The feeling is surreal for Penticton’s Isaiah Kozak to become a Lindenwood University Lion.
Kozak joins a lacrosse program that played in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 2 championship for the first time since becoming a full-time member in 2013-14. The Lions lost 15-9 in the first round and finished the season 14-4.
Kozak chose Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri for the athletic program as he plans to become a physiotherapist. The university program works with the NFL’s St. Louis Rams and NHL’s St.Louis Blues.
“I think that would be really cool to get hands on with a professional team,” said Kozak. “I think that is something I would want to do. Maybe in lacrosse or maybe basketball.”
Kozak’s interest in physiotherapy stems from the injuries he has had during his lacrosse career. The South Okanagan Flame had knee surgery last summer that required six months to recover from.
“It made sense to go into something like that. I can help younger generations understand that you’re not the only one,” he said. “Just give them advice, stay strong. For being out for six months with knee surgery is pretty rough, especially when you want to play lacrosse everyday. It’s a lot of stress.”
Kozak has enjoyed playing for the Flames and contributed to a season that saw them finish second in the Thompson Okanagan Junior Lacrosse League. Kozak goes to battle with players he went to school and former Heat teammates.
“Coming to this team they are pretty accepting of me,” he said.
Kozak has been pretty happy with his play, he has scored nine goals to go with eight assists in 11 games. While he can be an offensive threat his physical game can be just as devastating as wipes opponents out with hard hits.
“That’s what I like doing. I like engaging players,” he said. “Use your size. Get a bit of anger out.”
The start of the season was rough for Kozak, who before joining the Flames, earned a spot on the New Westminster Salmonbellies in the B.C. Junior A League. Kozak broke his finger and missed five weeks of action. Along with school, graduating and travel, the New Westminster coach suggested he come out next year.
With the Flames having finished their regular season schedule, Kozak will focus on helping his teammates have playoff success.
Lion’s coach Jimmy Lange first saw Kozak with the Burnaby Selects at the Adrenaline Challenge in San Diego last winter.
“He is a big, powerful midfielder that can contribute both offensively and defensively,” wrote Lange in an email. “He has a great stick just like we expect all our incoming freshman to have. Now we can look to develop other aspects of his game to make him even more of a threat on the field.”
Lange said Kozak, the first Western Canadian to join the program, will be an asset to the Lion’s in the future. The coach added it may take a season or two for Kozak to adjust to the pace of the college game.
“Isaiah is a great kid with great character,” said Lange. “Every conversation I have had with him and his coaches/advisors has proven that.”