The whispers filled the room quickly. Someone had just bench-pressed repetitions of 225 pounds 25 times – but it may have been 27 – and people wanted to know who he was. There was one former Husker that was unofficially marked down at 33 repetitions – offensive lineman Corey Whitaker – but the 25 reps was easily the next highest for the day. The person testing looked unfamiliar to most standing in Nebraska’s weight room on pro day, but he made an impression.
The mystery man was Tyke Kozeal. He was one of a few players from the University of Nebraska at Kearney and Chadron State invited to Lincoln to participate in pro day on March 14. A linebacker for UNK, Kozeal quickly made a name for himself during the day.
“I felt like it went pretty good,” Kozeal said. “I was pretty happy with the results.”
The results are still unofficial. His bench-press was announced at 25, vertical jump at 32 inches and 40-meter dash at 4.7 seconds. He worked out as a linebacker, fullback and long snapper during pro day, showing versatility to NFL scouts seeking it.
“I had some scouts come up to me and say good job and patted me on the back,” Kozeal said. “I talked to a few of them afterwards and I’ll hopefully keep in touch. They were happy to see I could play linebacker, fullback and long snap and was able to show I have those skills, which will help me at the next level.”
Corbey R. Dorsey/UNK Athletics
Kozeal’s collegiate numbers are pretty impressive, too. He started every game in which he played for UNK, recording 174 tackles as a senior and 15.7 tackles per game (both leading the NCAA). He also became just the second player in NCAA history to reach 600 career tackles at 604. He’s also been named to plenty of All-America teams in his career, making him just the fifth Loper to be named All-American in school history.
Getting to that point wasn’t an overnight thing for Kozeal. He instead had to work incredibly hard to be noticed when not much attention was coming his way.
“I grew up in small town Sargent, Nebraska,” Kozeal said. “It has about 500 people. I played eight-man football and my dad was my coach. He actually coached me in every sport – like basketball, track, football, baseball – since I was in kindergarten until I graduated high school.”
As high school came to an end, Kozeal looked for the next step in his career. Without much to choose from as far as scholarship offers were concerned, Kozeal made the decision to head to Kearney.
“Coming out of high school, I wasn’t very highly recruited so I took a walk-on to UNK,” Kozeal said. “After my redshirt year there, I earned a scholarship and was the starting linebacker for every game of my career, so I started 44-of-44 games. I went on to break the records I did and had the career I had.”
With his collegiate career over, Kozeal is now seeking his next step. The NFL has been the dream since he was young, so Kozeal is putting in the extra work to make it reality. He went to Denver in January to start training at Landow Performance, the same facility professional athletes like Christian McCaffrey and Olympians like Missy Franklin train at.
“Out there at Landow, I got to work with a lot of cool people,” Kozeal said. “There are a lot of NFL and professional athletes walking in and out of the facility, even Olympic athletes. It’s just a pretty cool place.”
Kozeal is back in Nebraska now, but he’s still training through Landow. He plans to use this time before the NFL draft to continue working out, spending time with his family and visiting a few UNK spring practices. And if there’s an extra day or two free, Kozeal knows how he’ll spend it.
“Hunting and fishing are really big passions of mine,” Kozeal said. “I enjoy being outdoors and enjoying the fresh air and getting away from the busy parts of life.”
Corbey R. Dorsey/UNK Athletics
With the potential for life to get busy very soon, Kozeal is making the most of the things he loves to do now. That also includes checking in on his younger sisters – one is a pharmacy major at UNK (who Kozeal proudly boasted had just been admitted to medical school) and the other is a junior in high school.
“I’m going to go watch her run track at Kearney,” Kozeal said. “I’m excited for that.”
Support clearly runs in Kozeal’s family. From his parents to his siblings and his wife Jamie, the Kozeal family shows up for one another and he’s thankful for that ahead of the NFL draft.
“My family and friends and the amount of support they have shown me has been awesome,” Kozeal said. “I can’t tell you how many phone calls and text messages I got [after pro day] from people asking how I did. That’s the one great thing about coming from a small town, everybody has your back and everybody wants you to do well and succeed.”
Kozeal doesn’t know what the future holds, but he knows he’s open to the journey. Whenever it ends, he suspects he’ll be back in a small town in Nebraska teaching or owning a farm. Until then, he’ll be doing what it takes to make his dreams become reality.
“I’d like to play as long as I can,” Kozeal said. “And hopefully have a successful career.”
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.