Everyone knows NCAA football stars, even Heisman winners, don’t always pan out in the NFL. Even five-star high school recruits can falter in college. But what about athletes who didn’t play high school football? In America, most NFL players grew up playing the game. But the NFL is slowly becoming more global.
Right now, the most accomplished foreign-born players include Hines Ward (South Korea), Jay Ajayi (England), and an iconic kicker (Poland’s Sebastian Janikowski). But the next potential NFL great hails from Serbia. The catch? He didn’t even play football before he got a college scholarship.
Ilija Krajnovic, a potential all-time great?
Bleacher Report recently profiled Ilija Krajnovic (“Elijah” in English). The piece highlighted his Boston College scholarship, which coaches Jeff Hafley and Matt Applebaum offered before Krajnovic even played a single game. Without proven skills on the field, what does he bring that hundreds of other high schoolers don’t have?
At 6-foot-8, the 17-year old Krajnovic would already crack the all-time top 10 NFL players when it comes to height. The size advantage will be even more pronounced in college. And at 17 years old, he may not even be done growing. Another few inches could turn him into an unparalleled physical force.
At 325 pounds, Krajnovic has the weight to match. Initial reports on his play and willingness to learn have been positive, but he was certainly recruited for his size.
How Krajnovic made it to America
Growing up in Serbia, Krajnovic played nearly every sport there was. The Bleacher Report article goes into further detail about how his massive size helped him succeed in basketball, volleyball, and water polo.
After finally picking up football, word of Krajnovic’s size and talent made its way to America through Paul Alexander, a former Cincinnati Bengals O-Line coach. Alexander and Brandon Collier (of PPI recruits) connected with IMG Academy in Florida, one of the most prominent high school football programs in the country.
As COVID-19 derails America’s sports, high school football was hit, too. But as students traveled home to be with their families, a trip to Serbia wasn’t an immediate option for Krajnovic. He stayed on campus at IMG Academy, connecting with coach Bobby Acosta. As Acosta and Krajnovic worked together, it became clear that the young man wasn’t just about size.
The NCAA’s outlook for Krajnovic
Although things are going well so far, pure size isn’t a guarantee that a player will succeed. Looking at a list of the heaviest players in NFL history, many of them were complete busts. In addition to the health concerns that larger players face, they also have to contend with increased expectations and may get less credit for their performance.
Picking prospects based solely on size hasn’t consistently worked out in the past. Krajnovic’s willingness to work hard and improve his game will give him a leg up, but he’s still an absolute newcomer to the sport. The bottom line is that Krajnovic’s destiny is in his large, capable hands.
Expectations are high, but he can succeed if he puts in the work. Since a small number of NCAA players eventually make it to the NFL, the odds are against Krajnovic. But by making it to America and getting a scholarship to Boston College, he’s already beaten the odds once. With hard work and some decent coaching, perhaps he can beat the odds all the way to the top level.