He's been a model student-athlete for our institution and will forever be known as a Saint.
"I would again like to thank everyone in the Holy Cross community for an incredible four years," continued Jelicic. "Whether it was the support from the faculty and staff to make the Tourbeau Sports Evolution Academy possible or just showing support at our games, I've truly been blessed knowing everyone associated with our school."
Congratulations, Niko. It has been an honor to watch you develop into the person you are today.