MONA SHORES, Mich. (WOOD) — Mona Shores head football coach Matt Koziak believes very strongly in the bonds his players forge on the football field.
“The only thing I think that can build a closer bond than football is military,” Koziak said while sitting off to the side of the Sailors practice field earlier this week.
Koziak can speak directly to that because he has the experience. His great grandfather, Stephen Koziak, served in World War II.
His brother is Marine Veteran Cpl. Mike Koziak, who served in the Marine Corps reserves from 2003 to 2009.
The two now coach together at Mona Shores.
“These coaches become close to you like brothers, but somebody you knew your whole life, it’s a pretty special bond,” said Matt, now in his ninth season as head coach. “On Friday nights, it’s great to be there right next to your brother.”
But while Mike was serving his country, there were times these two didn’t know if fall memories being made now would ever happen. Mike was activated and deployed to Fallujah, Iraq in 2006. He was overseas for eight months.
“We would talk twice a week. Sometimes it would be an instant message where we would communicate,” Matt said. “Sometimes the volume wouldn’t work where we could see each other on video, but we had to type, and we couldn’t hear each other.”
At that time of his deployment, Fallujah was considered one of the most dangerous places in the world.
“Football thing is you get a first down. Then you go get another first down,” Mike said. “That’s essentially what the deployment is. We’re going to get a first down together. We’re all going to get through it.”
However, not everyone serving with Mike made it back home.
“We called him Ski,” Mike said. “He was an awesome guy and an awesome leader, but I can remember the day.”
One of Mike’s closest friends and mentors, Staff Sgt. Marcus Golczynski was killed.
Mike says that Golczynski’s death is one of the main sources for his post-traumatic stress disorder. He also suffered a traumatic brain injury due to a few different explosions he lived through while in Iraq.
He thinks about his time in the service every day.
“I’m lucky to have a great support system,” Mike said.
He says he’s doing much better now thanks to his wife, Jennifer, and his three children.
He’s also grateful for brother Matt, the rest of his family, and the bond the Koziak’s share over the game of football.
“I’m just really proud of him for being able to do that because it takes a lot of courage,” Matt said of Mike’s service. “A lot of people can say that’s what they want to do. But to actually do it and be in a country where life and death matters — that takes a lot of courage.”
It’s also one of the main reasons the Mona Shores community has embraced Sailor Salute.
Friday is the fourth annual event held to honor veterans and first responders. It’s meant to help these men and women with any of the internal struggles many of us may never see.
“That makes you a little bit proud too. Man, I wasn’t out there fighting for thankless people,” Mike said. “Fifty years from now, people may not know my name, but they might know some of the deeds that myself and all of the Marines I’ve served with have done.”