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5-year-old Kaufman begins college football career with Miami

Photo by Angelo Gelfuso

By Sarah Emery, The Miami Student

When Liam Kaufman, an energetic 5-year-old boy from Cincinnati, came down with a low-grade fever and an ear infection that wouldn't go away, his mother Heather Kaufman was unsure of what to think. When he started to develop bruises on his legs, she took him to the doctor.

On Feb. 9, 2015 at 4:45 p.m., Heather and her husband Jim received the phone call that changed their family's lives: Liam had cancer.

The diagnosis was acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of leukemia and pediatric cancer.

Liam went through multiple stages of a six-block treatment schedule this summer, including the delayed intensification stage in which doctors wipe away his immune system.

Despite the toll on the family, the Kaufmans have not lost their spirit. The one thing that keeps Liam going is sports.

Liam is an avid football fan, particularly of the New England Patriots, despite pleas from his Cincinnati Bengals-loving mother and Indianapolis Colts-loving father. When he's not watching ESPN or the Big Ten Network, Liam loves to play outside or play video games.

"During the months of February and March, Liam was inpatient for 40 days. While at [Cincinatti] Children's [Hospital], his room was decorated with various sports items and ESPN was always on," Heather said.

Liam's sports dreams became reality when Team IMPACT, a non-profit that connects children with life-threatening diseases to college sports teams, gave him the opportunity to become a member of the Miami University football team.

Miami officially added Liam to the 2015 football roster on June 8 and has since included him in many team practices and bonding experiences, along with his twin sister Cate and older brother TJ.

In Saturday's practice, Liam played catch with head coach Chuck Martin.

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"This summer he went through a crazy amount for anyone, let alone a little kid, so his perseverance and his toughness are well beyond anybody we got out here," Martin said. "He comes out here, he smiles, he runs around and is all happy. It's kind of hard to have that disposition when he's going through what he's going through. He's an amazing kid."

Jim and Heather Kaufman see the effect Miami football practices have on their son.

"If [Liam] has a rough day, it's amazing to be able to come down to Miami to be out on the field and interact with the players and coaches," Jim said during the signing press conference. "He lights up … he becomes kind of a different child."

The Team IMPACT connection does not only affect the lives of the Kaufman family, it also impacts the lives of the football players and coaches too.

"The first thing we see is Liam's perspective, about how fortunate we are and how sometimes life is a lot tougher than it should be," Martin said. You watch him and how he handles going through what he goes through, it gives you a really quick wakeup call about yourself and what you did or didn't do on a certain day, how much you did complain or didn't complain on a certain day. Or did you give it your all, because he's giving his all 24/7 just to be up and running around. It's pretty amazing and pretty inspiring and gives us a great deal of perspective on how fortunate we are."

Junior Spencer McInnis, who Liam cites as his favorite player, is one member of the team who has become close to the Kaufmans.

"The first time we met was pretty cool," McInnis said. "We really connected with each other and his family … it's just truly amazing what he's going through and how he's doing so well. He's just smiling, and it will be exciting having him on the sidelines. He's probably the best recruit Coach Martin's got."

Senior Sam Shisso is another Team IMPACT ambassador who spends time with Liam.

"Having someone like Liam that looks up to us is inspiring and humbling," Shisso said. "You want to be the best that you can be. He loves football so much that you want to give him a reason to continue to love it."

Shisso said the football team made it a point to not only welcome Liam, but also the entire Kaufman family.

"It's really cool to have his whole family become part of the team," Shisso said. "That's what teams are. When you welcome a player, you welcome his family and you want to get to know them."

Liam is not the first Team IMPACT child to connect with a Miami team. Tyler Holliday, a 13-year-old from West Chester, signed with the baseball team in March.

If all goes as planned, Liam's treatment should end in April 2018.

"I'm just so excited that Miami has given this opportunity to Liam," Heather said. "When he is hanging out with the team he is a different kid. He is just a 5-year-old boy having fun, not the child cooped up in a hospital room connected to tubes and monitors. It is pure joy to watch him having so much fun with the RedHawks."

Grace Remington contributed to this report.