Alex Kozan competed for a starting job on the Auburn offensive line as a true freshman a year ago but reckoned he wasn't physically ready.
So he redshirted during the 2012 campaign and this season Kozan has been part of a solid offensive line that helped Auburn lead the nation in rushing with an average of 335.7 yards per game.
Kozan, a 6-foot-4, 297-pound, former Valor Christian standout who lives in Castle Pines North, has started all 13 Auburn games this season at left guard and was named to the Southeast Conference All-Freshman team.
After playing in three championship games with Valor and the SEC title game against Missouri with the Tigers, Kozan will line up in the NCAA championship game versus top-ranked Florida State Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif.
"Last year during fall camp I competed for a starting job," recalled Kozan. "I felt mentally I was there. I knew all my assignments but I just wasn't quite there strength-wise and athleticism-wise. That and the transition from tackle to guard made it a little tougher.
"I redshirted last year but still traveled to all the games, saw what was going on and kind of learned what I needed to do. So I just attacked the offseason and tried to get to the point where I could become a starter and that's what I was able to do."
Kozan played between center Reese Dismuke and left tackle Greg Robinson this season and admits those two players helped him to make the necessary adjustments early on.
"Alex has had an excellent year," head coach Gus Malzahn told Al.com. "He's a great competitor. He's a tough guy. He's gotten better and better each game."
Kozan, who had offers from 30 Division I schools before signing with Auburn, is part of a major Tigers' turnaround as Auburn rebounded from a 3-9 campaign in 2012 to go 12-1 this season. According to Kozan, two games this fall provided the Tigers with the belief they felt they needed to beat teams like No. 1 Alabama and Missouri and propel the team into the national title game.
"The second half of LSU (the lone Tigers loss) after we came out pretty flat in the first half," said Kozan. "We competed pretty well with those guys the second half.
"And, the Texas A&M game. They were in the top 10 at the time. Johnny Football (A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel) hadn't really been stopped by anybody. We were able to go in and execute a two-minute drive to get the lead and our defense was able to stop Manziel and we pulled out the win. That was definitely another moment when we felt like we could compete with anybody."
The right chemistry
There are no statistics for offensive linemen except for maybe knockdown blocks and Kozan has averaged nearly six of those per game.
"This offensive (scheme) fits the players in our system a little better," said Kozan. "Coach Malzahn was the offensive coordinator here two years ago and he recruited a lot of the players we have now. They actually fit his system a little better. A quarterback is a huge difference in college ball and pro ball. If we didn't have Nick Marshall we could of have easily lost four or five games this year.
"A lot of it is just confidence. A lot of games last year I really felt that we didn't have a shot. Now there is a new confidence. It definitely makes a difference to have confidence going into each ball game that you can win."
Kozan is one of three Colorado players on the team preparing to meet Florida State in the BCS championship game.
Chaparral graduate Shane Callahan, a redshirt freshman reserve tackle, has played in two games. And Daniel Carlson, of The Classical Academy in Colorado Springs, is the backup place kicker.
"There's a little bit of difference preparing for this game," admitted Kozan about the title tilt. "Obviously we're going to prepare how we always prepare. Whenever you are playing in a championship game you have to have a championship mentality and you have to prepare for it every way possible to the best of your ability. Every championship game I've ever been in whether it was in high school or the SEC championship, you have to prepare for it and there's a little extra intensity."
Auburn will be attempting to become the first team to beat two No. 1 teams in the same season. Oklahoma came close in 1984, tying No. 1 Texas 15-15 and later toppling top-rated Nebraska 17-7. Auburn, which stunned No. 1 Alabama 34-28 late in the season, will be facing Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and current No. 1 Florida State.
"Jameis Winston is a great football player and our defense is preparing for him," said Kozan. "I have confidence in their ability. He's (Winston) going to make plays no matter who he is going against. That just shows the offense how a little more seriously we are going to have to take everything, really focusing on not making mistakes, eliminating turnovers, keeping their offense off the field and stuff like that."