Lehigh University’s Lee Kurfis thriving in football after giving up baseball

From time to time when Lee Kurfis is out on the practice football fields at Lehigh University, he glances across the way at the baseball diamond.

“I feel like I want to run out there sometimes,” the senior wide receiver said. “I miss baseball so much. I truly did love the game. I grew up playing it my whole life. … To be honest, growing up I always thought college baseball would be my route.”

Kurfis’ high school career certainly reflected that.

He was a four-year letter winner at Bayard Rustin High School in West Chester, Pa. Kurfis, who played outfield, attended baseball combines and drew attention from schools like Villanova and Purdue.

While his main focus was baseball, he also played football. Kurfis played receiver, cornerback and returned punts.

“Junior year I had five catches for 95 yards,” Kurfis said. “I didn’t really even start becoming an impact player on my high school football team until my senior year.”

Despite playing for a predominantly run-oriented team whose offensive scheme was based out of the wing-T, Kurfis was able to get enough highlights to package for colleges.

“To be honest, I really didn’t get any attention from any I-AA schools except Lehigh,” said Kurfis, who said he had 15 catches for 600 yards as a senior. “I remember Holy Cross came in and talked to me, but it was too far away. I didn’t want to go 5-6 hours away. My claim to fame is I could have played D-II anywhere in the country.

“I really thought I could have played higher than D-II football, though, and when Lehigh came around they were just a perfect fit for me and that’s where I went and I’ve really enjoyed my experience here. I fell in love with the place and I said football is what I want to do in college and it’s ultimately what I chose doing and I have no regrets.”

Lehigh coach Andy Coen said former assistant coach Scott Brisson, now the offensive coordinator at Lycoming College, spotted Kurfis at a football camp.

“He was really good, had good height, caught everything, fast,” Coen said. “He probably was a diamond-in-the-rough type story. You take pride in all your players, obviously, but when you get a kid like that … Ryan (Spadola) was the same way. At the end of the recruiting, it was Lehigh, some Patriot League schools and Monmouth.

“You have to have confidence in yourself because recruiting isn’t an exact science. You always have to put into your equation when you look at a kid, you say, ‘I can develop this kid in our program.’ I think I have a great coaching staff and guys teach their kids to play the position the right way. (Offensive coordinator) Dave Cecchini and (wide receivers coach) Jason Miran and have helped Lee develop into a good football player.”

Kurfis appeared in three games as a freshman without registering a catch. Sophomore year he played in 11 games, but his most significant action came in the Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinal at North Dakota State. Lehigh was without Spadola, an All-American junior wideout, who was suspended one game for using a racial slur on Twitter. Kurfis had two catches for 48 yards in the 24-0 loss to the Bison.

While those numbers are far from gaudy, they aided Kurfis in a big way.

“I think it really helped me to understand how big games feel and that was without a doubt a big game,” Kurfis said. “I could hardly hear myself think when I was out there. That was one of the best memories I’ve ever had in my life going out there and being able to make those catches. That absolutely gave me confidence going into my junior year, saying ‘Hey, if I can make catches on that stage, there’s no doubt in my mind I can be a good player for this team.’

“It really helped my career get to a decent start.”

Kurfis enjoyed a breakout junior campaign along side Spadola, then a senior. He had 50 catches for 778 yards with five touchdowns.

Kurfis has gotten better this fall, hauling in 92 receptions for 1,272 yards and eight touchdowns. He tops the FCS with 127.2 receiving yards per game and is on the Walter Payton Award Watch List.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder attributes his late-career success to playing with and watching record-setting teammates like Jake Drwal and Spadola, who is currently on the Miami Dolphins practice squad.

“They were incredible receivers,” said Kurfis, who is tied for second all-time with Drwal on single-season receptions and ranks among many other program annals. “Maybe in a different program I could have gotten on the field as a freshman or sophomore but they were too good. I really tuned in and watched them every day, not only in practice but in games, and I was able to learn so much from them.

“Without them I probably wouldn’t be the receiver I am today. They really helped me with my development and my career, ultimately.”

Not surprisingly, Kurfis is pleased with his decision to give up baseball and continue playing football at the next level, specifically at Lehigh.

Kurfis, like the rest of his senior classmates, hopes his career concludes with a victory over rival Lafayette College on Saturday, a berth in the FCS playoffs, and, ultimately, a national championship.

“I always wondered how they discovered me or saw I had talent,” Kurfis said. “I remember my first phone call with coach (Gerard) Wilcher — I was so shocked they were even giving me a look.

“I thank them for giving me a shot. Coming here has been awesome for me.”

NOTE: This first appeared on LehighValleyLive.com

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