Had you asked recent Juneau-Douglas graduate Colin Gozelski at the end of his junior year, he never would have seen this coming.
The 6-foot-3 All-State wide receiver for the Crimson Bears football team and swingman for the basketball team was offered and has accepted a scholarship to play football at Division II Western Oregon University.
At this time last year, Gozelski hadn’t even stepped on a football field through his first three years of high school. Gozelski said at that juncture, he never, in his wildest dreams, thought about the possibility of playing college football.
“No way in my mind. Coming out of my junior year I was excited for our basketball team because I thought we could make a good run,” he said. “Football was always my favorite sport to watch, but I never knew I was going to play.”
Not only did he play, but he excelled. Gozelski’s performance on the field earned him several accolades, inculding the opportunity to represent Alaska in the Tanoa Bowl in early January. The game pitted the best high school players from Alaska against the best from Washington, and it offered the athletes a chance to get exposure to college coaches from around the country.
“Western Oregon was actually the first school to contact me. So since they were the first, I always stayed close to them,” Gozelski said. “I really like the coaches. They were really good people.”
They were so nice, apparently, even when it looked like Gozelksi had decided against Western Oregon, the coaching staff — namely offensive coordinator Brian Harris — continued to assist him in his college search.
“At one point I told them I wasn’t going to Western Oregon, that I was going to junior college because I wanted to (eventually) go to a Division I college,” he said. “After I told them that, the coaches still wanted me to stay with them because he said he’d help me get into a junior college.
“I just thought that was really nice. He knew I wasn’t going to his school and he still wanted to help me get into another one,” Gozelski continued. “I just realized they were really good guys and I wanted to play with them.”
But the process of finding the right school was an arduous one for Gozelski, one Juneau-Douglas coach Rich Sjoroos said weighed heavily upon his former star receiver.
“One of the bigger issues he had was not so much where he was going to play football, it was where he was willing to commit himself to studying academics and living for the first time, really, out of Juneau,” Sjoroos said. “Western Oregon is the one place when you talk to him, he just seems comfortable.”
Gozelski said he’s just glad the search is over.
“It’s been the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. Before I finally picked Western Oregon, which was a relief, I told my friends 10 different plans I had,” he said. “I would have my mind set on something, then it would change the next day when I talked to someone else. Everyone had their own opinions for me, so I was just trying to get feedback.
“This is the next four or five years of your life,” he continued. “You can’t just pick it right off the bat.”
Considering Gozelski performed so well in his lone season as a varsity football player, Sjoroos said the Wolves are getting a special athlete.
“For a kid who only played one year of football, it’s hard to imagine how much he grew and how good he got during the season,” he said. “It was fun to coach him because I felt like he was trying to fit a whole career into one year.
“He was a sponge that just absorbed everything, and he kept wanting to learn more.”
As for that one year of football at Juneau-Douglas, Gozelski said he’s grateful for the opportunity he had with the coaching staff and his teammates.
“I still forget what made me go to that first day of practice, but I went and my life turned around completely,” he said. “I had a bond with the coaches in Juneau. It felt like I had known them my whole life, but I had only been there for a week.”
If he hadn’t played football his senior year, Gozelski said things would have ended much differently.
“I don’t know what I would be doing, in all honesty,” he said. “If I didn’t play football this year, I still wouldn’t have a college picked out by now, probably.”
Gozelski will play wide receiver and possibly punter for the Wolves, and he might get a chance to contribute immediately to a team whose leading receiver last year was a running back.
“Coach (John) Bartlett, the wide receivers coach, thinks I might not be redshirted because they might use me right away,” Gozelski said. “So coach thinks I should get playing time my freshman year.”
For someone with only a year of experience under his belt, that wouldn’t be such a bad accomplishment.
Western Oregon’s season kicks off against Grand Valley State at 4 p.m. on Sept. 1 in Allendale, Mich.