For most student-athletes, making their way onto a professional roster is the ultimate ambition. Many young players grow up dreaming of one day hearing the applause of thousands of fans, signing autographs, and performing under the brightest lights on the biggest stage. This vision is what makes the competition and excitement of sports so enticing and the hard work worth it. Opportunities of this magnitude are celebrated and respected, but are particularly rare. However, as Baker’s athletic programs have excelled to reach new heights, so has one of its stars.
Amer Didic, ’16, former Wildcat Heart of America Athletic Conference Most Valuable Player and 2015 Defensive Player of the Year, has climbed his way into one of Kansas City’s most prominent athletic spotlights. Sporting Kansas City originally signed the player from Edmonton, Canada, to a short-term loan in August 2016, but after Didic’s impressive rookie performance with Sporting KC’s United Soccer League affiliate, the Swope Park Rangers, Didic was added to the defensive squad with Sporting KC.
During his rookie season with Swope Park, Didic made appearances in 28 of the Rangers’ 30 league games, along with every playoff game during the team’s journey to the USL finals. Didic received recognition as a finalist for the league’s defender of the year award and was named a first team all-league selection.
Before playing his rookie season with the Rangers, Didic was called up to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport team for the 2015 Summer Universiade Games in Gwangju, South Korea, where he made three starts against Italy, Russia, and Iran. Since his senior season with Baker University in 2015, Didic has seized every opportunity that has come his way. However, he knows that before his professional stadium debut, the realization of his dream began in an orange uniform while playing for head coach Nate Houser, ’94, who now also serves as Baker’s athletic director.
“I firmly believe that every practice and game that I was a part of at Baker has helped prepare me to be able to take advantage of my post-collegiate opportunities. Wins, losses, bad games, good games, bad practices, good practices all played an important role in my development back then and now,” Didic said. “As I practice now, these experiences still replay in my mind. All of the coaches helped prepare me for my opportunities; however, there were two that had greater impacts. Nate Houser and [former women’s head coach and assistant men’s coach] Davy Phillips, ’96, MLA ’11, both taught me a lot about the game of soccer, but most importantly, they taught me more about other things that I feel were most important to my development as a person and as a soccer player. Things such as work ethic, leadership, accountability, and respect.”
A Career Kicks Off
Years before he was named the Heart MVP, Didic met Nate Houser following a game at Archbishop O’Leary High School in Edmonton, Canada, Didic’s alma mater. After an impressive performance on the pitch, Houser and Didic discussed Baker.
“When I first watched Amer play, it was very clear that he had a huge upside ahead of him. He was only 17 and hadn’t finished growing into his 6’ 5” frame,” Houser said. “After speaking with Amer, I began to get the measure of a young man with two very clear goals. First, he wanted to get a college education. This is something that meant a great deal to Amer and his family. Second, Amer wanted to be a professional soccer player, and he was willing to invest the time and trust the environment to achieve that goal. The best part, though, would reveal itself over the next four years. He is a very caring and honest person, works extremely hard, and is a fantastic teammate and leader. We were very fortunate to have Amer here, because as he grew as a young man, he made everyone around him better on and off the field.”
With Baldwin City as his backdrop, Didic found a place to grow as a student-athlete. At Baker, Didic made 84 appearances, scoring 28 goals and adding six assists from central defense. He led the team in goals his junior and senior years.
“The environment set me up so that I could have a chance to be as successful as I can be. The small school in a small-town environment created little distraction. For a small school, it had everything I needed—great education, great professors, great staff, and great coaching. I truly think that the school does a fantastic job in appointing coaches to the various athletic programs because as a school, we do very well in many things. By doing well, the overall level of the team rises, which is a result of your individual level rising. That’s what these coaches do, and specifically what Nate Houser and his coaching continue to do every year.”
Living in the Now
As his dream of becoming a Major League Soccer player is being realized, Didic maintains a defensive role on Sporting KC’s 2017 roster. To add to his breakout year, Didic was recently named to the Canada Men’s National Team for the first time.
“I love the challenge. I don’t know whether to call it difficult; I would call it challenging. I knew deep down that if I kept working hard and stayed true to myself, that more opportunities would open,” Didic said. “Of course it was rewarding, but I know that this is just a small step as I have bigger goals I want to achieve.”