Ben Warner is one of the few players that got away from Riverside-Brookfield High School soccer coach Danny Makaric. Warner, a Riverside resident who grew up playing in the Chicago International Soccer Club founded by Makaric in 2005, opted to attend St. Ignatius High School in Chicago rather than RBHS.
While Warner was a member of the Wolfpack, he fondly remembers some good-natured hijinks pulled by his former youth soccer coach.
“We played [RBHS] a few times during the regular season and Danny had a habit of pulling me off the field at times,” Warner said with a laugh. “He also scolded me for not doing things to help his team win the game.”
Kidding aside, Warner like so many other area soccer players shares a close relationship with Makaric, formed during their developmental days of soccer with Chicago Inter.
“I started playing for Danny when I was 12,” Warner said. “We have a great relationship. Danny really knows how to push individual talent to develop within a team setting. When I first met him, I was not even 5-feet tall but I was able to compete in soccer initially because he kept pushing me to become a technically skilled player. It’s really paid off for me.”
Warner, a junior midfielder/forward at Grinnell College in Iowa, is close with his teammate on the Pioneers, Jerry Brown, another local soccer star who flourished in high school. When he played for the Bulldogs under Makaric’s tutelage, Brown earned all-conference honors all four years in soccer and the Riverside resident also excelled in swimming as a three-time all-sectional performer.
Heading into his senior campaign at Grinnell, Brown is the Pioneers’ captain and a stalwart defender.
Over the last five years, 20 RBHS soccer players have moved on to play collegiately. The Bulldogs’ college soccer pipeline is arguably Makaric’s proudest accomplishment.
“I’ve enjoyed coaching all of them,” he said. “They are all pleasant kids and leaders. Everybody has had fun playing soccer in Chicago Inter and at RB and that’s important to create a good atmosphere. We prepare players to do well in college.”
Makaric, who is the head coach of both the RBHS boys and girls varsity teams along with his Chicago Inter coaching duties, has the Bulldogs on a roll lately. He annually lines up very difficult games against skilled teams from bigger schools in order to properly evaluate the Bulldogs’ ability.
Apparently, Makaric’s school of hard knocks scheduling is paying off. Over the past two seasons, the boys varsity has finished 26-15-4 overall highlighted by two Metro Suburban Conference championships, a pair of regional titles and the program’s first-ever sectional final appearance in 2012.
Mason Dorsey, who will play at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wis., served as a top defender on the Bulldogs’ stellar 2012 squad. His older brother, Max, is another talented defender who plays for Knox College in Galesburg.
“I didn’t play much until my senior year [at RBHS] but I kept fine tuning my game,” Mason Dorsey said. “Our team improved so much. I knew I wanted to play Division III college soccer, so I sent film [of me playing soccer] out to a lot of colleges. Carroll is a good fit because the quality of the soccer program, and I can study actuarial science.”
T.J. Armic is another former RBHS and Chicago Inter player enjoying the college soccer scene. Armic is a midfielder for Roosevelt University in Chicago, which just recently started an athletics program.
“It’s a performing arts school,” said Armic, who started 11 games for the Lakers last season. “We finished 11th out of 12 teams in our conference, which really isn’t that bad considering we were a first-year program and we play in a great conference. The hardest part of the college game is the physicality. We have talent, but we went up against guys as old as 27 who come from Spain, Nigeria and basically all over the world.”
Armic and Warner along with so many other area soccer players developed a toughness and resolve playing for the affable but demanding Makaric.
“In high school, Danny put some of us in a really tough men’s soccer league,” Warner said. “We would get blown out a lot, but it was a great way for us to develop against good competition.”
The bond between players is as strong as their allegiance to their longtime Croatian coach.
“Just knowing guys from Chicago Inter was really helpful,” Armic said. “Over half of the team goes to RB, so you already have a connection of playing together for three or four years. We know where each other will be on the field and each of our strengths.”
In mid-August several of Makaric’s former players will appear together on RBTV to talk about their soccer careers.
Makaric believes that four of his current RBHS players, Quentin Dreilich, Santiago Beltran, Joe Aieta and Ben Brundos, will play college soccer after the Bulldogs’ upcoming 2013 campaign.
“We were at a college showcase and Joe received about 11 e-mails from colleges interested in him,” Makaric said. “Quentin had a tryout for a college in Pennsylvania, so there’s an excellent chance he’ll play there. Santi and Ben are also excellent players who can compete at the college level.”
For good measure, Makaric is stockpiling young talent in the RBHS girls soccer program.
“We had five freshmen on the varsity last season and we have more freshmen coming in from Chicago Inter,” Makaric said. “The quality of our girls program can’t compare with the boys program, but we are setting a solid foundation to build a winning program.”
Clearly, Makaric and his former Bulldogs share a passion for the game. They are playing together in a men’s league this summer. In regards to playing time, Warner divulged that the 51-year-old Makaric still has game, albeit in short spurts.
“Yeah, I think he played in a game for like five minutes,” Warner said.
For Makaric, who played soccer professionally in Croatia in the mid-1980s, the sport has always served as a classroom of sorts, whether he’s been a player or coach.
“We are learning a lot from being in this summer league,” Makaric said. “It’s a soccer league with a bunch of ethnic teams, so we have been playing against German, Polish, Serbian, Croatian and Assyrian players.
“These guys are all grown men like 28, 32 and 35 years old. I think our young kids thought, ‘Oh, this will be a piece of a cake,’ but we lost 5-1 to an older Polish team because they know how to run the ball. There’s always more to learn in soccer.”