BLOOMINGTON – IU freshman Kyle Kozak has a couple of paths he'd like to travel.
The first is a direct route to opposing quarterbacks from his defensive end position. For the time being he's trying to do that on the practice field as he goes through his first spring practice season with the IU program. Standing in the way are the Hoosier offensive linemen, who aren't about to make things very easy on the 6-4, 235-pounder from Columbus, Ohio.
First of all, players such as two-year starting offensive tackle Rodger Saffold and key reserve Alex Perry are pretty good.
And second of all?
"Offensive linemen are known cheaters," Kozak jokes. "They like to talk a lot."
It's all part of Kozak's initiation into college football after spending last fall at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia. He spent one semester at the prep school before enrolling at IU in January, and he's now being tested by some very talented – and talkative – offensive linemen.
But Kozak knows this is an important time for him as he tries to ready himself for the most important journey he wants to take in the fall – from the IU sidelines onto the playing field.
"Wherever I go, I look to play," Kozak said.
Kozak knows playing time won't come easily. Indiana returns All-America Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew at defensive end, along with key reserve Ryan Marando and promising redshirt freshman Fred Jones. But his mission is to get into playing rotation. That's why he opted to enroll at IU in January, joining offensive linemen A.J. Thompson as the team's early arrivals.
"(Arriving early) was the best option for me if I want to get on the field," Kozak said. "It gives me a chance to get ahead in the classroom, get past the stress that regular freshman go through. It also gives me time to lift with the team and get reps with the team and really know what I have to do for the season."
Time will tell if Kozak is able to crack defensive line coach Brian George's playing rotation, but it's clear the staff thinks it has a good one in Kozak. He spent the first three years of high school sat Emmaus (Pa.) H.S. before attending Pickerington (Ohio) H.S. as a senior and leading them to a runner-up finish in the state playoffs.
George was recruiting him while he was at Pickerington, but Kozak needed a year of prep school to ready himself for college. Indiana stayed in contact the entire time, which paid off when some new programs tried to get involved late.
"Indiana stuck with me the whole way through, so everyone else was pretty much a second choice," Kozak said.
He ended up having some pretty good second choices. Kozak fell through the recruiting cracks a little bit after being at three different schools in three years, but he drew a lot of attention last fall when he posted some head-turning times and marks at Hargrave's combine. That prompted Rutgers, N.C. State, UConn and Cincinnati to try to get involved late.
But Kozak stuck with the Hoosiers because they had stuck with him.
Kozak is hoping to reward the Hoosiers early and often during the next four seasons, giving George an athletic defensive to turn to when he's looking for someone to get after opposing quarterbacks.
"I don't like to sit on the sidelines during anything," Kozak said. "So I'm going to work my hardest and try to get on the field."