Luka Brkljacic can still remember huddling with his family at his grandparents' home in Belgrade, Serbia, listening to the sound of bombs exploding during the Kosovo War in 1999.
Brkljacic said those memories help motivate him to always do his best in all his activities, including playing sweeper for the Centennial High School boys soccer team.
"When I was little, we had to leave our home because it was near a military institute, and when we returned, our windows were blown out," Brkljacic said. "We went to my grandparents' house and I remember making sandwiches at night because we couldn't sleep because we could hear bombs going off.
"My parents took me and my sister here (nine years ago) because they wanted a better life for us, and I definitely wonder what our lives would be like if we would have stayed in Belgrade. I always try to make the most of myself, because when you come from nothing, it makes you want to make the most of the opportunities you have."
Coach Scott George said the Stars greatly respect the senior captain's leadership and playing ability.
With Brkljacic directing the defense, the Stars earned four shutouts while starting 5-0-2 in the City League-North Division before playing Mifflin on Sept. 24. They were 5-2-2 overall.
"Luka was born with a soccer ball on his foot and he's more technical than most American-born players because he's spent more time with the ball in pickup games in Serbia than you get in rec league games growing up in central Ohio," George said. "He's not the fastest guy out there, but he's highly intelligent and he knows how to cut down angles to defend against faster players, to make them have to go through him instead of around him.
"He's our rock on defense, because he's very vocal and he communicates with the rest of our players to make sure they are in the right position on the field at all times."
Brkljacic also is the Stars' go-to player for free kicks 30 yards or more from the goal.
He scored three goals and had 10 defensive saves while earning first-team all-district and all-league honors last season.
"Luka's definitely a dangerous offensive threat as well, because he's very precise on free kicks," George said. "He can place the ball on forwards' heads, and even though he hasn't scored a goal (in the first nine games), he's already hit the crossbar twice."
George trusts Brkljacic enough that he allows him to run drills, and he values Brkljacic's opinion as to the strategy the Stars should use during games.
For example, Brkljacic helped put together the game plan for the Stars' 3-0 league win over Whetstone on Sept. 12.
"Luka is like having a coach who can cleat up and play," George said. "Sometimes he sees things on the field that I don't see, and we trust his judgment enough to make adjustments that he suggests.
"I had him watch a tape of a Whetstone game with his analytical eye and help put together a strategy for how we played against them, and it paid off."
Brkljacic works equally hard on his studies and other extracurricular activities.
He has a 3.85 cumulative GPA and plans to take the ACT a second time even though he scored 31 out of a possible 36 on his first attempt.
Brkljacic has learned to play the guitar, bass guitar, cello, keyboard and mandolin while playing in Centennial's marching and jazz bands, and he plays bass guitar in the local alternative rock band Under the Docks.
He also participates in the Northwest Civic Association, which works to help improve neighborhoods on the northwest side, and he teamed with other Centennial students to obtain a grant to get Wi-Fi installed on the second floor of the school.
"I've always loved controlling our defense and directing people from the sweeper position, and I've tried to carry those leadership skills into other areas of my life as well," Brkljacic said. "I plan on attending Ohio State next year and I'm going to major in business management, because I've always liked being a leader who manages people and directs workflow."
Brkljacic said he doesn't plan to play college soccer, so he would like to end his career on a high note by leading the Stars to their first City championship since 2010.
"I got to play in the City League title game my freshman year and it was a great feeling when we won," he said. "I really want to finish my senior year with a City League title and I'm going to do everything I can to make that happen. I want to lead this team to another championship because my teammates are like my family and I love to make them happy."
Football team gets back to winning ways
The football team beat Linden-McKinley 28-18 on Sept. 20 in its City-North opener to improve to 3-1 overall.
Running back Darsean Watts rushed for 50 yards on 16 carries, including touchdowns of 16, 1 and 18 yards to help the Stars take a 21-0 lead in the third quarter.
Quarterback Jeremy Johnson also threw a 58-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jirequez Fair-Harris to put Centennial ahead 28-6 late in the third.
The Panthers, who rushed for only 32 yards, dropped to 1-3 overall.
The Stars play host to Mifflin on Friday, Sept. 27, in a league game. Mifflin beat Centennial 40-6 last year.
The Punchers defeated Columbus East 48-12 in their league opener Sept. 20 to improve to 2-2 overall. Quarterback Marsaan Banks threw five touchdown passes in the first three games, including three to wide receiver Stanley Jackson.
Golf team continues strong play in City
The boys golf team went 3-0 in City League matches last week to improve to 12-1 in league play before facing Columbus West on Sept. 24 at Mentel Memorial.
On Sept. 17, the Stars shot 198 to beat Walnut Ridge (258) and Independence (no team score) at Champions, as Phil Pezzatta (40) was medalist. Two days later, Pezzatta (41) was medalist as Centennial shot a 195 to defeat Brookhaven (247) at Airport.
Pezzatta, Russell Chambers and Robert Turner will compete as individuals in a Division I sectional Tuesday, Oct. 1, at Granville Golf Course. The top three teams and top three individuals not on a qualifying team advance to district Oct. 8 at Apple Valley.