Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Mill Creek's Nick Kozlowski has been selected as the Daily Post's boys lacrosse player of the year.
HOSCHTON -- Having just completed its third season of varsity play, it's hard to call any single player as the face of Mill Creek's boys lacrosse program.
However, as much as the Hawks and their coaches and fans have grown accustomed to Nick Kozlowski's face, the 2013 Daily Post Boys Player of the Year has left a lasting mark that will be hard to forget.
"I definitely think that within the state of Georgia, he's made us more known," Mill Creek boys coach Bo Adams said. "He's the best-known kid we've had because of his ability, and it definitely helps a program when you've got a kid who's a good kid and a good player -- a kid who's well-known. He's a good ambassador for our school."
Kozlowski definitely set a good example for his teammates on the field during this season.
Having moved from his natural position as a long-stick midfielder to a regular midfield position, the senior did whatever was asked of him, whether it was leading the Hawks' offense with 41 goals or helping the transition game by collecting 29 groundballs.
"He knew we needed him more at middle, and he took on the position with pride," Adams said. "He's gotten to the point maturity-wise where he wants what's best for the team over what's best for Nick. ... He really took on the leadership role (this season)."
And that leadership role went even beyond anything he did on the field.
As successful as the Hawks have been in their first two seasons of varsity play, including a state playoff berth in their inaugural season during Kozlowski's sophomore season, they still have had to convince some of the most promising young players in the school to come out for the team.
So, Kozlowski and his fellow seniors took the initiative to try to convince some underclassmen at Mill Creek, and his teammates with the Georgia Blackhawks club program, to come out for the varsity team.
"We'd talk to them and say, 'We need help at the varsity level. We need you. You guys have been playing together forever. Come out and help us win a state championship,'" Kozlowski said. "And they definitely stepped up big time.
"For the most part, after the success we've had the last couple of years, they were eager to just come play with us. They had the same goals we had. They were mainly sophomores and freshmen, so they'd look up to us, and we were like, 'We need you guys to step up as underclassmen, too.'"
Kozlowski and some of his fellow seniors -- such as goaltender Alex Schneider and midfielder Will Peek -- proved to be Pied Pipers of sorts.
"He did do a good bit of mentoring (the younger players) this year," Adams said. "They kind of look up to him, and it's good to have a kid like that to promote the team."
The talented newcomers jelled well with the more experienced players to help deliver Mill Creek's first Area 4-AAAAAA championship and the Hawks' second state playoff berth in the last three seasons.
But Kozlowski said the motivation to help sell the program to the younger generation wasn't just the self-interest of his senior class going out as winners.
"I give lessons to younger guys, and ... it's awesome to just go out there and teach the game and spread the word (about the Mill Creek program)," Kozlowski said. "If I come back years later, I'll see them on the high school team, and I'll see them carrying on the legacy we got to start."
Kozlowski will have a chance to further his own legacy, and that of Mill Creek, when he heads to Macon to join the Division I college program at Mercer University this fall.
Like the Hawks, the Bears recently completed their third season as a program this spring.
And like he did at Mill Creek, Kozlowski hopes he can have the same impact in helping Mercer build its program in its formative stages.
"It's definitely cool that you can say that you're a part of the original (group)," Kozlowski said. "If something happens to that program, I don't know if you can take credit for it, but you were a part of it when it first happened. I started in eighth grade when lacrosse first came (to Mill Creek), ... and in college, it will be the same way, that I was one of the (first classes) to go all the way through."
Kozlowski is also the first Mill Creek player to get a chance to play Division I lacrosse, and along with recent Greater Atlanta Christian grad Whit Anderson -- whom he will room with at Mercer -- among a small group of Gwinnett County high school players to get such an opportunity.
Adams hopes and believes Kozlowski will continue to make his mark in lacrosse as he has his entire career.
"Hopefully, (Kozlowski's presence at Mercer) will start something with (Mill Creek) and the county as we get more competitive," Adams said. Once he gets down there, he'll have a great coaching staff. And he'll be able to handle the struggles because he's (already) helped start a program."