When Max Qureshi steps onto the football field, he’s not only playing for himself but also for his late father.

“Every time I score a touchdown, he’s the first person I think of,” Qureshi said.

Qureshi is a senior quarterback at University Prep who is having a breakout season. He’s one of the top passers in the area and has helped make the Panthers a real threat to end Westinghouse’s reign as City League champion. Westinghouse defeated University Prep last week, but there’s a good chance the two will meet again in the championship.

“He’s one of the nicest kids you’ll ever meet, but when it comes to football, he’s as competitive as any athlete I’ve ever coached,” University Prep coach Lou Berry said. “I absolutely enjoy working with Max because he’s so unique in what he does.”

University Prep’s Max Qureshi (8) sits on the sidelines with his team during their game against Westinghouse on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, at Cupples Stadium on the South Side. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Qureshi plays with a heavy heart. His father, Rifat “Rif” Qureshi, died from leukemia the summer following Max’s freshman year. The two were very close, with one of the biggest bonds between them being football.

“He was the most help I’ve ever gotten,” said Max, who lives with his mom and sister on the South Side.

For years, Max and Rif would toss the football around each night for about an hour or so. It would oftentimes be in the parking lot of a nearby Rite Aid or at Carnegie Mellon University.

Perhaps the most memorable father-son game of catch came on a frigid night on Dec. 1, 2020, at CMU.  

“[Max] wanted to play football in the snow, so they did,” recalled Max’s mom, Cathy. “Rif said afterward, ‘Oh, my God, I thought I was going to die that night.’ Later, as the end neared, he said, ‘I’m so glad I took my son out that night.’”

That night on the snowy turf turned out to be the final time Max and his dad threw the pigskin back and forth. Rif was diagnosed with leukemia on Dec. 31. Then, after a six-month battle with the disease, he died on July 1, 2021, at the age of 58.

“It’s extremely tough and still is,” Max said. “I use it as fuel every day when it comes to school and life. I think about him every day and use it as motivation moving forward.”

Cathy, Rifat, Max and Keira Qureshi on Father’s Day, 2021. Rifat died about two weeks later. (Submitted)

Max Qureshi moves forward each day, not only by being an excellent student — he has a 4.4 GPA and hopes to major in economics or finance in college — but also by becoming a standout football player. His father never got to see his son play a high school game. That’s because Max played only flag football prior to his sophomore year. When Max gave tackle football a shot his 10th grade year, he became the JV starting quarterback. A year later as a junior, he earned the role as varsity starter. His season was cut short, though, after breaking his wrist in a game against Perry. He would miss the final four games of the season.

Just a month ago, Berry spoke glowingly about Max’s potential this season. Berry foresaw big things coming from his big 6-foot-4, 160-pound signal caller.

“Just based upon the way he played last year in which he was able to gain some experience,” Berry said. “Unfortunately, his season was cut a little short due to injury. Coming into this season, just seeing the type of dedication and commitment he had to his teammates and program, I thought he was destined for a big season.”

Berry turned out to be spot on with his prediction, as Qureshi has developed into a big-time passer. Qureshi has completed 57 of 100 passes for 857 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions. Those 857 yards not only lead the City League, but also only five WPIAL quarterbacks have thrown for more yards.

Qureshi and senior teammate Daniel “Boy Boy” Cain have grown into one of the top pass-catch combos in the area. The speedy Cain has 23 receptions for 402 yards and four touchdowns.

“It’s fantastic and getting better every week,” Qureshi said of his rapport with Cain. “He’s one of the most electric players in the whole state, and it’s fun to have him on my team.”

The two are part of an 18-player senior class that has helped University Prep to a 2-2 start. The Panthers opened the season with a two-overtime win against WPIAL foe New Castle before trouncing Carrick. Ironically, it’s University Prep’s two losses that might say the most about it being a strong team. The Panthers went into a tough environment and gave Ohio power Steubenville a fight before falling, 43-20. A week later, they hung tough with Westinghouse, a game in which the Panthers ultimately lost, 34-18. Qureshi threw for three touchdowns.

Just prior to the season, University Prep won a 7-on-7 tournament at the Wolvarena. It came on July 1, the two-year anniversary of Rif Qureshi’s passing. 

“That was an interesting day,” Cathy Qureshi said. “It was exciting to see them win. It was incredible.”

Max and Rifat Qureshi were very close. Among their favorite things to do was play catch each night. (Submitted)

Max has become the “man of the house,” since his father’s death, Cathy said, and he has taken that role very seriously. The household includes Max’s sister, Keira, who attends CAPA and plays field hockey for Allderdice.

“I’m so proud of him,” said Cathy, who is president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. “He’s such a good son, not only excelling in football, but his grades are high, he has good friends, he’s so good to me and my daughter, he helps take care of the house, and he makes his own meals.”

Berry chalks up Max’s toughness and perseverance to his upbringing.

“It says a lot about his parents,” Berry said. “Obviously, his dad did some amazing things with his son. Getting the opportunity to know Max’s mom, she’s phenomenal. She’s very busy, but she not only supports him, but she supports the whole team. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

When Max is playing football, studying for a test or pretty much doing anything else, he said he often thinks of some words of advice his father once bestowed onto him.

“He said, ‘It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you’re the best at it. Just be the best,’” remembers Max, who hopes to play football in college.

Max has done that on the field this season as he worked his way to being one of the best and most productive quarterbacks in an area that has produced quite a few of them.

Not only is Max’s mom proud of her son’s accomplishments, but it’s certain his dad is, too.

“I think all the time when I’m sitting in the stands, ‘What would Rif think of this?’” Cathy Qureshi said. “And Max does, too. When he tells me that, it makes me so happy.”

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.

Brad Everett

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.