Daily Herald
Elk Grove's Basara right at home playing football
By Marty Maciaszek | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 9/16/2011 12:35 AM

He was in a foreign land when he looked out a window and saw a bunch of kids playing a strange game with an oddly shaped ball.

He didn't speak English when he arrived in the United States from Serbia. So he had no idea the game these kids were playing was this country's most popular sport.

But Dejan Basara was intrigued by what he watched that day at his first American home in Florida. This was nothing like the futbol he was accustomed to playing.

"I made friends with them and they showed me how it went," said Basara, whose first name sounds like Deon. "I stuck with it."

That's a good thing for Elk Grove, where Basara and his family moved to when he was in grade school. The senior can't get enough of playing what he called "a newer version of football."

He's even converted his parents Darko and Suzanne, who brought Dejan and his younger sister Dejana to America in hopes of a better life.

"When I first told my parents, they said 'This is the dumbest sport we've ever seen,'" Basara said with a laugh. "'A bunch of kids hitting each other?'

"But my parents fell in love with it. They might have been more excited to start the season than I was."

That's difficult to imagine considering Basara's passion for playing football. Last season was a tough adjustment for him as a starting linebacker for a team making a second straight playoff appearance.

The adjustment came from not playing as much as he was accustomed to since Elk Grove happened to have a quarterback who wasn't too bad in Daily Herald All-Area honorary captain Nick Meyer.

"Last year was weird for me sitting on the sidelines and watching the offense play," Basara said. "It was weird for me and I didn't know how to handle it."

Now it seems as if it's literally Basara's ballgame. The combination of starting at quarterback and linebacker is fairly unique, but at 6-foot-1, 208 pounds, there's no question he's physically up for the challenge.

He's also the place-kicker and his third field goal of the season last week against Fremd forced overtime. He completed a comeback from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit with a touchdown run for a 24-18 victory.

Oh, and Elk Grove coach Brian Doll also considers Basara a Division I caliber long snapper on punts.

"We don't try to hide him," Doll said with a laugh of the area's leading scorer with 49 points. "He's as ironman as it gets."

Is there anything Basara doesn't do for the 2-1 Grenadiers heading into tonight's Mid-Suburban League crossover with visiting Schaumburg?

"We make the joke all he time that he does everything but unpack the bus," Doll said.

"I heard a funny one that I supposedly drove the bus to Barrington," Basara said.

It has definitely been a long and interesting trip to get here for Basara.

A tough beginning

Dejan Basara admits when he runs the football it doesn't leave everyone breathless in the electrifying way Nick Meyer did for the Grenadiers the last two years.

Basara's style is a power surge that can knock the breath right out of those in his way.

"I just run through people - and let's face it, I'm not that fast," said Basara, who has rushed for 293 yards and 5 touchdowns this season.

"It's interesting because as a quarterback he's more of a fullback-linebacker-tight end mentality kid," Doll said. "He's so different from anybody I've been around. He's so determined every single play."

Some of which could be traced to his upbringing. Basara was born in Croatia and when he was 2 years old his family moved to Serbia.

"It was hard because Serbian and Croatian people don't get along," Basara said of two European countries separated from the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. "It wasn't easy at all. Nothing like it is here."

Basara helped feed chickens and cows on the farm the family lived on. His dad worked as a handyman and his mom worked at a delicatessen.

After some of Basara's cousins had moved to the United States, his parents decided it might be a good move as well.

"When we moved here all these doors opened up," Basara said. "I'm so happy my parents did move here. I'm so grateful."

After a few years in Florida, the family moved to Norridge for a year and then to Elk Grove. Along the way, Basara picked up the English language to where it sounds like his native tongue.

"All of my teammates make fun of me because I sound like I have an accent," Basara joked. "But I guess you wouldn't know if you didn't know I wasn't from here."

The same is true with Basara on the football field.

Forging an ironman

Basara was an unusual combination of a center and safety in grade school. When he got to Elk Grove he was moved under center and to linebacker.

Kicking was a natural with his soccer background. If the situation demanded it, Basara could also be used on returns, although it's something Doll tries to avoid.

"Coach gives me an opportunity to come out on defense if I'm tired, but I hate it," Basara said. "I'm not coming out unless I'm dying."

Avoiding that scenario drives Basara during workouts and practices. Even on an oppressively hot and humid Friday night two weeks ago, Basara had no issues with cramps at Barrington.

And he worked in the off-season with Meyer, who is now playing at the University of South Dakota, to make sure he became a dual threat quarterback. It may not be pretty in what Basara described as a "weird throwing style" but he's been 57.6 percent effective with his passes for 416 yards and 3 touchdowns.

"Last year coach (assistant Jason) Aspito helped a lot and Nick helped me a ton," Basara said of his friend who sends him text messages after games to find out how he did. "Coming into the first week I was always run first and I guess I still am, but I think I'm getting the hang of it."

Doll has also seen Basara quickly get the hang of another aspect of playing quarterback.

"His ability to lead and pure will is going to keep us in games and win games for us," Doll said. "He's so incredibly determined."

And Basara is determined to make football an integral part of his life after this year. Not only does he want to play in college, but the owner of a 4.4 grade-point average on a 5.0 scale would love to become a high-school football coach and teacher.

Doll said his versatility, which includes major college caliber timing on his long snaps, should create opportunities at the next level. He could play fullback or linebacker and Doll said Mid-American Conference schools, Northern Iowa, North Dakota State, South Dakota and Southern Illinois have expressed interest in looking at Basara's film.

Not bad for someone who once wondered exactly what you did with such an odd-looking ball.

"I think football is the greatest thing that ever happened to me," Basara said. "There is nothing else I would trade this for."

mmaciaszek@dailyherald.com