Koz For Celebration

A tumultuous career for WVU punter Scott Kozlowski will come to an end with his first performance in a bowl game when the Mountaineers take on Florida State in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl on New Year's Day.

"Just the fact that this is the first bowl game I'll get to participate in, I'm pretty excited," said Kozlowski. "I've been to all the bowls -- Sugar, Fiesta, all those. It's been fun, but the fact that I never got to play in them was kind of bittersweet for me."

"The fact that it's a big stage for all of us to play on and I get to be a part of it pumps me up. It's an exciting opportunity for me."

A victory over the Seminoles would be a storybook ending to Kozlowski's career in more ways than one. The punter is a native of West Palm Beach, Fla., and had always hoped to have a chance to take on FSU in a game.

"It's kind of what I was hoping for this year, but I never thought it would happen," said the senior. "Obviously, I knew we would go to a bowl game because of the talent we have and the coaching. But the fact that we're playing in the Gator Bowl against Florida State -- I was always telling my dad I was jealous because in 2012, we're playing them on the schedule. I was always like, ‘I wish I could play them.'"

"The fact that we're going down to play them, especially in such a memorable game -- the Gator Bowl, Bobby Bowden's last game in college -- it's going to be a big-time opportunity. I'm pretty pumped for it."

After coming into West Virginia as the No. 1 punter in the nation according to Scout.com, Kozlowski experienced some low points early in his career.

After a poor kick helped Louisville score a touchdown on a punt return in WVU's loss to the highly-ranked Cardinals in 2006, then-coach Rich Rodriguez benched Kozlowski and gave place-kicker Pat McAfee the punting duties as well.

The move paid dividends, as McAfee blossomed into one of the nation's top punters. He finds himself performing that job on Sundays now after being picked up by the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL.

All the while, Kozlowski was still waiting in the wings. When his opportunity came about once more this season, the senior wasn't about to let it slip away.

"It's the year I hoped for," he said. "I'm glad it worked out the way it did for me."

Despite finishing No. 6 in the nation in punting with an average of 44.8 yards per kick, Kozlowski said he still expected more out of himself in his final season as a Mountaineer.

"The expectations I had on myself were a bit higher," he admitted. "But the way I finished, I'm pretty happy. People probably wrote me off, like, ‘He can't do the job or finish it out.' The fact that I stayed strong and finished top six in the country, I'm pretty happy about."

"The net punting was pretty good for the team. I think we finished seventh (WVU was actually eighth, at 39.1 net yards per punt). So I feel like I did my job and got to prove myself. That makes me happy."

Still, the statistics showed that Kozlowski was the most effective punter in the Big East Conference by far. That made it somewhat of a surprise that the senior finished as a second team All-Big East selection.

Syracuse's Rob Long received the first team nod instead, despite the fact that the Orange were 50th nationally in net punting and Long was 15th nationally in punting average.

"I didn't understand it at first," Kozlowski said. "I figured it's one of those things where it's the coaches' votes and they saw different things from the punter at Syracuse than they saw from me. I looked at the stats and saw it all."

"I saw all the stats and I couldn't see in what category he beat me or where the coaches would pull him in favor of getting first team. They fell where they fell, and people have been telling me to keep my head up and focus on the Gator Bowl."

Occasionally, selections for the All-Big East team have made little sense. Kozlowski pointed to the example of a former teammate at WVU, who failed to receive the top conference honors but was recognized nationally instead.

"One of our (former) offensive tackles, Ryan Stanchek, never made first team All-Big East and was an All-American," the punter noted. "I figure if I make first team All-American, the Big East wouldn't mean anything to me. It's just a shot in the dark out there. Hopefully I can finish as that. That would be awesome as a senior."

While his college football career will end with the Gator Bowl, Kozlowski will still be returning to Morgantown in the spring. He will complete his coursework for a degree in business management while working out on his own and preparing to try to follow McAfee's path to the NFL.

"It's going to be so weird not being at the stadium as much and seeing teammates and coaches or getting ready to run and lift," Kozlowski said. "I've got to kind of do it by myself now. I kind of braced myself for it before, when I scheduled for classes. I signed up for an indoor soccer class and a flag football class, just to keep myself in some condition and do my lifting and punting on the field. But it's going to be rough, being away from all my teammates."

"The one thing I'm curious about is how I'm going to feel after the game's over. I'm still going to train and get ready for the pro day, but the fact that's the last college football game I'll ever get to play for WVU -- that hasn't hit me yet. I know with all the other seniors like Stanchek that I've talked to, they just say, ‘Wait until you get done, because you're going to miss it.'"

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