From From Home to Graceland and Back Again (2017)

During the tensions of the Cold War, many families from Eastern Europe decided to leave the danger that the fall of communism would bring to the people of the former Yugoslavia and other nations and come to North America in search of a new life. One of those families was the Prostrans, who would have two sons, Alex and Filip, soon after their arrival in Oakville, Ontario. A son of Serbian immigrants, Filip Prostran fell in love with the beautiful game at a young age. Not only was there already an ingrained love for soccer in his european family but according to Prostran it was also that “immigrant families don’t have a lot of money, so they’ll play the cheapest sports. You’ll either do running or soccer. Choose one.”

Which one did Filip choose? When he was in high school he used to work at a sports dome in Oakville doing odd jobs to get a little pocket change. But if ever there was a team supposed to play in the dome that was short a man, Prostran would drop what he was doing and be the guy who’d fill that spot. He didn’t do it for recognition or to impress someone: he did it because he loved to play. And when someone plays just for the love of it, people do take notice – and someone did. That man brought Prostran to play at a high school in Woodbridge where Ivan Joseph, found him and told him about a place called Graceland. “What you see is what you get,” at Graceland, he told Prostran – it didn’t take long for the charismatic Joseph to convince Prostran that Graceland was the place for him.

Prostran (right) met Joseph (center) in the mid 2000s and now works alongside him at Ryerson. (Ryersonian)

‘Graceland’. That word just sounds magical doesn’t it? ‘Graceland’. Well, unless you’re a soccer junkie, it’s not much more than buggies and amish people walking about. If you are a soccer junkie however, much like Prostran or like Joseph, the quaint and quiet nature of the town made it into “an Olympic training village.. for people who wanted it that way,” according to Prostran. He wasn’t joking: Caitlyn Jenner (nee Bruce Jenner) attended Graceland in the ‘70s where she found and honed her skill in the decathlon, an event she eventually won a gold medal for at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games.

The Graceland sports program boasted four full fields, a beautiful weight room and in 2006 the NAIA Men’s Soccer National Champions. Prostran was an integral part of that team – which only claimed the title after two extra time periods had elapsed as well as 13 penalty kicks – which was coached by Joseph. Upon graduating, Prostran returned to his roots and was able to play for Div 1 and 2 teams in the Serbian league. But after stints in Ireland and Malaysia didn’t work out, Prostran knew he wasn’t going to be the next great Serbian footballer: he went for the experience, to travel and to play the game he loved along the way.

Graceland University (Iowa), where Prostran attended before his globe-trotting years playing pro soccer.

His most cherished memories that stem from his career in soccer are not moments that occurred while he was pro. It’s all about Graceland. It’s the road trips and the games under the lights and the lasting relationships he’s made with his teammates from Graceland. To him, the gift that keeps on giving is “the past 6-7 years since I’ve graduated I’ve been to probably 7-8 of my buddies weddings. One in Mexico, one in Columbia, one in Jamaica, two in Kansas City. All over the world.” For Prostran it was about the camaraderie and the love he had for the game and for the people he met at Graceland.

So when Joseph contacted him while he was toiling in Ireland with a new opportunity to stay close to the beautiful game, Prostran snapped it up. Filip was finally back home in the GTA, now working as assistant coach for Joseph in the Ryerson Men’s Soccer Program. Joseph was also Athletic Director however, and according to assistant coach Kasy Kiarash (who also attended Graceland) even when he was an assistant coach, Prostran could often be seen “leading the recruiting and leading a lot of the practices,” for the team while Joseph attended to other matters. The transition has been a smooth one for Prostran as well as his team, as they’ve posted two of their best records in memory during Prostran’s two seasons at the helm.

Prostran coaching his boys up during Ryerson practice. (The Eye Opener)

Prostran’s Rams team last season won the conference and was so impressive that it earned Prostran Coach of the Year honors in his first season as the head man. But Prostran wouldn’t tell you that, that info would have to come from the people close to him who know just how modest and selfless Prostran is. When he’s told how good a job he’s done with the team since he’s been head coach, Prostran brushes it off, saying “Ivan’s put me in a good position to be successful and I’m just here not to screw it up.” Well, after securing Ryerson’s fourth straight trip to the OUA Final Four while boasting a 15-1-1 record, it certainly seems like he hasn’t screwed it up quite yet.