KAILUA-KONA — John Replogle’s life has been beautifully simple in Bosnia the last 15 months or so: Eat, sleep, train, soccer, repeat.
The Konawaena graduate wouldn’t have it any other way as he chases around the globe his dream of becoming a top-tier professional soccer player.
In 2018, Replogle signed his first professional deal in Bosnia with his club Podrinje Janja, where he has been for the last year-plus trying to make a name for himself.
“For me, I’m in an environment where I live and breathe futbol,” Replogle said. “I go from my hotel, to the gym, to the stadium. That’s ideal. They cover everything and then give me some money on top of it.”
Replogle’s journey has been an interesting one. On top of being a soccer standout, Replogle was an all-state kicker on the Wildcats football team and his booming kicking ability led to his nickname “Touchback Johnny.” His kicks became somewhat legendary around Kealakekua and his thrilling 2013 game-winner in the wind against Hawaii Prep still comes up every now and then.
Following his graduation from Konawaena in 2014, Replogle left the Big Island to go to Butte College in California and play on the football team. However, he soon found that the gridiron wasn’t his passion. He missed playing soccer.
“When I finished high school I thought, ‘Kicking is pretty easy. Why not go kick in college?’” Replogle said. “I was doing the kickoffs at Butte, but I just came to the realization that I didn’t want to do it for the next four years. It was not a passion. I called my mom up and told her I wanted to chase my dream and become a professional soccer player.”
His next stop was a farther south, in California at San Diego Community College. However, Replogle said, some issues with transfer rules kept him off the field. A relentless problem solver, he went to work finding a way to get on the field and further his goal of making a professional team.
Replogle headed north for a tryout with the Sacramento Republic of the USL, and while they liked him, he was going to have to pay for all his expenses out of pocket to train with the team. That was a no-go.
Then an opportunity arose to play soccer in Thailand, which Replogle quickly jumped at.
“In 2017 I played 15 games up there. Almost half a season,” Replogle said. “I met a teammate in Thailand that was Haitian and had a manager in Greece. He told his manager about me and I sent him my video.”
Replogle soon found himself training with his new manager, who lined up tryouts all over the map. He went to Macedonia, Serbia and Albania before finding a home in Bosnia — a country he admits he knew nothing about until inking a deal with the team.
“A dog is always going to find a way to eat. A winner finds a way to win,” Replogle said. “I just kept going. I told myself if I have to go across the world to get this, I’m going to do it.”
Replogle signed his name on the dotted line to accomplish his goal of becoming a professional player, and soon after, he saw his name on Transfermarkt — a website that shows rumors, salaries and stats for the biggest players in the game. It was his “I’ve arrived” moment.
“Ronaldo, Messi — they’re all on there,” said Replogle, who plays forward. “To see my name there was crazy. God willing, maybe in 2020 I can get in the FIFA video game or something.”
Replogle makes no secret that he suffered a bit of culture shock when he landed in Bosnia. His family moved to the Big Island from Peru when he was six, and he spent his childhood in Ka‘u. He can’t find a lot of parallels between the two places.
“It’s different. Life is so relaxed over here,” Replogle said, who’s back on the Big Island rehabbing his hamstring for a few months. “You can live off a fishing pole and a tent if you want to.”
There’s also the issue of a language barrier. Replogle is the only player not from either Bosnia or Serbia on the roster.
“They speak this type of Russian. It’s really aggressive,” Replogle said. “I’ve learned enough to say pass me the ball and things like that … Just being laughed at all the time. You eventually learn it.”
Replogle’s motivation to keep going is linked to his family — most notably his mother, Mary.
“My family keeps me going. I’m nothing without my family. My mom trained me and was my coach growing up. I’m a product of her coaching,” Replogle said. “There are a lot of sacrifices that were made along the way by my parents to get me to this point. Nothing great comes without sacrifices.”
After a few more weeks on the Big Island, Replogle will head back to Bosnia for the season, which starts at the end of August. While he hopes to be a key contributor for the team, his long-term goal is to keep building his resume in the game, with the eventual target of playing for the US national team or his native Peru.
“Now that I’ve made it pro, I just want to keep climbing the ranks,” Replogle said. “I’m blessed to be in an environment where I can grow into a better man and a better player.”