This article can be found in the Alumni Magazine.

March 25, 2022

Danny Jeftich (BA ’78) brings a lawn chair to the sidelines to assist his son Jovan (BA ’07) with the Kankakee Valley High School boys soccer team. Occasionally, Jovan instructs Danny to make good use of that chair.

Father and son sport an evolving dynamic. When they first coached together, Dad was in charge and his son was the assistant. They’ve now reversed roles.

“We don’t have too many issues,” Jovan said. “There are times he might step over the boundaries, and I tell him to take a seat, since he always has his chair. But I would do the same thing, getting caught up in coaching. I always let him say things at halftime or before the game, letting him put in his words of wisdom.”

“It’s been an adjustment, but in a good way,” Danny said. “I have to learn to follow instead of lead, which is good. I just try to help my son out. I’m proud of what he’s accomplished and is still accomplishing.”

The two are in their second season at Kankakee Valley in Wheatfield, Indiana—a half hour from their hometown of Valparaiso, where Danny built a successful program for more than 30 years at Valparaiso High School, winning the state title in the fall of 2004. Father and son share a love of the sport, a history of overcoming some obstacles and a place
in the USF Athletics Hall of Fame.

Danny’s life story inspires those who hear it. At 16, he traveled from Yugoslavia to the United States to visit his father, Dusan, who had moved to the U.S. when Danny was very young (Danny’s mother remarried). After spending time with his father, Danny decided to stay. A momentous decision, considering Danny did not speak English. Facing a rough challenge, he learned the language and his soccer skills opened doors, including a chance to play at Saint Francis College under coach Terry Stefankiewicz, who spearheaded ways for Danny to succeed as a student and a player.

“I had some struggles in the beginning, but I’m always grateful for Saint Francis and the people who helped me,” Danny said.

Danny met his wife Christine (BA ’78) while they were undergraduates at Saint Francis. She soon moved to the top spot in his support system. “We met in geography class,” Christine said. “I thought chivalry was dead, but he asked me if he could carry my books. That’s how it started, and here we are.”

The two dated for eight years before they married in 1984 and started a family, which includes sons Jovan, Daniel and Nikolas. Danny’s degree in education led him to a three-decade teaching career at Ivy Tech, where he chaired the education division. He coached at Munster High School and Valparaiso University before his long run at Valparaiso High School. He celebrated induction into the Indiana Soccer Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2012 and the Indiana Soccer Hall of Fame in 2013.

Jovan’s unexpected early arrival in 1985 challenged Danny and Christine. Jovan, born prematurely at 29 weeks, weighed a little over three pounds. Jovan spent seven weeks in the hospital with a breathing issue that took nearly two years to resolve. However, he grew into a talented soccer player, playing at Valparaiso under his father and continuing his career at USF. Jovan was a freshman on the 2003 USF men’s soccer team, which joined his father’s 1977 team as USF Hall of Fame inductees.

“If it wasn’t for my parents, I wouldn’t have known about Saint Francis,” Jovan said. “I visited it and fell in love with the campus and the players.”

Jovan earned a communications degree at USF and a graduate degree for recreation and sports management at Indiana University. He later earned his teaching license, helped coach women’s soccer and worked as a sports information director and adjunct professor at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College near Terre Haute, Indiana, and first coached with his father while he was working as a teacher at Valparaiso High School.

When Danny’s run as Valparaiso’s coach ended two years ago, Jovan switched to Kankakee Valley, teaching eighth grade health and physical education, and coaching boys high school soccer.

“I had to find a staff and the first person I asked was my dad,” Jovan said. “He has coached for so long. I’ve learned a lot from him. Now we’re coaching together. You couldn’t script it any better.”

They put their first team together through the pandemic in the fall of 2020, which limited some of the typical team-building and bonding activities. But the season went well, with enthusiasm from the student-athletes and the school administration about the program’s potential.

Jovan proved he could run the program. His father proved he could assume an assistant’s role and, when necessary, quietly take a seat and watch his son coach.