August 18, 2011

Zouzalik is fearless

To play inside receiver, you've got to be tough. Inside guys slam into some of the best linebackers and safeties in the country on a weekly basis.

At 5-foot-11 and 181 pounds, Austin Zouzalik does more than he's asked to for the Texas Tech football squad. Not only is he an inside receiver willing to take a punishing hit up the middle but also willing to play in the kick and punt return game where the hits always come at full speed.

"I feel a lot safer back there on kick return," Zouzalik said. "You know where everyone's coming from, you know where the ball is going. Punt return, that's a whole different ballgame. When all the fans are out there and everybody, and you trust the guys out there that are blocking for you. If you take a bit hit everyone is going to 'ooo and ah,' and get you back up. I have a lot of trust in those guys and the schemes that are drawn up.

"It's pretty fun to be out there especially after you bust a big one and everyone gets excited."

Kick returning is a fearless occupation and offensive coordinator Neal Brown is hoping for that same tenacity from the inside receiver group. That means shaking a first and turning a small gain into a much bigger gain by following blockers.

And if you do take the big hit on the small gain, you shake it off and run the route the same way the next time.

Zouzalik is ahead of the game.

It's not always fun to be a kick returner and any Red Raider fan can remember a time or two Zouzalik got more than he gave on a return. There are some big guys coming down field trying to lay a lick on returners like Zouzalik.

Zouzalik said there have been some guys in the past that go into special teams not wanting to participate and risk injury. This year, however, people come to the special teams meetings with notebooks and take notes and want to take the risk of a big hit to help the team out.

The junior inside receiver and kick returner has always been that way though. Maybe it's something in the Lubbock water.

Zouzalik starred as a dual-threat quarterback for Lubbock Coronado High School. In fact as a senior he won the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal newspaper's 2007 Offensive Player of the Year after throwing for 2,908 yards and 25 touchdowns while rushing for 971 yards and 15 more touchdowns and led the Mustangs to a State Quarterfinal appearance at Jones AT&T Stadium.

Zouzalik compares playing inside receiver in a game to being in a boxing match where you have to get up after a knockdown and keep chipping away.

"Outside guys are just those tall, go up and get it kind of guys," Zouzalik said. "Inside guys are more gritty. In the trenches in the run game a little bit more and blocking and stuff like that. You've got to be pretty tough going across the middle. That's kind of what coach Sonny Cumbie preaches to us.

"You've got to be tough and take those hits across the middle, be able to get back up and keep working. You've got to work through traffic and stuff. But there's a certain talent to playing on the outside, catching those go routes and catching it over the shoulder too."

Zouzalik was a pretty productive contributor to the offense last year. He's coming off a season here he caught for 432 yards and two touchdowns on 31 grabs.

Along with guys like former outside receiver Alex Torres and the extremely quick Cornelius Douglas, Zouzalik helps make up an inside receiver group that has a lot of potential to be the explosive group the coaching staff wants.

It just has to play by the example Zouzalik sets.

"I think all the inside guys can do it," Zouzalik said. "Cornelius is so shifty he can do it, I think I've got the ability to do it. Torres has definitely can do it. It's just the opportunities to come out and capitalize on it."

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