Patience Rewarded

After sitting on the bench for two and a half years, most players would consider transferring to a school to receive more playing time. That wasn't in the plans of senior punter Scott Kozlowski, who stayed the course at West Virginia and now has the inside track on the starting punting job in 2009.

After a freshman, Kozlowski was the Mountaineers' starting punter. He averaged 39.5 yards per punt, with a long kick of 51 yards against East Carolina. However, against Louisville, the rookie made a mistake and kicked one down the middle of the field when he had been instructed to kick it toward the left sideline. That placement error, plus poor contact, led to a short 26-yard punt that was returned for a touchdown. The Mountaineers lost the game, and Kozlowski, unfairly, received the brunt of the blame.

Following that game, kicker Pat McAfee was put in the starting position at punter, despite having never kicked at the position before. McAfee took over the role as punter and Kozlowski saw action in just one game in the next two years.

"Once you're in the dog house it's just hard to get out I guess," Kozlowski admitted. "I tried and tried."

Although it was hard, Kozlowski stayed with the Mountaineers and kept fighting to get his starting position back. However, there were thoughts of transferring after his tough freshman season.

"A lot of people, my friends, my parents were saying ‘If you're not playing, why don't you transfer out? You have another two seasons,'" said Kozlowski. "I figured once I was here I didn't want to go through the whole process of transferring. I just stayed here and hoped that I would have another shot. I'm not a quitter," Kozlowski said. "The only way [the old coaching staff] could get rid of me was if I did something detrimental to the team. And I didn't do anything like go out and get a DUI or stuff like that. I kept my grades up and kept punting."

The punter knew he could have transferred to other schools, including some lower-division institutions in West Virginia, and played immediately. However, he chose not to do that, and despite not seeing time on the field, Kozlowski kept working. He made sure to keep up his punting skills on his own as well as during practices.

Now, he has the chance to see the fruits of all his work. Kozlowski began spring practice of his senior season where he had worked to get to for the last four years. He is practicing as the starting punter and was also working as a kickoff specialist during the opening week of spring drills. The two motions are different, and thus Kozlowski is now battling the effects of the new motion while also fighting to hold on to the first team punting spot.

"The trainers told me to get in the ice tub after practices to get my legs back," Kozlowski said of competing as the kickoff specialist. "But it's just [about] learning a whole different kick again because when you're focused on punting, you're kicking your leg straight, and you're kicking to the side when you do kickoffs."

Kozlowski will continue to compete to keep his coveted starting job that has been four years in the making. Being far more experienced than much of this years' special teams players, Kozlowski is working to perfect his punting as well as become a leader during his final season. With his long investment in the position, he plans to do everything he can to make his senior year a memorable one.

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