ASU Football: Kevin Ozier does it all with class

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

It's time to give Kevin Ozier kudos for his persistent approach and contributions to the ASU football program.

Kevin Ozier doesn't make spectacular catches. Ozier doesn't feature top end speed. Ozier doesn't sport ideal size at 6-foot-2. Ozier doesn't get the first, second or third look from Taylor Kelly.

Overcoming those road blocks are nothing for Ozier.

In 2009 Ozier walked on to the Arizona State football team at wide receiver. Dennis Erickson decided to redshirt him and place him on the scout team. One year later, Ozier had the same fate but was beginning to garner recognition from the coaches. Erickson decided to give Ozier the Hard Hat, awarded to players who exemplify dedication throughout offseason strength and condititioning program.

"It was tough, a lot of struggle. I didn't let it break me. And I just stuck through it and kept my head humble," Ozier said on his journey. "When things weren't going my way I still kept my head high. And just hard work."

Learning the complicating offense was the least of his problems. There were matters off the field that took precedent.

"Paying for school and out of tuition. Getting out of practice and going to work," Ozier on how he handled and the adverse situation. "Not having money for food. And now it's paying off. My tuition is paid. I get a check every month so I can buy my own food. It's just great."

The positive outlook came into play once Todd Graham arrived as the new sheriff in town. Within two months of taking the reigns, Graham gave Ozier the scholarship he coveted and needed. Graham didn't extend the offer to be kind. Ozier earned it by paying his dues and improving.

"[Graham] eased a lot of stress off my shoulders and stuff," Ozier said. "I didn't have to work anymore. My tuition is paid for. It means a lot to me."

At one point it would've been comical to imagine Ozier as the experienced veteran of the wide receiving core. Now freshmen Cameron Smith, Ellis Jefferson and junior college transfer Jaelen Strong turn to Ozier for guidance. Ozier knows the playbook inside and out, and loves helping out the younger guys, even if it decreases his personal opportunities. The team-first mentality exemplified by Ozier shouldn't be taken for granted.

"With the younger players I watch film and go over plays with them. I tell them if they have questions, like Cameron Smith, ‘I say if you got questions to ask me or Richard Smith,' Ozier said. "Because I have a good grasp of this offense. If they need help, I try to help them."

The increased talent around Ozier caused him to slide lower on the depth chart, despite making strides in the offseason again. Strong has emerged into one of the best weapons in college football. Cameron Smith uses his track 4.4 speed to burn defenses. D.J. Foster is even getting more time in the slot. So what does all that mean for Ozier?

Surprisingly his numbers are significantly better than 2012, in spite of less playing time. That makes sense to an extent because teams can no longer focus on Ozier as much, in large part due to last year's depleted talent outside the hash marks.

In the 2013 campaign, Ozier has accumulated 17 receptions, 266 yards and one touchdown. His breakthrough performance was against Washington, tallying eight catches for 88 yards. In the week before against Colorado, Ozier didn't haul in anything, which symbolizes his knack at turning things around quickly.

"Just taking advantage of every opportunity I was given on the field," Ozier said on the performance. "I got a couple more balls thrown my way than the past games. And I capitalized on them."

Strong was sidelined for the majority of the Washington game due to an ankle injury in the first quarter. Replacing Strong is impossible, yet Ozier held down the fort well.

"My mindset didn't really change. In my mind I'm a playmaker," Ozier on his mindset once Strong exited. "With [Strong] going down, [Taylor Kelly] was going to need to go somewhere else with the ball. And he targeted me. Me being one of his leading receivers."

Being Johnny on the spot isn't anything unusual for Ozier. His high IQ, sharp route running and excellent hands mask some of his glaring deficiencies. Basically without the hard work, Ozier wouldn't be in the position he sits in today.

"I'm smart. In my opinion. I know the offense and that is what helps me," Ozier said on his strengths. "And being able to read defenses out there as receivers. I know where defenders line up in different coverages."

His main weakness, as addressed earlier, traces back to speed. It's hard to suddenly gain speed, and it requires persistent training. Ozier believes giving 100 percent every play in practice could be the answer.

Playing in the NFL would be a long shot for Ozier, but he's used to proving the doubters wrong. Ozier aspires to lace the cleats on Sundays and make football his profession.

As a senior, if the NFL plans don't pan out, there needs to be an alternative. Ozier wants to help future generations avoid the precarious situations he was faced with.

"Work with kids. Work with inner city youth mentor kids that come up with a rough upbringing," Ozier said. "And have dreams and ambitions and goals to do stuff like go play football at a division one school like I did and walk on. And there's all these people telling you, you can't do it. I feel if you just work hard and put your mind to it, you can do anything."

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