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Jim's mother, Bonnie, now has her own toll-free number that Jim uses daily to keep her abreast of how practices are going. And when Bonnie's father died a year ago, her mother, Betty Wrayno, asked that instead of sending flowers, mourners make contributions to the Mount Union football program. The Raiders' purple game pants were bought with those proceeds.
Football took on great significance in the Koz family, too. One afternoon during his senior year at Lakewood High, John was playing catch in his front yard while his sister, Diane, and their father, Russ, went jogging. Russ collapsed about a mile into the run when a blood vessel in his brain ruptured. He remained in a coma for two months. "There was never any question that I would continue playing football," says John. "It allowed me to think of something other than the hospital."
At halftime of the third game of the season, against Bay Village, John suddenly found his father entering his thoughts. He sensed something was wrong. When the game ended, he was told that his father had died.
"I was a pretty bad kid," Koz says. "I was always one of the bullies in class. But when my father died, almost at the exact moment I found out, I decided to change. Each day since I've tried to grow in some way, to live a fuller life."
That philosophy was behind Koz's decision to return to Baldwin-Wallace for a fifth year. Not only would it probably be his last chance to play organized football, but also he realized that having his name in the paper a few more times could only enhance his prospects as he sought work in the Cleveland real estate business after graduation. Almost daily Koz leafs through newspapers looking for available parcels of land. Then he pretends the land is his. "So far," he says, "I've built a lot of imaginary malls."
Fortunately for Baldwin-Wallace, the dining establishments in those malls arc also imaginary. Koz's weight balloons by 25 or so pounds during the off-season, thanks primarily to the pizza spun at his brother Russ's Italian eatery in Cleveland, 10 miles from Berea. In fact, the 6'3", 220-pound Koz is so doughy that an opposing coach once played a scouting videotape in slow motion so he could watch Koz's paunch jiggle.
Food has long been associated with football for Koz. During his sophomore year at Lakewood, he had just played in a junior varsity game when the varsity coach plucked a hotdog-munching Koz from the grandstand and inserted him into a scrimmage. Wide-eyed and mustard-stained, he took the field and threw two quick strikes for touchdowns. "That's when I first thought I could be good," he says, "that I was a quarterback." He won the starting job a month later.
The Yellow Jackets are hoping a similar wave of confidence washes over Koz on Oct. 2, when they host Mount Union. The rivalry is intense, with Ballard and Koz having split their previous two meetings. In last season's game, which Mount Union won 23-14, the two threw a total of 94 passes. Both have already begun putting their personal spin on the upcoming encounter.
"It should be a good one," says Koz, in his typically understated manner. "I don't care how I play as long as we win."
"This is the rubber match," says Ballard. "Not only do I want the game, but I want to outplay Koz. It's a personal thing."