For the majority of soccer players, the peak of their career is making the state tournament in high school. A smaller group of those players experience the highs of winning a state championship and an even smaller percentage go on to play soccer in college. A tiny fraction of those players will advance from there to play semi-professionally or professionally.
Omar Jarun, 26, a McIntosh graduate and AAAA state champion in 2000, has experienced the highs and lows as he has continued his soccer career. Currently he is playing professional soccer in Poland. He began his first full season with Pogon Szczecin last Saturday, a team he was traded to in the second half of last season from Flota Swinoujscie.
“It’s the real deal,” said Jarun of Pogon. “They’ve got great fans, they are competitive and they’re trying to make the top league, so there’s a lot of pressure.”
Pogon is one of the more popular clubs in Poland. They get a lot of media attention and their history has a lot of people clamoring for them to continue their ascension back to the top league.
Jarun and several other players joined the club in the second half of last season to make a push to qualify for the top league but the team came up short. They are expected to win this year and rejoin the top tier.
“We have to do well on and off the field,” Jarun said, adding that winning and losing is very important to the fans and playing well is of equal importance. “Even if we win but we played kind of flat, there will be bad write-ups and talk that we just got lucky. They can turn on you pretty quick. My girlfriend has been in the crowd and heard them cursing us in Polish when we’ve got off to a slow start.”
It’s hard not to hear the crowd. Pogon draws 10,000 people to each of their games and Jarun states that 10,000 sounds like 30,000. He added that his parents came to check out two of his games in the spring and were astounded by the passion displayed by the fans from whistle to whistle.
That passion makes it easier for Jarun to keep giving his all in each game, something that is of the utmost importance if he is to reach his next goal: making Germany’s Bundesliga.
“Germany keeps a close eye on Polish soccer and you never know when somebody could be watching, looking to bring over good players,” Jarun said.
Jarun is the only non-Polish player on Pogon and he tries his best to be a good teammate on and off the field.
“It’s really competitive and I have to be the best I can in both training and in the game.”
Jarun started playing soccer at a young age. Born in Kuwait, he moved to Peachtree City in the 1990s and started playing club soccer with AFC Lightning and then high school soccer with the McIntosh Chiefs.
He started out as a forward and was a scoring threat in college at both the University of Memphis and the University of Dayton.
In his junior year at Dayton, he scored nine goals, five of them game winners. He was first team All Atlantic 10 as a senior with 10 goals and seven assists.
After college, he was drafted by the Atlanta Silverbacks with the sixth overall pick in the USL draft but there was a change brewing.
“My coach in Atlanta asked if I had ever played defense. He told me there were six forwards on the team and I’d have a better chance of playing if I played defense,” Jarun recalled. “I watched the guys back there play and played the final 10 to 15 minutes back there a few times before getting a start.” He began playing center defense regularly and has continued to move up.
“I like defense, but you can’t make mistakes. There’s a lot of responsibility there,” Jarun said. He has a classic defender’s build and can be intimidating to the smaller forwards as he stands at 6-feet-5-inches and is a presence on the field. “Sometimes I wish I could get away with a bad pass, but you have to be almost flawless, always thinking and always fighting.”
After playing in Atlanta and playing with the Vancouver Whitecaps, Jarun was faced with a choice. He had an option to return to Vancouver but did not have a guarantee of starting there the following season.
“I asked to be released and I got a manager. A friend of mine had played in the Czech Republic and told me about playing in Poland,” Jarun said. “I made a video, came over for two weeks and Flota liked me and signed me.”
Before signing with Flota, Jarun was looking at the end of his soccer career, but he knew he wanted to continue.
“I could come home and get a job or keep chasing my dream,” Jarun said. “I surprised a lot of people, including my parents, but everybody has been very supportive.”
Jarun also got a chance to play with the Palestine national team in 2007 in a game against Singapore in Qatar. It was his first international game and something he is proud of and hopes to get a chance to do again.
“It was a qualifier and we lost 4-0 but it was a good experience,” Jarun said. Unlike some other national squads, Palestine’s schedule varies and games get cancelled frequently.
Jarun is looking forward to starting a new season with Pogon. He and his teammates train every day for several hours but have a lot of free time to simply take care of themselves and be ready for their one game a week.
The season consists of 34 games with games taking place from August to November, a break in December and January because of the weather, some exhibitions in Turkey in January and February and the season starting back up again in March until the conclusion.
“It’s obviously the highest level of soccer I have ever played,” Jarun said. “It’s fast and there is a lot of power and fitness. Anyone can win on any given day and you have to always be ready.”
Jarun has adjusted to the culture shock of living in the former Communist country and has met some nice people.
“When I was playing for Flota, it was in kind of a touristy area by the beach of the Baltic sea, but Pogon plays in a bigger city,” Jarun said, admitting it is different than anything he was used to. “I make the most of it and try the best I can.”
Now, the focus in Poland will be on Jarun and his team and already there are articles in newspapers and discussions around the country on how the team played. There are people interested across the pond, too, family members and friends hoping that Pogon continues to play well and their center defender helps lead the team to victory.