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Kozan ready to return to lead middle of Auburn's veteran OL

Auburn UniversityAlex Kozan, right, takes on a defender during practice Wednesday in Auburn, Ala.
Auburn UniversityAlex Kozan, right, takes on a defender during practice Wednesday in Auburn, Ala.

AUBURN, Ala. -- The good news is Alex Kozan probably knows his body better than any 21-year-old human being, but unfortunately it is not for a good reason.

Auburn's junior offensive guard is trying to recapture the success of being a Freshman All-American selection in 2013 after he suffered a brutal back injury that forced him to miss the entire 2014 season.

"It's been a full year since I've gotten all those reps, so to get back out here and get after it with my teammates (so) it's definitely exciting," Kozan said. "I missed it last year, so it's great to be back out there."

Even early in camp, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn can point to the 300-pound guard as a major piece of the equation to have offensive rhythm and success in a 2015 season.

"As far as the information we have now, I feel like he can," Malzahn said. "I think he'll tell you the same thing. He knows his body pretty well. He's a great competitor and so we expect him to come back and be as good as he's been, or better."

Kozan was a preseason All-Southeastern Conference first team selection before being forced to watch the 2014 season while focusing on rehabilitating a back injury that left him with rightfully frightening thoughts.

"Any time you have a new pain going down your leg, yeah, it's never good," Kozan said. "So yeah, I was pretty worried."

Kozan explained after practice Tuesday that in July 2014 he had herniated disc surgery that separated the disc in his back from the sciatic nerve in his leg that was causing massive pain running up to his back. Kozan then said his rehabilitation caused more damage to the nerve and he was forced to wait three more months for it to fully heal.

"There's a sciatic nerve back there, so whenever you have pressure near that nerve it kind of goes all the way down your leg," Kozan said. "That was kind of the pain I had."

Now that his fully cleared for contact and currently working with a first-team offensive line unit that returns three starters from 2014, Kozan is looking forward to be another veteran presence.

"All the guys in our line are older players," Kozan said. "Really, all of us need to be leaders. I try to be vocal out there. I try to help encourage guys. I'm trying to take on more of a leadership role now that Reese (Dismukes is) gone."

Kozan will be asked to anchor the middle of the offensive line that has been second in total yards each of the last two seasons. Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes has veteran options in Shon Coleman, Avery Young and Ole Miss transfer Austin Golson.

More importantly, he's likely already earned the trust of his teammates and coaches that he can handle the physicality after a debilitating injury simply by being back on the field this week for the start of preseason camp.

"(We're) actually proud of him too for fighting back like he has going through the situation he went through," Auburn offensive lineman Avery Young said. "Some people would have gave up by now."

The one thing that hasn't needed any rehab is Kozan's attitude following his injury. After being asked after practice Wednesday if he gets annoyed with questions about his return, he simply smiled and said he lives in the anonymity of being a lineman.

"Not so many people know me, the casual observers," Kozan said. "I'll get a 'War Eagle' or two probably every day. It's not bad for me. It's the guys who carry the ball who have to bat 'em away."

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