The Varsity Blues men’s soccer team is currently tied with rival Ryerson Rams for second place in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) standings. The team holds a 7-1-2 record, only trailing the Carleton Ravens who have a perfect 10–0 record. This year, Blues captain Nikola Stakic is looking to lead his team to the OUA Championship.

Growing up, Stakic was immersed in soccer. His love of the sport began when he was five. “I started playing for Scarborough Blizzard house league,” Stakic said in an interview with The Varsity. Similar to a lot of athletes, Stakic comes from an athletic background. “My dad, well he’s from Bosnia. He played professionally back there and when he was growing up. And my brother played a little bit.”

Being able to play for the University of Toronto is like being at home for Stakic, who grew up in the Scarborough Bluffs area. When he was younger, Stakic used to play at Birchmount Stadium with his father and brother.

Stakic, who plays the centre midfielder position, started out as a centre back when he was younger. When asked about players he idolized growing up, Stakic told The Varsity that he watched Gerard Piqué of FC Barcelona.

The transition from high school to playing for one of Canada’s top universities was exciting for Stakic. He was originally part of the Toronto FC Academy, the youth development program for the Toronto Football Club. “The coach of the Varsity Blues at the time was the coach at Toronto FC as well. So we linked together and he gave me an opportunity to play for U of T,” Stakic explains.

When asked about any pressure coming into the Varsity Blues, Stakic said it was a smooth process. “I knew a lot of the players already here, so it was an easy transition.”

Stakic is currently in the kinesiology program at U of T. He enjoys the freedom that his program gives him to explore his passion for soccer within his academic life. “It’s very athlete driven, the program,” Stakic told The Varsity.

On the correlation between the program and being a varsity athlete, the Blues captain noted that “everything they teach us, I can kind of incorporate into what I do on a daily basis, being on the varsity team. I kind of link what we’re learning in class, and take it on the field and in the gym.”

Although Stakic enjoys his program, he also mentioned the challenges that come with being both a student and an athlete. Stakic is currently in fourth year, so he has many years of experience dealing with tight schedules. “Keeping high grades and balancing that with soccer, it’s really hard.”

Like a lot of students, Stakic has classes most days of the week. “[I’ve] got Friday off [class] but we train Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday,” Stakic explains. “And then usually you have two games during the weekend.”

To ease the stress of being a student athlete, Stakic focuses on having fun as well. “I enjoy going out with my friends,” Stakic told The Varsity. “I like video games too. I play a lot of Call of Duty [and] Fortnite with my teammates.”

Being the team captain carries a lot of meaning to Stakic. He acknowledges what it means to be a leader both on and off the field. “I like to set an example for the younger players coming in, for the other players on the team,” Stakic said. “You know, to work hard, the ethic and the bond that we build. Make sure that’s the key of being a Blue.”

Stakic also remarked on just how rewarding playing for the Blues has been for him. “Just the brotherhood, the family that you build in the change room, on the field. You know, I’ve made such great friends from the coaching staff [and] the training staff, and these relationships are going to carry on for the rest of my life,”

“We spend so much time together, and a lot of us have played together for years, even before U of T. So we all have each other’s backs. We look out for one another.”

When asked about any goals for the rest of the season, Stakic focused on the team specifically. “Currently we’re tied for second. So you know, push, hopefully get that top two finish, so we can have a bye-week,” Stakic said. But similar to most athletes, Stakic has his eyes set on bringing home a banner. “Our goal is to win the OUA Championship,” Stakic said.

“After I’m done here, [I’ll] hopefully sign a contract somewhere, with [the Canadian Premier League]. Hoping to get into one of those teams,” Stakic told The Varsity. “But if not, then continue with schooling. Maybe do teacher’s college. Do more coaching for sports.”