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Learning to Deal With It

An Unrequited Gridder

By Abraham C. Marcus

When you love someone and they don't love you back you're still in love. But when you play football for Harvard and you don't start, you don't play football.

There are 110 guys on the team. Only 40 get to play in a game. The other 70 don't even get to practice much. Jim Kozlowski, a third string safety, estimates that he gets to practice as a "Harvard" player about 1 per cent of the time. He spends the rest of his time standing around and playing end on the demo squad (that's for demonstration not demolition), which gives the defense a preview of its next opponent's offense.

Why doesn't he quit? Why does he put in 30 hours a week only to log zero playing time in six games? To understand why you have to go back to the beginning of the season.

Koz started the year with great expectations. He came to football camp in peak condition, both mentally and physically. He finished fifth out of 110 in the 12-minute endurance run. But at the end of two-a-day practices he was injured. He went from number two safety man to oblivion.

"Thinking you had a shot at playing and then getting phased out because of an injury really hurt," he said. "For three days, I was totally depressed." He seriously thought of quitting. "I talked to all the people who mattered to me and they all said they'd love me no matter what I decided. The decision came back to me. I had to look within myself for the answer."

Part of the answer is that it's hard to quit. After you've played organized sports since the age of seven, being a team athlete is very much a part of your life.

More importantly, his outlook changed. "I used to think of the football team in terms of personal statistics. Now I think about what it means to me being part of the team. I make a real contribution. I play on the demo squad, I chart plays during the game and I keep guys loose by kidding around with things like my Elvis imitation in the locker room," he said.

The injury made a graceful exit possible, but Koz decided he wasn't going to get beat that easily. Being able to play football, he feels, is a God-given gift. Not to try and use that gift would be a shame.

A lot of guys in his situation blame it on the coaches. But that's not Koz's style. "Sure there are things about the program that bother me, but bad-mouthing the coaches would only hurt team spirit and be unfair to a lot of people," he said.

Like most Harvard athletes, he's been to the mountain top (in high school he beat out a kid for all-country honors who is now Rutger's star safety). Now he's been to the valley. It has given him perspective. "All your life you're going to be confronted with situations when you get dumped on, when you get the short end of the stick. You have to learn to deal with it. I think I have. Being third string on Harvard is no disgrace. I'm still a good athlete, I'm still a good football player."

When the season ends and Jim Kozlowski looks back on what he's gotten out of football at Harvard, it won't be a collection of impressive statistics. It is something more profound. It is a deeper understanding of himself that will mean more in ten years than twice that number of interceptions.

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