Twenty years after, Koz still teaching

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Bruce Kozerski and Katie Blackburn at Wednesday's check presentation.

Bruce Kozerski, the brains of the outfit, is still figuring it out 20 years after he matched the last X with the final O.

"I really like to see kids achieve their goals," Kozerski is saying Wednesday. "You write letters of recommendation, it helps them get accepted to college and get scholarships, its nice having an impact like that."

Kozerski, the center on one of the greatest lines that ever played in the NFL when the Bengals offense controlled the numbers in the late 1980s, is talking between classes. Try five classes. Five calculus classes.

 And when you've been the head football coach at Holy Cross High School in Covington, Ky., for the last dozen years, it seems like you're always between classes.

Not only is he coaching, he's also fundraising and that's what he was doing between classes Wednesday when he accepted a $7,500 check for the program from Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn.

It is the latest in an ongoing program in which the NFL and the Bengals have coordinated to distribute $836,000 in grants over the last three years. Grants have gone to 18 different schools in Greater Cincinnati, as well as to numerous institutions like the American Heart Association, Boys & Girls Clubs, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and the Salvation Army. Grants currently pending for approval could soon raise the Greater Cincinnati total to more than $1 million for the three-year period.

"Our budget is over and above tuition," Kozerski says. "Not a nickel of tuition goes to sports. Everything we purchase has to be raised. We raise money everywhere we can."

Not only is he a coach and fundraiser, he is what Paul Brown said all good coaches become. A teacher. Five times a day. Kozerski's old offensive line coach at the Bengals, Jim McNally, could always joke about him going off to spit out some calculus.

Now he teaches a calculus course on the Holy Cross campus that is also taught at Thomas More College. He also teaches honors calculus. Plus, two honors pre-calculus classes for juniors preparing for one of those classes.  He also teaches another calc course for seniors who can go right into college calculus or college statistics.

"The kids are talented enough to do it," Kozerski says. "I teach a lot of students that are going into engineering or medicine or some advanced field where they'll use some math."

Which, of course, doesn't surprise McNally. There was Anthony Munoz, the greatest tackle who ever lived. There was the Pro Bowl right guard, the deadly athletic Max Montoya, the best guard they ever had. There was Bruce Reimers, the ox-strong rugged left guard who gave as good as he got and backed down from no one in the old AFC Central brawls from the Astrodome to the Dawg Pound. Right tackle Joe Walter quietly became a shut-down guy in Munoz's shadow.

And there was Koz. The only offensive linemen who have played more games in Bengals history than Kozerski's 172 are the two best. Munoz and right tackle Willie Anderson.

A different time. On Tuesday, the Bengals current center, Russell Bodine, a fourth-round pick, was awarded more than $300,000 in the NFL's play-for-pay program.

"I made $300,000 on my third contract," says Kozerski, taken in the now defunct ninth round. "Not my third year. Third contract." 

"He was a genius," McNally is saying Wednesday, now a Bengals consultant. "He ran the show. They'd meet every Friday after our last practice for a couple of hours and he'd run the meeting. He'd quiz them. Ask them about assignments and how they'd switch it up. All those guys were great guys. That was good stuff."

So it's a bit of a surprise that Kozerski, so comfortable in McNally's room and the man who jump-started Sam Wyche's creativity and Boomer Esiason's resourcefulness, never saw himself in front of a classroom.

Cincinnati Bengals present Holy Cross High School a grant check to their school athletics 03/16/2016

Not until 17 years ago, suddenly the age of his seniors this year.

"They asked me to get in here and do it for a year and I absolutely loved it," Kozerski says. "And have ever since."

You just have to rewind back to those days in McNally's office to find out why.

"When you say something and the light goes on and somebody figures it out that doesn't get it and you say it in a different way," says Kozerski of how he found teaching.

Or did teaching find him?

 "The one thing I learned from McNally, Jimmy was such a good teacher," Kozerski says. "It wasn't just about the work; it was more how he talked to us because we came from such diverse backgrounds. We came from all over the country and he had to say it differently to everybody. And if you didn't get it, he had to be creative and find a different way to say it. And nobody was more creative with the English language than Jim McNally.

"I can't use that kind of vocabulary in a school. But I did learn there are ways to say the same thing differently."

McNally knew what he was getting. Before the 1984 draft he scouted another Holy Cross, the college in Worcester, Mass., where Kozerski played football while majoring in physics. McNally knew he was also going across town to get his engineering degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

So for Kozerski, football and figures were always a snap and never that far away from each other.

"It's academics at its finest because its instant recall," Kozerski says. "The thought process is quicker, more reflexive, more on the fly . . . You get at the line of scrimmage after studying the game plan all week, but once the play starts, there's not any time to think. It's all reflexes. That's why we were such a believer in repetition and doing things a million times because you have to think on your feet as an offensive lineman and it becomes instinctive."

Imagine the big-money jobs he could have. Engineer.  Consultant. Physicist.  Whether he found teaching or teaching found him, they seem to have found each other in an offensive line coach's office.

"I've learned don't keep repeating the same thing because if they didn't get it the first time, what makes you think they'll get it the second time?" Kozerski asks. "Jimmy . . . was a hell of a teacher."

McNally laughs after Kozerski has gone back to class.

"He was a hell of a student,' he says. "Together we were a genius."

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