When University of Maine freshman Michael Kozlakowski woke up on his first day of fall camp last August, not only was the former Lynbrook football star playing under a different coaching staff and alongside a new group of teammates, but he was also no longer one of the top players in his conference - or, for that matter, his team.
“Going to college football is a little bit different than everyone expects,” Kozlakowski said. “You think you can go in and be ‘the man.’ But everyone there was ‘the man’ in high school.”
While at , Kozlakowski more than earned his share of admiration on the playing field. By the time he graduated, the Lynbrook native had been named first team All-State, first team All-Long Island, Nassau County Championship Defensive MVP, Long Island Championship MVP, and a Thorpe Award finalist.
A in 2010 not only affirmed Kozlakowski’s place in Owls football history, but also gave credence to his popularity among northeast college football coaches. The defensive end/running back was recruited by UConn, Rutgers and Syracuse, and was offered scholarships to play at C.W Post and New Hampshire.
Despite the allure of other programs, Kozlakowski felt most at home when he stepped onto the Maine campus.
“When I went on my visit [to Maine], I saw that it was a great fit for me because of some of the previous guys who have been there,” he said. (Alum Jovan Belcher, also from Long Island, currently plays for the Kansas City Chiefs).
Midway through fall camp, which Kozlakowski called "one of the hardest experiences of my life", he was asked to redshirt. A player who redshirts does everything a regular football player does (i.e. practice hard), except play in games. In return, he is granted a fifth year of eligibility.
The offer took Kozlakowski some time to process. After all, being asked to participate in grueling practices without getting to experience the thrill of Saturday competition is not a conversation many former high school football standouts expect to have.
“When I got there, I thought I was going to play,” he said. “At first, I was upset that I wasn’t, but as the season went on I realized that all my teammates were at one point redshirted and they were the standout guys on the team. I realized that my coaches see something special in me, that’s why they want me to stay an extra year.”
The redshirt allowed Kozlakowski to adjust to academic life in college, as well as the speed and complexity of Division I football. He finished the fall semester with a 2.98 GPA, including getting through a "grueling" history class.
Kozlakowski expects to start next season, finally getting to use the experience he gained on the practice field as a freshman.
“Once I get a chance to step on that field, I’m going to do everything in my power to succeed,” he said.