AUBURN, Ala. — Alex Kozan had big plans last year. After being named a Freshman All-American in 2013, he believed last fall was going to be even better. But while the Tigers' starting left guard was back home in Colorado after Auburn's spring practice wrapped up last year, he felt something was wrong.
His back didn't feel right.
He tried, to no avail, to rehab it. With that bid unsuccessful, he had surgery last summer, ending his 2014 campaign before it ever got started.
So what was it like living last season on the sideline? About how you would think.
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"I'm not going to lie: it wasn't easy. It was rough," Kozan said Tuesday in his first meeting with reporters in more than a year. "But I was able to grow through that. ... Obviously it was disappointing. But I was able to learn some things on the sideline, kind of take a step back and see the team from a bigger picture than just the O-line."
Sure, he admits he would give back that knowledge for the chance to have played last year. But with that not possible, he made the most of it. The things he learned while watching from afar had to do with other positions on offense.
He wanted to see what the H-back's responsibility was after the ball was snapped. What was the quarterback thinking as he read the defense? How does the running back know which lane to take? So on and so forth.
"(It) kind of helps you get the bigger picture of a play, how a play is designed and how a play really works," Kozan said.
But one question that had nothing to do with football lingered: how exactly did his injury occur?
As Kozan recalled, the "first time I felt it" was in that trip home to Colorado after last year's spring semester concluded, with the injury happening while he was lifting weights. So he returned to Auburn and trained for a month.
Kozan described the injury and rehab in such detail he might as well be considered an expert on the subject.
Even though he had herniated the disk in his back — between the L-4 and L-5 segments in his spine, Kozan noted — it doesn't always require surgery. Sometimes, it heals on its own with rehab. That's what Kozan tried to do last year. But it didn't clear up, so he had to go the surgical route.
"Because I had gone through such a long time with that disk pressed against my (sciatic) nerve, I had a little bit of nerve damage that took me a couple months to overcome," he said. "So for a while I was wondering if the nerve damage was going to heal, but luckily it healed. I thank God for that."
And make no mistake: Kozan feels fortunate. Yes, the microdiscectomy procedure he had to undergo meant he lost 5 percent of his disk. But Kozan knew that meant he had come out better than most.
"A lot of guys who have that surgery lose half their disk," he said. "So to only lose 5 percent, I feel pretty good about that."
And that's not the only reason Kozan believes he's living a charmed existence.
Prior to this injury, he acknowledged he never gave much thought to his football mortality. Now, he relishes every chance he gets.
"You take some things for granted when you're fully healthy," Kozan said. "So being able to be back out there with my guys — some of them have moved on — (and) be out there with my teammates, I love 'em all. And being able to compete again, you don't get opportunities to compete in life like you do in football. So being able to compete out there against a guy every play, it's awesome."