It would be easy to watch Montell Cozart, a senior quarterback at Bishop Miege, do his thing and assume he’s coasting on God-given ability.
Blessed with an athletic 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame, Cozart plays with such grace and fluidity, everything he does on the football field has a natural or perhaps well-rehearsed feel.
But Cozart is a battler.
He didn’t even play football as a freshman, opting to rest and heal a torn meniscus in preparation for basketball – his first love athletically.
And heading into his junior year with the Stags, a season that culminated in Cozart’s selection as the Kansas Gatorade player of the year, he wasn’t even viewed as a clear No. 1 at quarterback.
“Going into last year, he wasn’t even our for-sure starting quarterback,” Miege coach Jon Holmes said. “But he went out and earned it. It was an amazing transformation to watch him go from battling Timmy Mahoney for the starting job to becoming the Kansas Gatorade player of the year.”
Of course, by the second week of that fateful junior campaign, Cozart began to show the flashes of brilliance that also helped him wind up as the only non-senior finalist for the Simone Award as metropolitan Kansas City’s top player.
Making his second varsity start at quarterback, the Stags trailed Blue Valley Northwest 24-20 with roughly 90 seconds remaining and 80 yards to the end zone.
“That drive, he checked a pass protection on a fourth down that we picked up,” Holmes said. “On the play we scored on, he checked the run play and delivered a touchdown on it. When that happened, we knew he was calm and cool, because he’d been untested up to that point.”
It marked a significant turning point in his future as well.
“I felt so comfortable at quarterback, and the coaching staff helped me believe in myself even more,” Cozart said. “It came natural to me a little bit. When I played as well as I did last year, football became my future.”
Cozart never doubted he’d be a team leader in high school, a player who almost always had the ball in his hands and who other players looked to for leadership and encouragement and poise.
He knew college sports were in his future, but until last season when he always had a basketball in his hands is when he envisioned that future.
“Basketball was always my sport growing up,” Cozart said. “The first thing I carried around as a little boy was a basketball. I remember having my little Fisher Price basketball and wearing that thing out. It’s always been basketball. Football came out of nowhere and took off the last few years.”
Cozart’s future was sealed when former Miege coach Tim Grunhard headed west to join Charlie Weis’ staff at Kansas.
Three months later, Cozart committed to the Jayhawks, conceding that his future would entail starring in stadiums rather than arenas.
Not that his mom, Melinda Taylor, ever had a doubt.
“Growing up, my mom always felt like football came more natural to me than basketball, so she’s been able to do the ‘I told you so’ kind of thing,” said Cozart, who lives in Kansas City, Mo., and went to school in the Center High School district before transferring to Miege as a freshman.
Of course, several months after giving that verbal commitment to Kansas, the Jayhawks announced that Shawnee Mission East quarterback Jordan Darling – a senior transfer from Waco, Texas – also was joining the squad’s 2013 recruiting class.
“I was surprised, because all summer the coaches at KU were telling me I was their guy,” Cozart said. “Then, I heard Jordan Darling also committed. But I look at it as competition, and I won’t back down. The coaches still say I’m the main guy, but we’ll see. He’s a great guy.”
Cozart, who is intent on staying at quarterback, has other options. Kansas State, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, West Virginia and Northern Illinois also have made scholarship offers.
But Cozart has proven he isn’t one to back down from a challenge, so he hasn’t wavered in his commitment to the Jayhawks.
“I’m still solid to KU,” he said. “I’m pretty confident I’ll be a Jayhawk.”
Asked if anything might change his mind, he laughed and said, “I don’t know. They better pick it up.
“Losing to Rice? Man, that was rough. Some friends gave me a hard time, but I just tell them, ‘Wait ‘til I get there. We’re going to change it around a little.”
First, though, he wants to do the same for the Stags’ fortunes in the Kansas 5A playoffs.
“This is the year we turn things around,” Cozart said. “A state championship would mean so much more than any award, especially with it being the first year for coach Holmes. I know he’d be delighted, and it would mean the world to the 24 seniors on the team.”
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.