Former Penticton lacrosse player Kozak was playing at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo.                                Submitted photo

Former Penticton lacrosse player Kozak was playing at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo. Submitted photo

Community in mourning for lacrosse player

Family and friends are in mourning for former South Okanagan Flames lacrosse player Isaiah Kozak

Family, friends and teammates are in mourning for former South Okanagan Flames lacrosse player Isaiah Kozak who died suddenly on Tuesday.

“I just lost my best friend. I just lost a family member, a brother,” said Brenden Deverill. “Someone that I have known for my whole entire life. I’m very heart broken.”

Kozak’s No. 11 sweater with Penticton Minor Lacrosse and the Flames team hung on a fence at the courts at McLaren Arena on Wednesday as his former teammates and friends gathered to comfort one another. Kozak, 20, was in St. Charles, Mo., playing for the University of Lindenwood Lions men’s field lacrosse team at the time of his death.

Deverill last saw Kozak over the winter break and told his friend to keep in touch and he would see him again soon once school was finished for the year.

Kozak, who was the co-valedictorian at Pen High in 2015, was known for his smile, laugh and sense of humour.

Trevor Dermody, was shocked when he heard the news. He remembers Kozak as a person who was always the first to step up and protect smaller players who got bullied on the floor.

Brayden Jones, who knew Kozak since Grade 3, remembers him being upbeat and was the first to approach someone to brighten up their day when they were down.

Teammates also looked up to Kozak as a role model because he reached the goal of playing college level lacrosse.

“On and off the floor he was just a perfect example of not only what it means to be a lacrosse player, but just to be a good person. I think everyone is pretty shook up about this. I think all you can hope for is that he is in a better place,” said Cairo Rogers.

MORE: Lacrosse player Kozak joins NCAA team

Pen High principal Alan Stel said the school has a crisis management team that offers support to students and teachers who are struggling with the news of Kozak’s death.

“The situation can never be explained. I feel so sad and heart broken for the guy,” said Flames coach Kevin Thompson. “I don’t know if he was one phone call and one hug away from being in a different circumstance. It’s a lonely, sad situation. The smile he carried. The energy he gave. The enthusiasm. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing him for eight or 10 years coaching on and off with him. He was always the cornerstone of every group. A cornerstone for his family. He rose up and took it to the next level. I know the guys down in Missouri are as blown away with it as everybody here. The social media good or bad, however you want to look at it, just blew up. This guy was a rock star. We all love him dearly. These guys are all affected by it. Everybody is just numb about it.”

Kozak appeared in six games for the Lions and scored three goals, including two this season. He was a member of the ECAC All-Academic team in 2016. Daniel Newton, sports information director for the Lions, said the team held a memorial service Wednesday and issued this statement.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Isaiah, and with his lacrosse family here at Lindenwood,” said vice-president of Intercollegiate Athletics Brad Wachler. “Isaiah was a positive influence on campus, and he had a remarkable affinity for his friends, teammates and university.”

Two GoFund me accounts have been created in his honour to help Kozak’s family. In one day, one raised more than $8,700. People can support the family by going to https://www.gofundme.com/2rh7n-isaiah-kozak as well as https://www.gofundme.com/isaiah-kozak which was created where Kozak was going to school.