Kevin Ozier was never highly recruited coming out of Mira Mesa (Calif.) High School. Instead his journey to Arizona State started with hope and the encouragement of, not only a well-respected family member of his, but a Sun Devil great.
"My cousin, J.R. Redmond, was a Sun Devil here in the late 90's, and he suggested I come out here after high school," reflected Ozier after practice Wednesday. "So we took a trip out here and I liked the campus and I liked the coaches and just thought, I might try to walk-on. Thankfully, I made the team."
With nothing promised to him, Kevin made the team thanks to a heavy dose of grit and grind. Ozier made a name for himself amongst Sun Devil fans with a strong showing in both spring practice and fall camp which caused some to speculate that he may have a chance at cracking the wide receiver rotation, especially given the injuries to both Mike Willie and Gerell Robinson at the time, as he showed marked improvement in his own game.
"I think I've become a better player, in the sense that I run my routes better now," said Ozier of his progress since the offseason. "I'm getting better timing. My relationship is better with the quarterbacks, my blocking is getting better. And really, just all of my mechanics that I need to be a better receiver have improved since then."
Despite that though, Ozier still finds himself buried on the depth chart, behind a group of very capable upperclassmen, led by Willie, Robinson and Aaron Pflugrad. But rather than becoming frustrated with the situation, the opportunistic Ozier has used the chance to learn from them in order to better prepare himself going forward.
"You've just got to work hard out here," he said. "It's not so much working with them, but they help me get better because they're older than me and have obviously been playing the position longer than me, so they help me prepare because they've experienced all this already and I haven't really got that much playing time.
"Against Colorado last week was probably the most amount of time I've gotten to play this season and they just tell me that you can't be nervous, you've got to show the coaches that you know what you're doing."
While the Sun Devils' 48-14 pummeling of the Buffalos was a feel good moment for the team as they regained their winning form in front of the home crowd on Homecoming weekend, it was even sweeter for Ozier. Not only did he have two catches for 41 yards, but he also caught his first career touchdown on a 33 yard reception from Brock Osweiler in the first quarter.
"Oh man, it was great," exclaimed a smiling, enthusiastic Ozier. "I wanted to do a back flip after the catch! If I wouldn't have got in trouble, and if I could actually do a back flip, I probably would have. But I can't do a back flip and I know I would have got ripped, so I just celebrated it with my teammates."
Perhaps the best moment for Ozier though occurred after the game when he got a phone call from Redmond.
"He told me, ‘It looks like that hard work is paying off."
It sure indeed is, as Ozier now has seven catches for 98 yards on the season. But when asked if he feels like his play warrants a chance at a scholarship, Ozier insists he's going to let his play speak for itself and work to earn it.
"I'm just going to keep working hard for the rest of the season," he said. "In practice I go 100 percent and come spring I'm going to go hard just like I did last year and hopefully it comes for me."
With last week now in the rearview though, Ozier remains focused on preparing for the team's road contest this Saturday at UCLA. While the Bruins may not be nationally ranked, the significance of the game cannot be overstated as the Sun Devils have a chance to tighten their grip on the Pac-12 South division lead and begin positioning themselves for a better bowl opportunity.
"We've got to minimize our mistakes and just play hard all four quarters," explained Ozier on what it'll take for the Devils to secure a crucial conference road victory. "We can't take any plays or quarters off. When we're on the field, we've got to go 100 percent."
For many of the Sun Devils, the annual road trip to Los Angeles gives players a chance to play in front of family members and friends they have in the SoCal area. As a San Diego native, Ozier admits he's looking forward to the opportunity, even more so now that he can tell them all about his breakout play as of late.
"Oh yeah, I'm very excited for it," remarked Ozier. "I know a lot of my family is going to go and I've got some friends that are going to come up and check me out. It's exciting. (The Rose Bowl) is a great environment to play in and one of my old high school teammates plays for UCLA, Nate Chandler, we both played varsity, so it should be a fun time."