A long road from Rhodes to Franklin for Max Kurtzman
Kurtzman played two years of soccer before leaving the team to attempt to fill football’s void at punter
August 28, 2013, 6:28 pm · Updated August 29, 2013, 12:04 am·
Alexandra Fleischman | DP
The Penn football team looks spruced up in its new white uniforms as the players gather for the annual team picture, and despite it being his first go-round for football’s Media Day, junior Max Kurtzman fits right in.
The two digits on his chest, five and eight, are all he needs to be accepted into football’s brotherhood.
While fifth-year senior Billy Ragone answers question after question from blitzing reporters, Kurtzman stands just a few feet away, looking comfortable. For once, the eyes aren’t all on him.
Just a few minutes before, coach Al Bagnoli identified the punter position as one of the question marks for a football squad going for its fourth Ivy title in five years. Even though Kurtzman is one of the players vying for that coveted roster spot, he’s calm.
“Alex [Torgersen] and I are in a good battle,” Kurtzman says. “He pushes me. I push him. He helps me out a lot. He’s a real great guy.”
In the upcoming weeks, Bagnoli will either put his faith in Kurtzman’s leg or show him the door.
If he’s cut, that’s it for him athletically. He won’t attempt to play any other sports.
“Two is enough,” he jokes.
On a balmy day in early September 2011, Kurtzman took on the responsibility of protecting Penn soccer between the pipes. Just a single digit stood on his uniform: the number one.
He replaced All-Ivy keeper Ben Berg and stood in admirably, posting a shutout against La Salle.
None of this came as any surprise. Kurtzman came into the program heralded as the No. 2 keeper prospect of the class of 2011 by TopDrawerSoccer.com and played on the U-18 U.S. National Team. He also punted for his high school football team.
At the time, Penn soccer had the likes of seniors Tommy Brandt and Jake Levin at the center of its backfield to help keep the pressure off of Kurtzman.
“It’s one of the best situations for a young goalkeeper to come into,” coach Rudy Fuller said in a 2011 interview with The DP.
Despite the efforts of Brandt, Levin and fellow senior Christian Barreiro, the squad underachieved that year.
Although Penn earned a bid to the NCAAs in 2010, the Red and Blue finished 8-7-2 in 2011, Kurtzman’s freshman campaign.
The next year, things only got worse, as the Quakers finished 3-13. With the departures of Brandt and Levin, Fuller spent much of the year shuffling his defensive personnel, ultimately leading to holes developing in the back four.
In 14 starts in 2011, Kurtzman made 41 saves, good for 2.93 per game. In 2012, that number ballooned to 66 in 12 starts, meaning the keeper was making 5.5 saves per contest.
Heading into the 2013 season, Penn looked poised to make it back into the Ivy discussion, but this April, Kurtzman hit coach Rudy Fuller with surprising news — the Quakers’ starting goalkeeper would be leaving the team.
“In anything you do, you have to be fully invested in it, fully committed to it,” Fuller said. “And I think Max, when he looked at it, he was torn. He wanted to do a number of different things.”
His peers understood his position, but they didn’t let him go without a fight.
“He’s one of my best friends on the team,” Tyler Kinn, who will take over for Kurtzman in goal this year, said. “We have a friendly rivalry going, so I was sad to see him go. But at the same time I knew if he didn’t fully want to play, I couldn’t do anything to make him stay.
“I tried to make him stay.”
Even as a freshman, Kurtzman was a field general on the pitch.
“He’s one of those keepers who never shuts up during a game,” Brandt said of Kurtzman back in 2011. “But that’s something you definitely need.”
But apparently, being that on-field leader was something that Kurtzman himself didn’t need.
Now, instead of being number one for Penn soccer, he is number 58 for Penn football, but odds are any other number would have sufficed.
“It wasn’t really one situation or anything like that,” Kurtzman says of his decision to leave soccer behind. “I just love football. I’ve always loved football.”
For Kurtzman, his decision to leave “had nothing to do with last year’s season,” he says. He is just a guy who wants to do a lot of things. He is just a guy who loves football.
And at Penn, to love football is to love to win.
If he were cut from the roster, “It would be a little bit different on Saturdays,” Kurtzman says. “But whatever gives us the best chance at getting another ring, that’s all that matters to me.”