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September 10, 2013There's a saying that when someone works hard to earn something it means just a little bit more.
It's something senior wide receiver Kevin Ozier has spent a lot of time considering as the early portion of his final season in Tempe unfolds.
A sociology and education major from San Diego, Calif., Ozier started his career at Arizona State in 2009 as a walk-on, redshirting on the scout team.
Even though he didn't know what was entailed at the Division I level, at the urging of his cousin, former ASU running back J.R. Redmond, Ozier was willing to put it all out on the field to see what happened.
"I didn't know what to expect," Ozier said. "I just came and I was ready to work. I thought everybody out here was just going to be working hard and workaholics. It wasn't like that when I got here though, so I felt like work ethic was what put me above other people and helped me start to stand out."
The following year, Ozier again did not see action on the field and spent time on the scout team, but also earned Hard Hat recognition for his work and dedication to ASU's offseason strength and conditioning program.
In 2011, Ozier played in every game but didn't play a major role and finished with only 11 reception for 169 yards and one touchdown. But he was increasingly given opportunities late in the season and following a touchdown catch against Colorado, Ozier was observed on the television broadcast joking with football administrative assistant John Wrenn.
"Can I get one now," Ozier said to Wrenn, presumably inquiringly about a scholarship.
Not more than two months later, Wrenn's boss Dennis Erickson was fired as ASU's head coach and Ozier's hopes seemed dashed. But newly hired coach Todd Graham kept Wrenn on staff and he and Erickson put in a good word for Ozier.
Their lobbying efforts worked, as Graham gave Ozier the scholarship he'd long coveted in the spring of 2012. It meant no more days trying to figure out how to scrape together enough money to get a decent meal; no more nights worrying about whether he'd be able to get a good night's sleep.
"It means a lot," Ozier said. "It's hard work, and hard work does not go unnoticed. As a walk-on, you may feel like you're being overlooked at some times, but coaches are always paying attention and always are watching film of you."
Ozier had more success his junior year in 2012, snagging 21 balls for 324 yards, 15.4 yards per catch, and five touchdowns as a primary starter.
This year, Ozier is being asked to not only improve as a player but as a leader, with Graham and receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander calling him an important mentor to others at the position.
"The biggest challenge is just watching film," Ozier said. "They all have a ton of athletic ability. Now, it's just getting the offense down. Getting in, watching film and studying the offense. As soon as they master the offense, you'll see on the field. Things will be smooth, and everything will be flowing."
Ozier doesn't have some of the athletic gifts other receivers at the BCS level possess, so he's worked to maximizing his ability by being a good route runner, consistently catching the football and using his 6-foot-2, 200 pound frame to be a willing and capable blocker.
Alexander said Ozier's intangible value is worth more than whatever he produces on Saturdays.
"Kevin does a really good job helping us as a veteran demonstrate how we want to do things," Alexander said. "That's important because we have so many new guys. As a coach you can explain it, you can tell them and coach them, but to have someone who is a good example is important. From that standpoint he's valuable to us and also on the field. He'll be a factor with the things he does as far as being a receiver and blocking and doing the little things."
The leadership provided by Ozier as a fifth year senior is something his head coach has not only recognized, but termed important to the overall development of the position group.
It's a role that Ozier knows comes with not just respect, but also a lot of responsibility.
"It means a great deal," Ozier said. "Coach [Todd] Graham is very strict and he doesn't just call anyone a leader. We have the top 15 most influential people on this team as leaders, and I'm one of them. It's a lot of responsibility. With a leadership role, I feel like I have to be at meetings ten minutes early. I have to do everything right, I'm under a magnifying glass. I have to lead by example to the young receivers and the people of this team."
Ozier has the same aspirations as nearly every other college player, which is to make it to the NFL and hopefully have a long and successful career.
However, in the end what is most important to Ozier is how his college experience has helped mold him into a person he's more confident in and proud of. Those are things he'll take with him no matter what he's doing for work next year or at any point thereafter.
"I'm much more humble of a person," Ozier said. "You have to work for everything. Nothing is given to you. I appreciate everything I earn so much more now, and I'm very grateful for everything."
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