BLUFFTON, Ind. (WANE) – Just a few months ago 16-year old Yaroslav Serdiuk was living with his family in Ukraine, fearing for his safety following the invasion by Russian forces in his home country.

Fast forward to last Friday night, and Serdiuk is hero of sorts in Bluffton, as the kicker helped the Tigers win the program’s first sectional title since 1988.

It’s a success story that’s been hard to imagine for Serdiuk, whose family (mother, Victoria, and sister Violetta) fled to northeast Indiana in late July through the Uniting for Ukraine program to avoid their war-torn homeland.

Serdiuk arrived in Bluffton having never even seen American football, but, with the help of head coach Brent Kunkel, has quickly become a valuable asset to the Tigers.

Kunkel enlisted the help of friend Heidi Sprunger, a former college soccer player who spent time in Russia with the Athletes in Action program. Due to that experience, Sprunger speaks conversational Russian, and that – along with her athletic background – allowed her to connect and communicate with Serdiuk.

The Serdiuks also receive support from their sponsor family in the Uniting for Ukraine program, the Fiechters, of Bluffton.

Originally the junior varsity kicker, Serdiuk has been automatic since taking over the primary varsity kicking duties for Bluffton. He’s 20-for-21 on PATs this year, and went 6-for-6 in Bluffton’s 42-35 victory over Eastbrook last Friday. He’s also 1-for-1 on field goals, nailing a 29-yarder earlier this season.

While Serdiuk’s father and grandparents are still in Ukraine, there are hopes they can relocate to Bluffton sometime soon. Additionally, the current regulations allow Serdiuk to stay in the United States for two years. His goal is to earn a high school diploma during that time. If he does not return to the Ukraine with a diploma when the two years are up, Serdiuk will be automatically enlisted in his country’s military upon return.

Bluffton heads to Bishop Luers this Friday in your Highlight Zone “Game of the Week” as the Tigers seek the program’s second-ever regional title.