Ziniu Chen | Staff PhotographerField Hockey
Field of his own: Uncle of starting goalkeeper brings passion to Syracuse program
Marc Kuzio rises from his trademark spot on the bleachers at J.S. Coyne Stadium, as close to the Syracuse bench as possible.
Decked out in Orange apparel from head to toe, he turns to the fans located behind him and raises his Syracuse flag.
He takes a deep breath, then roars.
“Give me an ‘S!’ Give me a ‘Y!’ Give me an ‘R!’”
Swinging his flag – the handle of which has been covered with blue and orange tape – he rattles off the letters of “Syracuse” in one of his many pump-up interactions with the crowd at Coyne Stadium. To say Kuzio, the uncle of SU sophomore goalkeeper Jess Jecko, bleeds Orange is simply an understatement.
“Syracuse has always been the pride and joy of my life,” said Kuzio, 46, who is originally from Utica. “Since I’ve been doing this for my niece, the volleyball team, the soccer team, the lacrosse team, football team, everybody keeps coming up saying, ‘Will you come to our games like this?’”
Even Otto the Orange and SU basketball player Rakeem Christmas have borrowed Kuzio’s flag and taken it for a run along the bleachers. Kuzio has attended each of Jecko’s home games since the start of her SU career, and he’s brought his flag each time.
“He gets the crowd going,” Jecko said, “and when he’s there for the team it gets our spirits up.”
Ange Bradley’s team finished a perfect 8-0 in front of Kuzio and the home crowd at Coyne Stadium last year and hasn’t lost a game at home since 2009.
With a 3-2 home victory over Connecticut in last year’s regular-season finale, Syracuse clinched the Big East regular-season championship. Instead of being stuck watching from the bleachers, Kuzio was invited by Bradley down to the turf at Coyne to celebrate.
“That made me feel like I’m family,” Kuzio said. “I never thought my niece was going to hold a Big East trophy, and she let me touch one. Me and my niece getting to hold that trophy was the best thing in the world that had ever happened to me.”
Kuzio’s basement at his home in Liverpool features objects autographed by the most illustrious Syracuse legends: Jim Boeheim, Carmelo Anthony, Donovan McNabb, Derrick Coleman and Dolph Schayes, just to name a few.
The bathroom is full of Orange ticket stubs, along with a jersey and three SU pennants on the shower curtain. “Kuzio’s Corner,” a bar in his basement, has orange and blue neon lights. Orange cushions. Orange chairs.
“His whole basement is dedicated to Syracuse,” Jecko said. “Anything that has Syracuse on it, it’s in his basement. He’s a huge sports fan in general, but Syracuse is his home.”
The self-described “fanatic” goes to great lengths to show off his Orange pride at the field hockey games – and he doesn’t wear the same costume twice.
Start from the top. Kuzio sported his orange hard hat to SU’s home opener Friday, but also rocks his Otto the Orange ski hat, Carrier Dome ranger hat, or his wigs – one orange, another blue and orange. Complete with a Syracuse jacket or sweatshirt, his outfits could also include orange shorts, SU pajama pants and socks.
His Syracuse watch tells him, “it’s always ‘Cuse time,” if anyone asks. He and his wife Lisa buy SU earrings for the parents of the field hockey players, and one dangles from his left ear. Whether the sun is out or not, his orange sunglasses are a constant.
And yes, even his underwear has Otto’s face all over it.
“Oh, I could easily tell him, ‘No, you’ve gone too far,’” Lisa Kuzio said. “But I actually encouraged him today to make sure that he did what he’s always done because that’s what everyone expects. They all want ‘Uncle Marc’ to be there and be supportive.”
After last season’s win over Connecticut, the Orange would go on to lose the Big East tournament championship, but made a run to the final four for just the second time in program history.
Kuzio was there for that, too.
Marc and Lisa Kuzio rented a Winnebago RV and made the drive down to Norfolk, Va., for SU’s final four matchup with North Carolina in mid-November. And when the Orange showed up to Old Dominion for the game, Kuzio’s orange tent was already waiting for them.
“He had one heck of a tailgate,” Bradley said with a laugh. “They’re just the salt of the Earth, that family. They have such appreciation for the opportunities that Jess is being offered by our institution.”
Jecko grew up approximately an hour away from Syracuse, went to Sauquoit Valley High School and graduated with fewer than 90 students, Kuzio said. He admitted that he never went to see Jecko play in high school, under the impression that field hockey was “boring.”
He insists he did not persuade Jecko to pick SU over James Madison and that it was purely her choice – but she couldn’t see herself anywhere else, she said.
Thanks to her decision, Kuzio has seen his niece emerge from a “no-name” high school and play Division I field hockey for his favorite university, and it’s been a dream come true.
“When she made her announcement that she was going to play for the ‘Cuse, I cried,” he said. “I’m so proud of Jess to be playing here. It’s my family, and I get to see her play in an SU uniform. It’s pretty special.”
Prior to last year’s national semifinals, Kuzio hadn’t made the trip for any of SU’s road games.
He hopes to change that this season.
“Football, you got 50,000 crazy fans. Basketball, you got 36,000 crazy fans,” Kuzio said. “Field hockey, they get nobody. But I want them to know I’m there for them.”
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