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Michigan Lutheran Seminary football import longs for home, family in China

MLive - GrandRapids/Muskegon/Kalamazoo logo MLive - GrandRapids/Muskegon/Kalamazoo 7/31/2021 Hugh Bernreuter,
a man standing in a parking lot: Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary senior Andy Liu works out during the summer at MLS. Liu, who is from Beijing, has not been able to return home since 2019. © Hugh Bernreuter | hbernreu/ Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary senior Andy Liu works out during the summer at MLS. Liu, who is from Beijing, has not been able to return home since 2019.

SAGINAW, MI – The time, it seems, has been so long that Andy Liu no longer measures it in days or years.

He measures it in octaves.

“I’ve been away from home so long,” Liu said, “my brother’s voice has changed.”

Liu, 17, is a senior tailback for Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary’s football team, which was 2-5 last season and kicks off its 2021 season against Byron on Friday, Aug. 27. Football practice for Michigan high school teams officially begins Monday, Aug. 9.

Like many of Seminary’s students and players, he’s not from Saginaw, traveling from afar to attend the school and live in its dorms. His travels, however, are a bit more afar than others.

Liu is from Beijing, China, where his family lives. His father, Bo Liu, is a choir director in Beijing, while his mother, Esther Liu, is a general manager for Amway in Beijing. His brother, Joseph Liu, is entering the sixth grade.

Thanks to social media, Andy Liu is able to talk with and see his family. But he hasn’t been with his family physically since 2019. His summer return to Beijing in 2020 was canceled because of the COVID pandemic. He also stayed in Bay City this summer because of COVID and high airline ticket prices to Beijing.

“There are times I get homesick, that I miss being with my family,” Liu said. “I miss a lot of things, like seeing my extended family in Beijing. It’s been two years. Things have changed while I’ve been here. I was talking to my family, and I noticed my brother’s voice had changed.

“He was in the third grade when I left, now he’s going into the sixth grade. I’ve missed that. He also plays basketball, but I haven’t been able to watch him play. I miss that.”

Liu’s father, Bo Liu, earned his master’s degree at the University of Cincinnati before returning to China. When it came time to pick a high school for his son, he chose Michigan Lutheran Seminary.

“We are not a traditional Chinese family,” Andy Liu said. “I wanted to experience going to school in the States, to get an education here, to learn about the culture.

“School here is so much different, especially sports and other things. In China, there are clubs and things for students to play sports or do other activities. Here, they are part of the education.”

Liu also plays basketball, runs track and sings in the concert choir.

“I like how it’s done here,” Liu said. “In club sports, you go to a game and play with teammates you may not see anywhere else. Here, you play with classmates and even roommates. It adds to the relationships you build, to experience moments outside of the classroom as part of a team.”

When he’s not staying in the dorms at Seminary, Liu lives with his host family, William and Kim Morrone of Bay City. The Morrones have two children who attend Seminary. Mario Morrone is a senior, while Sophia Morrone is a junior.

“I’m sure he has his moments of homesickness,” Seminary athletic director and football coach Karl Schmugge said. “But since we’re a boarding school, he’s in the same boat as a lot of kids who live a distance away. He is with students who are going through the same thing, although not quite to the same extent.

“But he has a good host family with the Morrones. Host families make sacrifices. As time goes by, they’ll tell you it’s been a beneficial experience. Now, I think, Andy’s been there so long, he’s a part of the family.”

Liu agrees.

“I try to do more chores to help them out and thank them for what they’ve done for me,” Liu said. “I’m very grateful they’ve given me a home. I feel very much a part of their family.”

Liu has been in the United States so long, he even understands football. Kind of.

He didn’t play football during his freshman year, joining the Michigan Lutheran Seminary junior varsity team as a sophomore.

“He didn’t even know football existed when he got here,” Schmugge said. “For him to pick up on it, love it and play the way he does is a credit to him. He’s got good speed. He has this determination to do well.

“He was 115 pounds a year ago. Now he’s almost 140, and that’s almost all muscle. He has been a weight-room warrior. He’s been in there more than any other boy on the football team. He’s such a good kid. When we started workouts, he’s the one I assigned to teach the incoming ninth-graders the different lifts.”

Liu feels comfortable on the football field, but he still gets lost at times.

“The hardest part is still understanding how football works,” Liu said. “It’s easy to get the ball and just run with it. That’s easy to understand. But the rules and the words … I’m learning a lot but there are still times I don’t understand some things.”

He also has a difficult time understanding Chinese food in the United States.

“I miss the food in China,” Liu said. “The Chinese food here isn’t bad, but it’s not the same. My favorite is kung pow chicken. Some I’ve had here was not good, some came close. Americans don’t use enough spice in their cooking. My favorite food here is the burrito bowl from Chipotle.”

Despite some of the political and social tensions between the United States and China, Liu has not experienced any change in how he’s treated by teachers or fellow students.

“I haven’t heard any bad comments about being from China,” Liu said. “My friends might joke about it sometimes, but I make fun of them then too.”

Schmugge would not allow any degrading comments.

“There hasn’t been anything bad said toward him, but if there are any jokes, he gives it right back,” Schmugge said. “They are friends. Teenagers will tease. There has been nothing serious, and he teases right back. They’re friends.”

And when he eventually makes that 6,500-mile trek back to Beijing, that’s what he will take back with him.

“I have many friends here, but I still want to go home,” Liu said. “I still cheer for China in the Olympics. Even though I haven’t been able to go home for two years, it’s still my home. That’s where I’m from.

“But I’m excited to go to school here and play football here. I like that we’re all on the same team, all trying to do our best. We know nobody’s going to play Division I football. Our goal is to make memories, learn lessons and take advantage of the opportunity to become the best version of yourself.

“I think that’s why I came here and why I’m still here.”


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