Toughing It Out

Many freshmen go through it. Away from home, increased workload, greater competition – it all combines to put stress on newcomers to college football. One new Mountaineer is certainly feeling all of that now, but he also sees brighter days ahead.

As one of the stars of the recruiting class (rated #1 in the nation by Scout.com), freshman punter Scott Kozlowski was expected to come in and immediately put a stranglehold on that job. However, due to many of the factors that often bedevil freshmen, that hasn't happened. While Kozlowski is locked in a tight battle for the punting job with Phil Brady and fellow freshman Patrick McAfee, it's not the position he envisioned himself in when he departed for WVU earlier this summer.

"I'm frustrated because I got a scholarship for punting, and I want to do the best I can for Coach Rod and the team, and help the team get better," said Kozlowski, who says that he hasn't come close to kicking the way he can. "The biggest difference is how rough practices are compared to high school. Being up here away from family, I have a lot going through my head right now. Being up here in West Virginia and so far away from Florida, it's a big difference, especially environment wise. When I talk to my parents about it, I tell them I'm in ‘environment-stroke'. It's getting better day by day, and once school starts I think I'll get along o.k. Practices are tough, but it's getting better."

Anyone who has watched kickers or punters knows that the job is as much a mental challenge as a physical one. Any distractions in that area are bound to have an impact in on-field performance, and that's certainly true in this case. The West Palm Beach, Fla., native averaged 46.3 yards per kick as a senior, but isn't consistently approaching that figure yet at WVU, and he admits the shock of being so far from home has had an impact on his performance.

As if that weren't enough of a challenge, Kozlowski is also battling sore hamstrings – brought on by the quantum leap in the number of kicks he's required to make each day.

"That's one thing that's hurting me right now," said the straightforward youngster. In high school, I'd kick every other day, and maybe kick 30-40 times on those days. Here, we're kicking every single day. That's been tough on my hamstrings, and I'm trying to get through that so I can kick the ball better.

"My legs are tight. I have decent flexibility, but I know it could be better," Kozlowski continued. "It seems like I'm getting hold of the ball pretty decently, but when I hit it my left leg, which I plant on and spring my body off of, seems like it doesn't want to give me full potential, and it shows compared to how I kicked in Florida in January for Coach Rod, Coach Magee and Coach Hand."

More than once, Kozlowski mentions his performance in terms of helping the team and living up to his past accomplishments, and it's clear that he is doing everything he can to do so. However, it's not simply a matter of working harder, as the physical problems were brought on by the requirements of fall camp.

"Once my leg gets better, I know I can punt a lot better than I have been, but it's been tough to deal with [so far]," he observed. "My legs just can't handle the practice and workouts and two-a-days right now, but once I get used to it I will punt better."

Kozlowski is also working to iron out a minor technique problem, and also meet WVU's exacting goals for getting punts away within a specified time limit. That mark, referred to as ‘get-off' time, is 2.0 seconds from snap to kick.

"From film study, when I get a snap to the side or a little high or low, they say I am taking a little false step or cheat step," said the Royal Palm Beach High alumnus. "So, I have been working on keeping my feet side by side."

"Right now, the coaches are working on our hang time and our get-off time. They want a 2.0 second get-off, and if we don't make that we have to do sprints and punts and extra stuff like that. We've hit a couple and we have missed a couple. [Once the ball gets to me], I can usually get the ball away in 1.3 seconds, so [meeting the goal] depends on the snap too. If it gets there in .6 or .7 seconds, we usually make it. But if it's .8 or higher, it's a problem."

All those times might sound miniscule. What, for example is the big deal in a get-off of 2.1 or 2.2 as opposed to 2.0? Kozlowski explains.

"Punting at a 2.0 is way better than a 2.1, especially against teams like Louisville, Tech, Connecticut -- all those speed teams. They don't mess around – they come after you. When they get down in a speed stance, you know they are coming after you, and you know it's 2.0 seconds or you are done. If you have a 2.0 or under, unless you have a total blocking failure, you are pretty much guaranteed of getting the punt away."

That's another thing that Kozlowski has on his mind, and yet another big difference from his prep years.

"In high school, they might pretend to come after you, but a lot of times they would fall back [for a return]," he noted. "They just wanted to get the ball back."

It's not all bad for Kozlowski, who thinks the arrival of students on campus next week will also serve as a lift. In addition to that boost, he also has a number of big friends to help keep him out of trouble.

"I'm confident in our line, because they are big guys. My center in high school that snapped it to me was only 150 pounds," he said with a laugh. "Here, they are big guys. And they don't want me to get hurt – they look out for me, which is pretty cool."


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