The Humble Giant

Bogdan Djerkovic

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Not getting the recognition one deserves can get in most people’s heads, but not for Bogdan Djerkovic; the ‘humble giant’ — as some call him — has quietly represented Canada in water polo since the age of 15 but doesn’t mind staying under the radar despite continuously reaching unprecedented heights.

The 6’7″ senior for the University of the Pacific Tigers water polo team has had quite the journey. Djerkovic grew up in Canada, where water polo wasn’t the most popular sport. Opportunities to practice and competition weren’t easy to come by. Therefore, it would require a lot of effort and dedication to improve as a player.

“It was challenging,” admits Djerkovic, a native of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. “The eastern and western teams in the country would play against each other, with very few games being played during the year. Canada is big, and the sport is small. We’d often have to travel for hours to get to our games.”

Despite the long distances and lack of local acclaim, Djerkovic found a home away from home thanks to the growing camaraderie with his teammates, which gave him a purpose to keep playing.

Coming from Serbia, Djerkovic’s father noticed how tall and big his son was getting and formulated a plan for him to take up water polo, which is popular in Serbia. But his dad also gave him an alternative — start playing an instrument. When forced to pick between the two, Djerkovic chose the sport he knew nothing about.

“I hated playing instruments,” says Djerkovic. “Being forced to pick between playing an instrument or water polo was a no-brainer. I didn’t know anything about the sport, but when I was younger, I always felt like I was a gifted swimmer. I wasn’t necessarily fast or anything; I felt like I was very advanced for a six-year-old swimmer.”

Djerkovic always knew he had a natural talent for swimming, and he never stopped practicing. He knew that making it onto the provincial squad was an important first step on his path to competing on a larger stage and discovering how far he could go with this.

When it got serious

While trying out for the provincial water polo team, Djerkovic crossed paths with Michel Roy, who is widely regarded as one of the most successful water polo coaches in all of Canada.

The water polo coach has worked professionally in North America for more than three decades.

Michel’s accomplishments as a coach and player have earned him a total of 32 titles at the Canadian National Championships.

More than one hundred of his athletes have gone on to play in higher levels of competition, either professionally or in the NCAA.

“Michel Roy devoted a lot of time and effort to my progress for a year,” adds Bodgan. “I attended a U15 national team camp that summer. We were really good and played against youth development teams out here in California. I feel like that’s where it all began for me.”

The growth and development led to Djerkovic being called to represent Canada at the World Team tournament for the very first time at the young age of 15 years old.

Representing Team Canada

Djerkovic was in grade 11 when Canada’s Senior Men’s water polo team recognized him. He was invited to the national team’s training center in Calgary, Alberta. He made the travel roster through his hard work and perseverance.

“When I got the call from the national team, I thought I could really go somewhere with this sport,” adds Djerkovic.

He fought every day to earn his spot and showcase his skills, and eventually, he was recognized for it and was selected — despite being much younger than everyone else.

Representing Team Canada can be difficult for any adolescent. Djerkovic has done it very humbly and understands his sport’s popularity in Canada, so he’s content with his accomplishment staying under the radar.

“I’ve represented Canada for so long, it doesn’t always register how big of a deal it is,” Djerkovic pointed out. “Water polo isn’t very popular here in Canada, unfortunately. If you make Team Canada for Hockey, you’re on top of the world, but not for Water Polo. Despite that, I was always proud of myself. When we went to a competition, we were representing Canada, so we had to do our best because it always reflected on us as a country, and that is huge.”

Finishing high school while competing at a national level wasn’t easy to do. But it paid off tremendously when he was offered the opportunity to join the water polo team at University of the Pacific.

Water polo isn't very popular here in Canada, unfortunately. If you make Team Canada for Hockey, you're on top of the world, but not for Water Polo. Despite that, I was always proud of myself. When we went to a competition, we were representing Canada, so we had to do our best because it always reflected on us as a country, and that is huge.

Being a Tiger

Growing up in Canada, Djerkovic didn’t fully grasp how competitive and professional NCAA water polo is.

While he had plenty of international experience, the collegiate level in the United States was somewhat unknown to him.

“In Canada, you don’t see much of the sport, so I wasn’t sure what to expect,” mentioned Djerkovic. “Pacific coaches came to watch me train and gave me a presentation. I said yes, but I went in with no idea what to expect. Today, I can easily say that it’s one of the best moves I’ve made and a huge gift.”

Now, Djerkovic, a mechanical engineering major, is a senior for the Tigers and has had a very successful collegiate career thus far, winning multiple conference awards and many more.

One thing he hasn’t accomplished, though, is a national title.

While coming very close his sophomore year, when Djerkovic and his teammates fell to Stanford in the national championship game, he has yet to find his way back to a national title game.

Given the impressive start to the season, Djerkovic was hopeful that he gets to compete for an NCAA title again this past year, but the team lost to California in the semifinals.

One main reason for his and his team’s success is the mindset.

“We just all get along so well. I have two other teammates, for example, that I’ve played with since I was 15 years old, Jeremie Cote and Reuel D’Souza,” adds Djerkovic. “The opportunity to play and live with two of my best friends is huge. I honestly couldn’t ask for anything more than that.”

Together, Djerkovic believes anything is possible.

“I learned how to stay organized,” Djerkovic said, juggling school with water polo. “I have little space to chill around. I have to be mentally prepared, eat well and take care of my body. Do my homework, study on schedule and be ready for testing. I have to focus on what I can control.”

After graduating next spring, Djerkovic plans to focus strictly on water polo. His ambition is to qualify for the Olympics and earn a professional contract in Europe.

The qualities of dominance and humility displayed by Djerkovic are something that anyone may learn.

He always lets his work do the talking.

Today, he has brought greater attention to water polo in his community and represents them, his country and the Tigers with dignity and grace.