Kristen Kerr | Posted: 22 Nov 2016 | Updated: 8 Nov 2020

From Zero to Hero: Nick Kurtz’s work ethic turns heads

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Nick Kurtz was working as a server at a retirement home. He wasn’t even playing football. Five years later, he’s a starting wide receiver on the BYU football team.

Teammates, coaches and family members know the senior for his unparalleled work ethic. But it wasn’t always this way.

Kurtz grew up in San Diego, California, catching passes from his older brother and quarterback, Scott Kurtz. He didn’t work very hard in high school or have any scholarship offers. Kurtz attended practices but went through the motions.

“I had no work ethic and I was a late bloomer,” Kurtz said.

After graduating high school in 2011, Kurtz stopped playing football and going to school. He realized he needed to get a job and buy a car. Real life hit him and he had no choice but to develop a work ethic.

During his break from school, Kurtz played in recreational football games with former teammates as well as two-hand-touch football with Scott. They recorded their workouts and as Scott reviewed film of Nick running routes and catching passes, he saw something in his younger brother.

Nick remembers Scott telling him he was “too athletic not to be playing.” He already planned to attend Grossmont College, but decided to train for football again and try out for the team.

“I started actually working out hard for the first time in my life,” Kurtz said. “I started getting much better, started getting stronger and I was seeing good results. And that’s when I really developed that work ethic.”

Scott recalls Nick spending extra time in the gym, which he never did before. Nick also studied videos of professional receivers on YouTube and woke up early to catch passes from big-time quarterbacks around the county.

“He realized his potential and he started putting his all into it,” Scott said. “He had a dream and he gave his all to make that reality. He believed in himself and didn’t hold back.”

Kurtz’s hard work paid off participated in spring ball. He went on to produce 1,301 yards and 18 touchdowns in two seasons at Grossmont College from 2012-2013. Kurtz averaged nearly 15 yards per catch in 87 receptions for the Griffins, becoming a four-star JC prospect.

He credits Scott as the reason he started playing football again, eventually getting him to where he is today. Even though Scott is a year and a half older, he is quick to point out Nick’s positive influence. Scott moved to Provo in January to live with Nick for several months in hopes of picking up his habits.

“I’m not a football player at the collegiate level, but I wanted to apply his work ethic and his time management,” Scott said. “I look up to him in many ways now because of what he’s done in his life.”

BYU career

Eager to make an immediate impact at BYU, Kurtz worked hard to learn the plays, get used to Provo’s higher altitude and adjust to playing Division I football. But he broke a bone in his foot during fall camp, requiring surgery and a 6-8 week recovery. Kurtz tried to play midway through the season, but his foot was still sore. He chose to medical redshirt that year in 2014 and worked hard to recover and be ready for the 2015 season.

In his first year on the field as a Cougar, Kurtz built on the success he had at Grossmont College. He finished the season No. 3 on the team with 39 receptions and 578 yards. Kurtz also scored three touchdowns and averaged 14.8 yards per catch.

He was nervous heading into his first game at the Division I level, but that Nebraska game remains Kurtz’s favorite of the season. He remembers Tuni Kanuch calming him down on the bus. As Kurtz warmed up on the field, he felt comfortable and ready to go. Kurtz soon made an impression with his first BYU career catch, a 53-yard reception.

To top things off, Mitch Mathews caught a Hail Mary pass from Tanner Mangum to put the Cougars up 33-28. Kurtz remembers a Nebraska corner trapped and pushed him out of the way—he thought the game was over. Then as the ball sank, Mathews came in, caught the ball and landed in the end zone.

He described it as “the craziest feeling I could ever imagine.”

Another highlight of the season was scoring his first two touchdowns in front of his family against Cincinnati— Kurtz caught 19- and 53-yard passes in the end zone. At the time, Kurtz’s mom had recently gone into remission from cancer and was healthy enough to travel to the game.

“It was super cool for her to be there and get to see that,” Kurtz said. “I remember after the game, she came up to me and she was crying. It made me tear up too.”

Scott said watching Nick live out his dreams was one of their family’s happiest moments.

“My mom’s crying, my dad’s running up and down the bleachers jumping with students in the student section,” Scott said. “I was going nuts and almost lost my voice, too.”

Following the season, fellow BYU student-athletes recognized Kurtz’s work ethic and voted him the Comeback Player of the Year at the 2016 Y Awards.

Kurtz later broke the same bone in the other foot in the offseason. This time, he knew exactly what had happened the moment it happened. Before he called his trainer, Kurtz looked at the calendar to see how much time he had—he would be ready for fall camp.

The second time around, Kurtz saw the injury in a different light.

“When I hurt that foot originally, I remember crying and just being completely heartbroken because you feel a little bit hopeless,” Kurtz said. “But after you go through all those trials, you start to realize it’s just part of football.”

Noticeable Nick

The habits Kurtz has developed over his football career stand out to those around him.

Fellow BYU receiver Colby Pearson described Kurtz as “always trying to master his craft” and learned the importance of repetition of routes from his example.

“You’ll always see him putting in the extra routes, putting in the extra work,” Pearson said. “And that’s what makes Nick stand out, is his work ethic and his ability to put in the little extra bit.”

BYU receivers coach Ben Cahoon put it simply: “It matters to him, so he does it.”

Cahoon said Kurtz knows the time and effort spent at two hours of practice every day isn’t enough.

“The difference is what you do with the other 22 hours in the day,” Cahoon said.  “It’s the little extra things, how you rest and recover, how you take care of your body. And those are the things that over time, build a great football player.”

After the 2015 season, Kurtz knew he had only one season of college football left. He trained in the offseason every day, catching passes from any quarterback he could. Kurtz worked to fix mistakes from last season because he wants to be the best player he can be and dreams of playing professional football.

“I realized that I was not going to come back the same player,” Kurtz said. “I didn’t even want to be close to the same player. I wanted to be a completely different type of player this next year. And that’s why I knew I have to make these changes; I have to get better at these things.”

Classroom Commitment

Kurtz’s work ethic transfers to the classroom as well. Originally an exercise and wellness major, he excelled in those classes before deciding to apply to the business management program in the Marriott School of Management.  

“I wanted to do something hard and that I knew would pay off,” Kurtz said.

He almost cried when he was accepted because he worked so hard in the prerequisite classes and felt he wasn’t “BYU kid smart.”

Pearson said Kurtz is known to skip out on time with friends to study for tests, but he respects how Kurtz takes his schooling seriously. 

Upon graduation in December, Kurtz will be proud of both his football career and his degree.

“I’m going to be able to look back and think, ‘you went through the struggle of school too. You went in and got that Marriott School degree.”