Bruce Kozerski surveys the practice field as his receivers run routes. Shaking his head, the coach of the Holy Cross High School football team makes a player rerun a route after dropping a pass.
“Too wide too deep, way too deep!” he shouts. “Two, maybe three yards, you’re not going to be five yards down field. Do not drift. Let’s try it again!” Kozerski tells his players as he pushes for consistency.
Kozerski admits consistency will be a challenging goal to achieve after winning the Kentucky Class 2A state championship in 2011 with a 12-3 record and graduating a great group of seniors.
“These are young people and they’re going to make mistakes and every time you graduate a group like we did last year we have a young group that’s going to come in here and make mistakes. It is how quickly can they get to that threshold of excellence, how quickly can they achieve certain goals that puts them in positions to go further,” Kozerski said.
Kozerski is a former offensive lineman who played in the National Football League for 14 seasons. Twelve of those seasons were with the Cincinnati Bengals including the team’s 1988 AFC Championship team and Super Bowl XXIII squad. The former pro hopes his big game experience helped his team prepare for their playoff run last year.
“Having been to a Super Bowl I have some working knowledge of what a big game is like. Even though we lost in that Super Bowl in '89, I’ve been there,” he said.
Holy Cross has risen to prominence under the tenure of Kozerski, who took over as head coach at the school in Covington’s Latonia neighborhood in 2004 but had served on the coaching staff since the football program began in 1998. Last season’s state championship team has come far. The team began with only 23 players and won only one game in its first season.
Kozerski has other reason to celebrate. He won the 2011 Paul Brown Excellence in Coaching award — an award that bears the name of the late NFL coaching great who meant so much to him.
“I have tremendous respect for Paul Brown from way back. My first year in the league he stood around and didn’t say much but when he said something it was very meaningful and typically made the corrections to whatever mistakes you were making,” Kozerski said. “To receive this award from the Brown family and specifically Mike I’m tremendously honored, it's a great award.”
The award, given annually since 2002 by the Bengals to an outstanding high school football coach in the Greater Cincinnati area, includes a $5,000 donation to the team’s football program.
“It’s gratifying to bestow this award on Bruce and his school, because he was a standout Bengal both on and off the field during his years with us,” said Bengals president Mike Brown in a press release. “And we know that besides now being a state championship coach, he is a respected teacher who emphasizes growth and integrity by the students in all areas.”
Kozerski opted to sidestep the question of whether he enjoyed playing or coaching football better.
“Completely different phases in my life,” he said. “I don’t know if it were not for that, if I had not played … the Bengals and the Browns gave me a significant opportunity.”
Kozerski called his path from pro football to high school football coach “an amazing twist of fate” that perhaps is not without some cosmic irony. Kozerski played college football at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts.
“I believe it to a great extent that’s there’s a reason I’m here. Some day I will realize what it is. For right now, I will just play it out.”
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