Friend. Leader. Brother. Son. Captain. Tar Heel.
These are just a few of the words that are repeated when friends, family, teammates, and coaches are asked to describe Kirk Urso.
Kirk, the senior captain of the 2011 Men’s Soccer National Champion squad, cemented himself in the Carolina Men’s Soccer history books, not only playing in the most matches in a season (26) and in a career (91), but also helping lead his team to four successive College Cups, and being named the ACC Men’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
But more importantly, he is remembered as being a devoted friend before his sudden passing in 2012.
“I know that competitive sports were important to him and he prided himself on being confident in what he did and also being the best at everything he did,” said Kyle Urso, Kirk’s older brother. “It had nothing to do with sports in general – it was being a good person, friend, bother, and son, and I think his legacy will be how he made other people feel about themselves.”
That sentiment is echoed by Carolina Men’s Soccer head coach Carlos Somoano.
“He just embodied what we want a Carolina athlete to be, a Tar Heel. I think for me, I never really thought of him as a student-athlete, but a close friend. I’m proud I was able to be part of his journey.”
Kirk earned the respect of his teammates and coaches by being a friend first, before establishing himself as a leader of the program.
“He had such a unique way about his compulsion for success and representing the program in the right way, being a good teammate,” said Somoano. “He had this rare way of demanding and pushing and still having warm relationships with people. He was invested in it emotionally and then he backed it up with his actions too. He was able to be a leader put his money where his mouth was and push others to be better. He just made people better.”
Rob Lovejoy, a sophomore on the team during Kirk’s senior season, recounted Kirk’s particular leadership style.
“He was one of those guys that you looked up to who had an innate leadership style that the younger players in particular gravitated toward. He really took all the younger guys under his wing. He treated everybody with the same amount of respect and made you feel like an important part of the team. It was a no-brainer to help lead the effort to commemorate someone who meant so much to the program and to me personally.”
HONORING AND REMEMBERING KIRK
With the construction of the new Soccer & Lacrosse Stadium on campus came the opportunity for Carolina supporters to give to the facility through naming opportunities. When presented with the idea of naming the student section in honor of Kirk, Lovejoy was immediately on board to spearhead the effort.
“It’s a great way to honor somebody who means a lot to UNC Men’s Soccer,” Lovejoy said. “In the beginning I just reached out to our soccer alumni network and worked with the coaches before we posted a couple of links on social media. Eventually we hit our goal weeks. I’m so happy it came to fruition.”
Teammates, coaches, soccer alumni, friends, family, and even individuals who didn’t personally know Kirk have contributed over $50,000 to name the student section, and that number continues to rise.
“I think there are a lot of athletes that work hard and accomplish a lot of things, but projects like this, where people are donating based on your character, speak to the person he was outside of the soccer field, which means a lot to me as his older brother,” Kyle reflected. “Even as his older brother, I looked up to him, and it makes me proud and happy that he impacted all these people, and now they are taking the time to do this for him.”
Somoano believes having a permanent memorial will be a continual reminder of Kirk and his contributions to the program.
“With this opportunity, it’s something that can create that legacy and that memory that we want to keep game after game, in the same place where he was rocketing balls into the back of the net.”
But what would Kirk think of all of this? His brother thinks he knows.
“He’d be pretty emotional about it,” Kyle said. “I think to see his name up there cemented in a place that he spent four good years of his life and grew him into someone bigger than just a high school kid with a dream, I think it would mean a lot to him. I hope he knows how much he was appreciated while he was here and how much his friendship meant to people.”
Kirk remains a permanent fixture within the men’s soccer program nearly eight years after last competing in a Carolina blue uniform.
“I can’t emphasize enough who he was as a person and his leadership style - he had all these characteristics that were infectious and contributed to the program’s culture that’s built on core values he lived every day,” Lovejoy said. “We created a set of core values in 2011 that I believe the program still has today. Kirk was instrumental in setting those values and working with the coaching staff to put them down on paper. It’s a testament to who we are as a culture and program.”
It’s clear that Kirk’s influence remains with the program today, after creating a foundation that coaches still point toward.
“Some kids are here for four years and move on, he was one of those unique characters that made us better and will continue making us better,” Somoano said. “We want to remember and honor him and what he was able to do for us. I think those memories remind you of what this whole experience is supposed to be like. It’s a reference point as to what a Tar Heel is supposed to be. I think the more we can capture that and share that with our players the better off they’ll be.”
Kirk exuded what it means to be a Tar Heel and his legacy will live on within the men’s soccer program and the Soccer & Lacrosse Stadium.
“Carolina meant everything, really,” Kyle said. “He was proud of this school, he was proud of the accomplishments they had, the friendships he made, and what he left behind.”
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