Football Student-Athletes Remember Parents As Purple Community Game Approaches

By Dean Holzwarth
Jake Kozlowski established a new personal mark in the weight room while preparing for the upcoming football season. However, the person that he would typically share all of his good news with was not around to bask in this accomplishment.
"I got a new max for my squat and he would be the first person I would go to," the senior wide receiver from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, said of his father, Mr. Daniel Kozlowski. "It's weird not having the ability to text my Dad to tell him what's going on. I have awesome people stepping up and helping me, but it's not the same as having your dad tell you how proud he is of you."
Mr. Daniel Kozlowski, pictured far left, passed away at the age of 51 on July 1 after complications due to heart failure.
Jake Kozlowski is one of three current Hope College football players who have dealt with the loss of a parent in the past year.
Daurel Tolbert's mother, Denean Washington, pictured far right, died last August after a bout with breast cancer, while Brandon Ellsworth also lost his mother, Tammy Ellsworth, pictured above middle, this past May, to pancreatic cancer.
All three student-athletes will be thinking about their parents during Saturday's Purple Community game at Smith Stadium benefiting Van Andel Institute. Kickoff is 1:30 p.m. against Lakeland, Wisconsin.
Kozlowski spoke highly of his biggest supporter, a single father.
"He was everything to my family, my two sisters and I," Kozlowski said. "My senior year of high school, my Mom walked out on us and my Dad was the most amazing man ever just with how much he sacrificed for us. He was our best friend and he was my go-to for everything."
In June, Mr. Kozlowski experienced heart problems due to a leaky valve and also had signs of colon cancer. He underwent surgery, however, the outlook was bleak.
Another surgery was scheduled, but he went into cardiac arrest.
"Everything was failing so we had to make the decision to take him off," Kozlowski said. "It was the most difficult decision I've ever made in my life."
Jake Kozlowski had power of attorney and was responsible for all of the medical decisions, as well as his financial matters.
"He didn't have a lot, but as my aunt told, me, we were his assets," Kozlowski said. "He didn't have much, but he made sure we had everything that we needed."
Mr. Kozlowski's health problems occurred shortly after a weekend visit to Holland.
"One second my dad was here, and then he left on Monday and it all went downhill from there," Kozlowski said. "It's been difficult, especially driving here for our first practice. He would always shoot me a text or call me to see how I was doing."
Kozlowski is planning to talk with his teammates that have suffered through the same tragedy as his own.
"I've been so busy in Wisconsin that I haven't had a chance to talk about it all, but we have to lean on each other with stuff like this," he said.
Tolbert, a sophomore defensive lineman from Flint, Michigan, reported to camp for his freshman season on August 10. A few days later, his mother succumbed to the cancer she had been fighting since Tolbert's sophomore year in high school.
"She had beat it, and for a couple months she was looking good, but it really started hitting hard my senior year," Tolbert said. "My mother was a tough lady, and the only thing she wanted me to do was to go to college."
Tolbert, an engineering major, said the coaching staff and his teammates were supportive in helping him cope with the grief that accompanied her passing.
"Coach Stuursma and the whole team have been great," he said. "You have a lot of guys with the same circumstances, and when I hear about other guys losing their parents, I totally understand. It's been a year now, and I tell them I understand completely what they are going through."
Tolbert's mom was there for him throughout his journey to college football. And while she's no longer here, he knows she is here in spirit.
He is using her death as motivation to perform his best on and off the football field.
"I still have a supportive family and I'm out here for her," Tolbert said. "She just loved seeing me play. She took me to every practice and was always there. My first game without seeing her on the sidelines was tough, but everything happens for a reason and God has a plan. I know she's always watching and everything I do is for her."
Ellsworth, a senior defensive end from Webberville, Michigan, lost his mother on May 10, a day after graduation. She was 50.
She had been sick through a majority of Ellsworth's life, but her health complications took a turn for the worse six months prior.
"It's definitely been tough, but I have dealt with it pretty well," Ellsworth said. "I had to deal with a lot of adversity growing up so it was another thing. I've had support around me, which has helped a lot."
Football has been a form of escape for Ellsworth.
"I really try and forget everything," he said. "When I come on the field I try to focus on football and focus on my major and that helps a lot. It's my release. I just go out and play football, I'm looking forward to my final season." | PO Box 9000, Holland, Michigan 49422