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UND assistant coach has used life experiences to bolster recruiting

GRAND FORKS--Kevin Maurice is sitting down and eating lunch. His phone buzzes. He flips it over to check it. "Text message from: Clinton Portis." "He lets me know when he has a guy that we should be looking at," Maurice says casually. Maurice sen...

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UND running backs coach Kevin Maurice works with (L-R) Austin Gordon, Brady Oliviera and John Santiago Friday. photo by Eric Hylden/Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS-Kevin Maurice is sitting down and eating lunch.

His phone buzzes. He flips it over to check it.

"Text message from: Clinton Portis."

"He lets me know when he has a guy that we should be looking at," Maurice says casually.

Maurice sends a response to the former University of Miami star and NFL Pro-Bowl running back, sets his phone back down and goes right back to eating his lunch.

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It was no big deal, nothing unusual for Maurice, who has used his vast connections, his wide-ranging life experiences and his outgoing personality to become an innovative force as the University of North Dakota's recruiting coordinator.

It's safe to say that there's no one quite like Maurice on UND's coaching staff.

He was born in Miami, the son of Haitian immigrants.

His family runs a pineapple farm in the Bahamas.

He speaks four languages-Haitian Creole, French, English and Spanish. English is his third language.

He has worked in corporate offices of major oil companies. He has worked for one of Miami's most elite nightclubs on South Beach. And he has coached at the high school level, the NCAA Division II level, the NCAA FBS level and now the NCAA FCS level with North Dakota.

That's why head coach Bubba Schweigert says Maurice can relate to just about anyone.

"Kevin is very outgoing," Schweigert said. "He has a welcoming presence. He can relate to kids and families from so many different backgrounds. He is very diverse in that. He really got into the community here. He knows so many people in Grand Forks and across the region. He has a special knack for remembering people, remembering names and where they've been. It's just a gift. He uses it to his advantage as our recruiting coordinator and in building relationships across the country and in our community."

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How did Maurice land in Grand Forks?

Thank Tim Tibesar.

The all-time great linebacker worked alongside Maurice at Purdue in 2012. Maurice was a graduate assistant. Tibesar was the defensive coordinator.

Tibesar called Schweigert, who was the defensive coordinator at Southern Illinois at the time, and told him, "If you're ever looking to hire a guy, we've got a good guy at Purdue."

A year later, Schweigert got the head coaching job at UND and remembered Tibesar's reference. Schweigert called Maurice to gage his interest in a full-time assistant job coaching running backs at UND.

"I was really, really impressed with how much he knew about North Dakota and North Dakota football, almost knowingly that some day this opportunity might come up," Schweigert said. "He came highly recommended from the head coach at Purdue, Danny Hope. Through the interview process, it felt like the right thing to do. He's very well connected across the country when it comes to recruiting. He loves football. I'm happy we have him here."

Lessons learned

Nearly every step of his journey, Maurice has learned lessons that he has applied to coaching football.

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It all started with his parents, Dennis and Liolene.

His father, who was born in Haiti but moved to the Bahamas at a young age, immigrated to the United States in the 1960s. His mother came from Haiti soon after that.

They were his biggest influences.

"For them to come into this country and do what they were able to achieve with their lives, I really admire what they've done for me, the sacrifices they've made for me," Maurice said. "Eventually, they became American citizens. They showed me core values that need to be manifested to be successful in life.

"What I enjoyed about them is they never made any excuses," he said. "They bought into what this country had to offer. They always allowed me to grow as a person. They never gave me any limitations. They allowed me to learn from my mistakes. My parents are courageous, making the sacrifice to come to this country. I always respected that. They have both gone to heaven now. But right now, I'm living it for them."

There were plenty of other influential people and moments for Maurice, too.

While growing up in the shadow of the Orange Bowl as the hometown Miami Hurricanes were winning national championships, Maurice fell in love with football.

He made the varsity team at Coral Gables High School by the time he was a freshman. He started at running back as a sophomore before losing his job to a younger player.

"I wondered what the coaches were thinking about back then," he said of losing his starting job. "I thought I was a better player. But they stuck some guy named Frank Gore in front of me."

Gore is a five-time NFL Pro-Bowler, about to embark on his 12th NFL season.

Maurice now admits maybe the coaching staff was right.

"Apparently, he's still playing," he said, laughing.

Maurice's parents moved the following year and he graduated from Hialeah Miami Lakes High School. Both of his high schools had a significant Hispanic population and he became fluent in Spanish.

Learning languages has proved to be important, too.

"It translates to me as communicating," he said. "Once you learn someone's language, you become more of them and it goes a long way."

Maurice played junior college football at Eastern Arizona before transferring to UTEP and finishing his degree at St. Joseph's (Ind.).

After graduation, he jumped into jobs with "Corporate America," as he calls it. Maurice worked in the oil industry with Landstar Global Logistics, Citgo and a smaller company in Miami. But he had an itch to get back into football.

"The notion of making an impact on someone else's life brought me back to football," he said. "I always thought about coaching and helping kids through the recruiting process. A lot of football players need guidance. I know I needed guidance. My little input, hopefully, can reach enough players to be contagious. At the end of the day, what I do right now, makes me feel whole."

Maurice started assistant coaching high school football in Miami while substitute teaching. At night, he worked security at one of South Beach's elite nightclubs, Set. While rubbing elbows with stars, he learned more lessons.

"You learn good service and how to treat people," he said. "You also learn that, in order to get your way, you don't have to harass or punch someone or be physical. A lot of times, you can reason with people."

A year later, Maurice was into the college game, where he had short stints at Midwestern State (Texas), Cincinnati (recruiting assistant), Nevada (offensive graduate assistant) and Purdue (graduate assistant).

At Nevada, he worked under Chris Ault.

"He taught me about paying attention to detail," Maurice said. "Not taking things personal. Saying what I mean. A yes is a yes. A no is a no. Don't be afraid to take chances. He took a chance on me."

At Purdue, he worked under Hope and Tibesar. Now, thanks to them, he's working under Schweigert.

"These past three years, from January 2014 until now, Bubba has allowed me to grow as a person," Maurice said. "I will forever thank him until the day I die. I learned a lot of leadership qualities from Bubba."

Unique qualities

Maurice's impact has been noticeable.

As running backs coach, he guided Jer Garman to a breakout senior season in 2014, then helped true freshman John Santiago become one of the nation's most explosive backs in 2015.

He's also changed some of UND's recruiting philosophies.

Under the former coaching regime of Chris Mussman, UND coaches tried as hard as possible to keep commits under wraps and keep them secrets.

With Maurice leading recruiting efforts, it has been the opposite. He posts subtle tweets every time UND gets a verbal commitment (he's not allowed to use their name if they haven't signed letters of intent).

"Coach Maurice really understands what kids are drawn to nowadays," Schweigert said. "He has done a good job keeping on top of recent trends. Recruiting is so much about impressions and getting your word out there. It's really marketing your program through social media. He's really good at it. He can work the computer and social media to our advantage."

On the field, the results are starting to come. This is what Maurice envisioned when he came to Grand Forks, but he says he's not done yet.

"Most coaches would die for an opportunity like this," he said. "But some might not take it. When I got here, the cupboard was barren. We're building something special here. To be a part of that, I'll forever remember that in my life."

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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