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Marinkoviches on and off the field

Sports Editor

Published: Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Updated: Thursday, January 16, 2014 14:01

Soccer

Photo by J.Christoffersen/The Gateway

Joe Marinkovich has played with the thoughts of his family the entire season


During the Mavs’ first matchup on the new Caniglia field, junior Joe Marinkovich had extra butterflies in his stomach. It was his day, in fact. Along with starting in a game that was historical for the young University Nebraska at Omaha Divison-1 soccer program, Marinkovich was able to play in front of his entire family for the first time.

“It was super humbling, especially when I was standing out in the middle of the field,” Marinkovich said. “They called my name, and it was just so in the moment just to hear them cheering for me. I got a little emotional on the field, just to know that my dad was watching me play and nothing else mattered at that time. It means the world to me.”

Marinkovich’s dad, John Marinkovich, is currently battling brain cancer, stemming from melanoma and brain tumors that had been discovered in the spring of this year. A turn for the worse in the last few months makes his condition unpredictable.

With this on his mind, Marinkovich has continued to live the best he still can as a student, family member and athlete.

“It’s very difficult. I carry a heavy heart when I go to Denver or Easter Illinois,” Marinkovich said. “I’m definitely going to be thinking about them because I don’t know how much time he has left.  What’s reassuring for me is that this is what he would want me to be doing.”

Through the process of coping with family adversity, the Omaha native and Creighton Prep alumnus has clinged to the one thing that not only  brought him to UNO, bu made a bond with his father even tighter- soccer.

“Right now it’s my outlet,” Marinkovich said. “This is where I feel most comfortable right now. It really means a lot that I can still be out here, and that is what my dad would want me to do and it’s really important to me that I can stay with this and keep playing soccer.”

John has been there since day one of Joe’s soccer career, starting when he was just 2-years-old.

“He was a wrestler, football kind of guy, and then for him to just totally flip a 180 and just support his kid, and knowing that he loved me no matter what I decided to do with my life. He’s just been there all the tournaments, the late nights driving to wherever, just knowing that he’s been there for me has meant the world to me,” Marinkovich said.

Marinkovich’s parents are known by the team as the “traveling fans,” accompanying them on road trips as far as California, giving Joe and the rest of the team support that is even more special in a time like this.

“I think the first two seasons they missed a combined four or five games, which is unbelievable,” Marinkovich said. “For them to be there for me, is unbelievable knowing that sometimes I have a bad game I can go over to the sideline, even when I’m away from home, and get a hug from them. It really means a lot just knowing that they’re there watching me.”

Coupled with his family through blood, Marinkovich has been able to lean on his other family, that is sometimes also ‘through blood’ - his teammates.

“We are like a brotherhood,” Marinkovich said. “They see me down in the locker room. They can tell me anything. I really appreciate all the support that they’ve had. I can go up to someone one-on-one and talk to them. I’ve talked to the team as a group and they all know what I’m going through. Everybody there has been amazing.”

With the stresses of being a student and being there for his family, when problems may arise in soccer, his team is there for him.

“Whether it’s just a pat on the back or just saying ‘hey’ to me, it really helps a lot and helps me get through each and every day,” Marinkovich said.

In that Oral Roberts game, not only was Joe able to start at home in front of his dad, but it marked the first time that the ‘Fight for John’ effort was started. The cause is raising money both for the John Marinkovich soccer scholarship and helping the Marinkovich family financially through this tough time.

The entire UNO team had ‘Fight for John’ across their chests in warm-ups that day.

“It was amazing, the shirts that we got to wear for warm ups. It was a big deal for me,” Marinkovich said.

That effort was led by Head Coach Jason Mims, who was doing the least he could do for one of his longest tenured players at UNO.

“The least we could do was just to visually show our support to him and his family and other people to raise awareness for brain cancer, and hopefully raise some money for his family and for brain cancer treatment,” Mims said.

With the already stressful life that comes with being an average college student, Marinkovich might have it doubled, a true testament to his character, and will as a person to persevere.

“It’s incredible for a kid. If anyone has an excuse to not be in school or not be on the team and take some time away, it’s probably him. His dad’s battling brain cancer,” Mims said. “I think for him to be able to stay in school and do well still and to be on the team and go through this, it takes a lot. I’m really proud of the kid. He’s a really strong individual to be able to handle this and do this when he’s in college. It takes a strong person. So I’m proud of Joey, and he knows he has our support.”

When asked if this process has made him stronger, Marinkovich said the process is day-by-day, highlighting that this fight is ongoing and not over.

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