Danis Bajric never saw a football until he was invited to the practice field as a new eighth-grade student at Lamar Middle School.
Five years later, he’d like to keep kicking one for as long as possible.
“They asked me, ‘What sport do you play?’ I said soccer because I played soccer my whole life. They said, ‘Well, we don’t have soccer, but we do need a kicker.’ I was like, what is that? I don’t know what that is,” Bajric recalled Tuesday of his first encounter with a sport that wasn’t at all on his radar about nine months earlier. “Just come to practice and you’re going to figure it out, they said.”
The Wildcats’ senior starting place kicker and punter figured it out all right, and much more.
“He’s such a good kid and has done a great job,” said Temple head coach Scott Stewart, whose Wildcats (8-2) host Waxahachie (6-4) at 7:30 tonight for a Class 6A Division II bi-district playoff clash at Wildcat Stadium. The winner faces either Rockwall-Heath (9-1) or Garland Naaman Forest (5-2) in the area round next week.
Bajric moved to Temple just a few months prior to his introduction to football, which wasn’t the only thing new to him. A few months before that, he had just settled in Pflugerville, the initial destination on what was a life-changing journey to the United States.
Bajric was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina — located along the western Balkan Peninsula portion of Europe and bordered by Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro — and it’s where he spent the first 11 years of his life. In 2014, he moved to Sweden with his dad and siblings and resided there for 2½ years until he joined his mom in January of 2017 in Texas. He finished up seventh grade in the Austin suburb before a short move north to Temple.
“I’m grateful that I got the opportunity to move to this country,” said Bajric, whose dad and mom survived a tumultuous period of unrest, war and violent conflict in their native Bosnia (before Bajric was born) in the early 1990s. Bajric said they both lived in occupied towns at the time and his dad eventually was a refugee in Germany.
“This is the greatest nation on earth. I absolutely love it,” Bajric said. “There is no better country in the world.”
So, there he was, suddenly a Lamar Bearcat, decked out in pads, helmet, cleats, and all. Bajric didn’t blink. He learned. He adapted. He went all in.
“Coach (Kyle) Mosley is an important person in my life. He sort of introduced me to not just the sport itself but everything that comes with it — the culture of football,” Bajric said. “So, I kicked eighth-grade year, came to high school and fell in love with it.”
Bajric played on the freshman blue team as a ninth-grader and JV blue as a sophomore before he backed up four-year starter Aaron Wagaman — who is third on Temple’s all-time scoring list behind record-holder Samari Howard and Lache Seastrunk — last season.
Along the way, Bajric said he picked up fundamental tips from Wagaman and Adrian Guzman, another former Wildcat who currently plays for Tarleton State. He credits those teammates for helping shape his work ethic and routine. Bajric also said he received valuable guidance and coaching during his first two high school seasons from Kevin Wilburn, who at the time was Temple’s kicking coach but now serves as one of the school’s counselors.
“To watch Danis develop in the program has been a joy. Danis is a player that every coach wishes they could coach. He would try and run through a wall if you told him to. He has come a long way since his freshman year and is doing great things this year,” Wilburn said. “When he first started, he was like a sponge and wanted to soak everything up that you were coaching him.
“He is a student of kicking and excels on and off of the field because of his determination and drive.”
Of course, when starting from scratch with any project, there are bound to be a few hiccups along the way. Some nuances of the role occasionally proved frustrating. And, especially as a freshman and sophomore, when he said his English was still developing, Bajric expressed those frustrations in Bosnian. Stewart used those moments to lighten the mood by inquiring if Bajric might be cursing at him.
Stewart said Tuesday with a hearty laugh that he still isn’t sure if Bajric was or wasn’t.
“If I would mess up, something would just fly out in Bosnian. They would all have a little laugh about it,” said Bajric, who speaks five languages and is adamant that no profanities were directed at his head coach. “I love that man. He’s like a second father to me. Obviously, my dad is a great man, but I don’t have a father figure present. (Stewart) is someone I really grew close with during these four years. He’s taught me more about life than football.”
While kicking is usually portrayed as an individual activity with a singular objective, there are other moving parts, or people, in this instance.
Jeremiah Mungia is the long snapper on field goal and PAT attempts, and Ethan Magana handles the snapping on punts. The holder is Howard, just like he was at Lamar.
“We’ve built that connection over the five years. I’m very comfortable with Samari and I would have nobody else holding for me. We are really good buddies and I’m really proud about what he’s achieving,” Bajric said.
Bajric made his varsity debut in the 2020 regular-season finale against Killeen and converted seven of seven PATs, calling the evening, “Something else and something I had been looking forward to since freshman year.”
With Wagaman graduated, Bajric knew 2021 was his chance to step into full-time duty so he increased his workout load over the summer, added power and has rarely missed this season.
Bajric is 7-of-8 on field goal attempts with a long of 31 yards and 53-of-54 on PATs for a District 12-6A-high among kickers of 74 points. He’s also placed six punts inside the 20-yard line.
“I worked during the summer to perfect my craft,” he said. “But Coach Stewart likes to say the biggest room in the house is the room for improvement, so every day I strive to work and focus on the next kick.”
Bajric — who hasn’t seen his dad and siblings in person for 2½ years mostly because of the pandemic and travel restrictions but plans to visit Sweden over Christmas break — is part of Temple’s International Baccalaureate program, which has a demanding workload that takes up the time that football doesn’t. He’d like to eventually attend medical school but also wouldn’t mind kicking in college, too.
But, first thing is first — spend more time as a Temple Wildcat.
“I fell in love with football, with the whole atmosphere, with this whole program. This is something very special,” Bajric said. “This town means a lot to me. Through this program I have learned how to love this town, the people here (and) the community. So, it really makes me happy to make them proud.”