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Kurtz making most of final season with Groton

Groton quarterback Kaden Kurtz takes off with the ball in a game against Clark-Willow Lake this season. Kurtz has returned from a knee injury to once again be a key member of the Tigers this season. Photo courtesy of Kristi Eckrich Photography

GROTON – Kaden Kurtz is back in the game and he is busy making up for lost time.

The senior leader of the Groton football team has returned from a significant knee injury and is once again a force on both sides of the ball.

Kurtz wasn’t even sure he would return to the gridiron after missing nearly his entire junior season.

“I wasn’t planning on playing my senior year of football until we got to probably around April,” Kurtz said. “In my head I wasn’t going to play, but there’s always stuff in the back of your mind that tells you you’ve got one last year, you might as well go out.”

The multi-sport standout decided to give it a try. He admits he wasn’t sure what to expect and there was always the question of how the knee would hold up.

“The first game out, first series was a lot of jitters. The first play of the season I fumbled the snap,” Kurtz said. “I tried  not to think about it, but it’s always somewhat in the back of your mind.”

What Kurtz and opponents soon found out was that the quarterback and linebacker was better than ever.

His physical therapy regime helped him to put on added muscle and improve his quickness.

“I’m a lot better than I was before. I had great physical therapists that helped me get all my strength back,” Kurtz said. “I’m about 20 pounds heavier than I was last year. I feel a lot faster and I feel a lot of stronger. I definitely have more confidence in it now than I did before.”

Not only that, but according to Groton coach Shaun Wanner, Kurtz is also making better choices at quarterback than he did before the injury.

“His decision-making is so much better,” Wanner said. “He’s staying in the pocket a little bit longer than he did when he was a sophomore. He’s matured so much as a football player.”

While Kurtz has led the Tigers in rushing, passing and tackles in various contests so far this season, there is one aspect of the game that he enjoys a bit more than the others and it speaks to his unselfish demeanor.

“I would say I like throwing the ball more than any other facet of the game, because it gives me almost like a rewarding feeling once you throw the ball and your teammate catches it and they do something good,” Kurtz said. “It makes you feel better about yourself that it’s them scoring a touchdown or getting a big play.”

Kurtz understands his role involves making pivotal choices in a game. He also knows that this is an opportunity he did not have a year ago after being relegated to the role of a spectator following his injury.

As a result, he is valuing every single snap he takes this season.

“I don’t really think about that when it happens,” Kurtz said, “but you want to play every snap like it’s your last, because it can be taken away from you at any second, so I try to play super hard every time.”

Kurtz comes from an athletic background. His parents and siblings all played sports and have also offered some pertinent advice that includes, “just living in the moment, just appreciating what’s taking place with what’s going around you at the time, just enjoying it because it doesn’t last forever,” he said. “It puts it into perspective now especially when you sit out a year. You know that it goes by fast.”

Kurtz can’t get his junior season back, but he is definitely excited about getting a chance to compete again one final time.

“He worked so hard in the off season. It really bothered him that he couldn’t play last year,” Wanner said. “He didn’t have a basketball season. He didn’t have a track season. He didn’t have a baseball season. He worked so hard to get back ready for his senior year to play quarterback for us.”

Kurtz’s return to the team not only boosted team morale, it also allowed Wanner to get a little more rest at night.

“I slept a lot better when I knew that he was coming back,” Wanner said.

The Tigers have lost just one game with Kurtz back in the lineup.

As difficult as last year was having to sit out and watch his teammates compete, it gave Kurtz a different perspective on athletics, one that is allowing to him to enjoy every minute of every game this season.

“You hear the saying: you don’t appreciate something until it’s gone. That’s 100 percent right,” Kurtz said. “You don’t really realize how much you love something until it’s gone. It definitely puts things into perspective. It makes you appreciate it that much more.”

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