During many of the men’s soccer games at Spartan Stadium this past fall, you could find Amir Pasic in the front row of the bleachers. He would sit for a few minutes, stand up, and pace back and forth muttering words under his breath.
What seemed like the stress of a dedicated fan was actually the stress of a teammate forced to the sidelines by ineligibility.
Pasic was ruled ineligible by the NCAA upon his arrival at Castleton after transferring schools four times in three years. The NCAA requires student athletes to sit out an entire year after transferring more than once to prevent them from transferring solely because of athletics.
But Pasic’s journey is not just soccer related, and it began long before he ever dreamed of going to college.
Pasic left Bosnia to come to the United States when he was just 3 years old. At the time, he was too young to grasp the magnitude of the situation. He was too young to remember the nine hours he spent on an airplane for the first time, and he was certainly too young to understand why his family was different from many others.
Zijada Pasic, Amir’s mother, brought him and his two siblings to the United States in 1995 to escape the war in Bosnia. The war, a conflict fueled by the break-up of Yugoslavia, took the lives of many Bosnians fighting for their freedom.
One of those lives was Pasic’s father.
“My dad passed away right before I was born. We still don’t know exactly what happened to him, but we assume he’s dead because he was out fighting or trying to escape, and I guess they captured him,” Pasic said, looking into the distance.
On the strength of their mother, Pasic and his siblings finally arrived in Vermont and began their life in America. While he learned English at the same age as many American kids do, his mother had a much more difficult transition.
“It was very hard, coming to the United States with three young children. I didn’t know any English. I felt like I was tied up in a bag,” Zijada said in her stern voice.
The stress of starting a new life put even more weight on the tired shoulders of Zijada, who also struggled with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the war and the loss of her husband.
Though Pasic was just a toddler, he was still able to understand that his mother was struggling.
“Sometimes I would lay in my room in bed, and Amir would knock on the door and say ‘Mom are you feeling better?’ He was scared to even touch the bed because if I moved my head I would get a headache and start to throw up,” Zijada explained.
Though the journey to the United States left its scars on Zijada, it didn’t stop her from providing her youngest son with a childhood full of opportunity.
Pasic did not hesitate to make the most of his opportunities, quickly becoming an elite soccer player in the state of Vermont.
He traveled across the country playing for his club team, won a Vermont State Championship for Burlington High School, and ultimately accepted a scholarship to play goalie for the University of Central Arkansas.
His presence in net is daunting: a six-foot-one-inch man with flashy yellow cleats, three-quarter length soccer pants and a bright-colored goalie jersey, all topped off by his bushy blonde hair that bounces around with every move he makes.
Pasic’s stature, paired with his quick feet and knowledge of the game makes him a valuable addition to any team. However, his natural fit in the soccer net did not translate to his fit at Central Arkansas, or the University of Connecticut, or his second time at Central Arkansas.
“Transferring to UConn was a great experience because I got to train with some amazing players, but financially it was never going to work, which forced me to go back to Central Arkansas,” Pasic said.
Pasic appreciated his time at Central Arkansas as well, but quickly learned it wasn’t for him.
“Being at Central Arkansas was a good experience. I got to see so much of the country traveling with that team, but I didn’t like living in the south. They say southern hospitality; I say that’s a myth. I just really needed to be closer to home,” Pasic said, shaking his head.
The homesickness was also fueled by his mother’s illness. She was diagnosed with cancer during his senior year of high school, just after he had committed to Central Arkansas.
“At first it was scary. I remember going home and it was awful. But she was fine, it didn’t even faze her. She would sleep at night like nothing was wrong. She always stayed strong around us,” Pasic said.
When the terrible news first came though, Pasic took time to gather himself, grabbed his cleats and went to the only place that could provide the therapy he needed: the soccer field.
Zijada never once made things about herself. The tragedy of her diagnosis was washed away by the pride she felt for her youngest son going off to college.
“I was very happy for him. I wasn’t even worried about (the diagnosis); I was more worried about him and how he would fit in at school. I was happy and proud for the decision he made,” Zijada said.
Despite the emotional support from his mother to remain at Central Arkansas, Pasic decided to come home.
He transferred to St Michael’s College in the spring of 2014 and then to Castleton just days before the 2014 fall sports season began.
Soon after his arrival, Pasic was informed by head coach John O’Connor that the NCAA had deemed him ineligible. That began the waiver process.
O’Connor, working with Athletic Director Deanna Tyson and Head of Compliance Brittany Higgins, gathered the necessary materials required by the waiver process.
The NCAA denied the school’s initial request, forcing Tyson to appeal and fight even harder for Pasic’s eligibility.
Her fight paid off.
“I included a personal letter to the NCAA explaining how Amir is the perfect example of why they have these waivers. Amir goes to every practice, every game, he’s a great student athlete and the only thing missing for him was being able to compete,” Tyson said.
After sitting out 13 games, Pasic made his first appearance in a Spartan uniform on Oct. 17 in a game at Green Mountain College.
Within minutes of being on the field, it was evident that the anxiety he once showed as a teammate watching from the sideline was gone. Instead he wore intensity and confidence on the sleeves of his bright orange goalie jersey.
Pasic had three shutouts in his first four appearances in net for the Spartans, most notably a 1-0 win over powerhouse Middlebury – an emotional game in which his mother watched in person for the first time since he was in high school.
“I kind of forgot that my mom was there at first. I had gotten used to playing without her there,” Pasic said.
“But then I thought, ‘holy shit my mom is here, my sister, I have friends watching online, it just kind of hit me like holy crap this is pretty awesome,” he said with a smile.
What Pasic missed most about home, he had on that night. The changing colors of the leaves in the fall, the cool air at night “when it’s 50 degrees and you have a game,” and most importantly his mother, watching nervously from the stands with all of the other parents in Spartan Stadium.
“I felt like the proudest mother in the world. Watching him play is something I enjoy every moment of,” Zijada said.
Pasic is ecstatic every time he talks about the win over Middlebury, but he knows that he has much more than soccer.
“Seeing her go through everything that she’s gone through has made me more thankful and more appreciative of everything that goes on,” Pasic said. “I really started to realize how much she did for us. It’s been kind of a blessing. I’ve come to realize that everything you do is something you should be grateful for.”