MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – The Northern Michigan Soccer field is something to behold. If you look just past the well-kept grass, you will see the shores of Lake Superior, creating a backdrop that makes the field truly unique.

NMU soccer player, Kaffie Kurz, calls the field his happy place.

“When practice is over we can go and jump in the water,” said Kurz.

Marquette is Kurz’s most recent stop in a soccer journey that has taken him all over the world. He has adjusted well since arriving for his freshman year in 2018.

“It’s a place I admire and I’m happy to be here,” said Kurz. “I think I am a Yooper right now, yeah. I can tell people, ‘Oh yeah, it’s not cold today.’ but they tell me it’s cold, and I have seen more than this. But it is hard to tell people I’m a Yooper when I am from Liberia.”

Kurz’s story began in Paynesville, Liberia. A world away from Marquette and the Upper Peninsula.

“It’s the exact opposite,” said Kurz.

Despite being thousands of miles away, his native homeland is something Kurz thinks about often.

“Home is where the heart is and my heart is there, I love it,” said Kurz. “It’s a different experience when you come from a place, especially where I came from, one of the poorest countries in the world.”

Kurz thanks soccer for opening up doors that many from his homeland don’t get to walk through. He is using his platform as a college student-athlete to help give back to the less fortunate back home.

He worked with former Wildcat men’s soccer assistant coach and current NMU women’s soccer head coach Jon Sandoval to established a charitable foundation in his native country. The foundation helps send soccer cleats to young athletes in Liberia who are in need of them.

Kurz collects the shoes in donation boxes in the men’s and women’s soccer locker rooms and cleans used pairs himself before sending them to those in need.

“We said how can we help with the little resource we have as students and coaches far away?” said Kurz. “So, I thought about how I have two cleats and basically, I use one because it is my favorite. So, I said ‘Oh, I could send this back.’ He said that maybe that could be your starting point or how we can start helping.”

Kurz says the motivation to give back comes from the first-hand experience as a child.

“Knowing what I experienced as a kid, playing the sport I love passionately, and not having all the resources to get me to where I want to be, and knowing there are still people in that condition, it just meant a lot to make an impact on trying to help,” said Kurz.

Kurz’s work to help his native country hasn’t gone unnoticed. Northern Michigan University recently announced its 2020-21′ Wildcat Awards. Kurz was named the “Humanitarian of the Year” because of his work with the foundation.

“The first thing that came to mind was like, wow,” said Kurz. “It was with no intention of getting anything back anything for what I am doing or continue doing. People from the Northern community recognizing that it meant a lot. I was shocked, especially with my teammates who all sent me individual texts telling me congrats and you deserve it. So, that was really a big moment for me.”

The award has only lit a bigger fire inside Kurz to continue his mission to give back.

“It has motivated me personally to do more,” said Kurz. “The reaction has been really good because in the Summer I play with a semi-professional team and after the season I talked with all my teammates and I collected around 20 pairs of cleats from everybody. My coach, the managers were all willing to donate. So, now we are not only doing cleats, we are doing sporting equipment. the shirt, trousers, anything you will need to play soccer. So, the reaction has taken us to the next step, collecting from other teams and other equipment.”

Kurz is thankful to everyone who has helped him get to this point.

“I just want to say thanks to the Northern Michigan University team for giving me this award because it means a lot to me,” said Kurz. “It has opened a lot of doors for people back home because we’re going to do more to help. To my coaches and my teammates who were first to say yes we’re going to help me and support your idea and dream, I just want to say thanks to them because I’m just one person but so many people were helping me. I just want to say thanks to them because without them I wouldn’t be where I am.”

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