Danny Kalic came to a crossroads between his sophomore and junior years.
Kalic found himself stuck in the depth chart at midfielder for his first two seasons, missing out on playing time. So, at the start of his junior season, Kalic transitioned to centerback. Almost instantly, the Mentor resident found a home and excelled in the back line.
Now, two seasons later, Kalic finds himself headed to play Division I soccer. Kalic has committed to the University of Cincinnati.
From the outside looking in, Kalic is a quiet young man. A humble kid, Kalic is not one to brag or boast about his accomplishments. He's not one who seeks the spotlight.
But before his junior season, Kalic began to come out from his shell. During the team's preseason trip to Jamaica, Kalic bought a Rasta hat and wig and wore it everywhere. His fun-loving personality emerged and his skills bubbled to the surface. Kalic became a beloved member of the team. When he transitioned to a defender, he developed into a crucial cog of the Saint Ignatius machine during the 2018 season.
"From the outside, he appears to be quiet, but when you talk to his teammates, you can tell he communicates," said Mike McLaughlin '85, the Wildcats' head coach. "He's just not screaming and yelling. All of the players around him know what he's thinking. They have so much respect for what he does on the field. The boys enjoy his humor. He's clever, and a humorous guy. It was fun to watch his personality come out over the years."
His work ethic paved the way for his opportunity.
"I've learned that you need to keep working. I didn't play much sophomore year, so I needed to earn that spot," Kalic said. "That will be a good lesson heading into Cincinnati, because you're not guaranteed any minutes there."
During his senior year, Kalic improved even more. McLaughlin calls him a transformative player who made the Wildcats' 2019 state and national championships possible.
"He changed our program during his junior year when he went into the back part of the field. He's been a midfielder his whole life, but he's a good soccer player. And good soccer players find ways to be on the field," McLaughlin said. "In a program with a million midfielders, Danny became a big, tough defender. He was tremendous. The few number of goals and chance we let up is a testament to Danny and the way he changed things when he went to centerback."
Beyond his ability to stonewall opposing forwards and midfielders, Kalic showcased a special talent for clearing the ball and for finding teammates on breakouts.
Game after game, Kalic led the Wildcats in touches.
"With the style that we play, defending is a third of the job. Getting involved in the attack is the other two-thirds," McLaughlin explained. "Every game, we break down the film and chart our passes. In every game, Danny Kalic had more touches than any other player on our team. That says a lot. The style that we played was a possession-based style. In order to do that, you need defenders who are smart and are really good with their feet, and calm. He possessed all of those things."
Along the way, Kalic helped the Wildcats leap over mountains.
Kalic and the Wildcats did not play a cupcake schedule. Against the best of the best, Kalic played superbly. When the Soccer Cats most needed him, the proud Croatian stepped up. He thoroughly enjoyed playing against some of the most talented players in the country.
"It was great. My junior and senior year were the best because I played a lot. It was amazing," Kalic said. "You really become brothers with these guys, and I'm not just saying that. We got really far every year, and winning the state championship year was great. Playing St. Benedict's and Peoria was awesome, too. Overall, it was an amazing experience."
Kalic played a huge role and had a big impact on the Wildcats, even with his quiet attitude.
"He's a smart player. His body language can have an effect on the game," said assistant coach Dan Crew '99. "In the game against Louisville St. Xavier in Columbus, Danny was an animal. He won every ball. That had an effect on our whole team. He's a good player with a great touch and he's smart. That can take him far in life. I'm so happy for Danny."
At season's end, Kalic won the Ironman award for his incredible resiliency. Kalic played 1,806 minutes, starting all 23 games. In those 23 contests, Kalic had just 11 fouls, and 24 for his 3-year career. Kalic also got on the scoresheet with a goal and assist.
So when the 2019 campaign ended, Kalic had options. College coaches absolutely loved his talent, ability, and down-to-earth personality.
At the end of the day, Cincinnati proved to be too good of an offer to pass up. The Bearcats, a Division I program, play in the American Athletic Conference. As it so happens, Cincinnati has a familiar face in the program – Kyle Healy '19.
"I really loved the campus. It was really nice," Kalic said. "The coaches were really nice. Their athletic facilities were great – the best I've ever seen. I watched them practice, and it was high-level – I wanted to play at a high-level. Also, Kyle Healy plays there. It was good to see he was enjoying it."
The star student-athlete plans on studying accounting at Cincy. Kalic currently sports a 3.5 GPA.
But before he heads down to the Queen City, Kalic has some people to thank.
"I want to thank my parents, friends, and coaches," Kalic said. "They were always there for me, encouraging me to go on with my soccer career."
At this point, we need to give a special shoutout to Danny's parents, Zeljko and Lori. Both played an important role in supporting the Wildcats this season and making the 2019 season a special experience for the team.
Yes indeed, Danny and the Kalic family will be missed next season.
"He always worked hard. He was a pleasure to coach," McLaughlin said. "It's so hard to find players at that age who are consistent and show up every day to work. That's a tribute to Danny and his family. His professional approach. Danny showed up every day and worked hard. He's an incredible young man."