Each time the Buckeyes take the field this fall it will be without the presence of a very special member of the Ohio State family, Ohio National Guard Capt. Nick Rozanski.
Known to his friends and family as “Captain Buckeye,” Rozanski graduated from Ohio State with a degree in communication in 1999. A native of Dublin, Ohio, Rozanski attended Ohio State alongside his cousin and close friend Spencer Bownas.
Becoming Buckeyes was a natural fit for the pair who grew up avid fans of all things Ohio State, especially football. Separated in age by only five weeks, the two grew up knowing the other would never be far behind. From playing soccer as kids to attending the same college classes, their lives were always completely intertwined.
Following his time at Ohio State, Rozanski chose to enlist in the Ohio National Guard, a service he continued for eight and a half years. Bownas decided to pursue a career in real estate, while continuing his involvement with soccer as a volunteer assistant coach for the Ohio State women’s team.
Although their jobs might not compare in the eyes of Bownas, he knew Rozanski was proud and excited for his opportunity to coach at Ohio State.
“It was just huge to Nick,” Bownas said.
Rozanski, a husband and father to two daughters, selected to serve in the military in order to create a better life for children in a less fortunate situations.
“One of the things Nick always expressed about the mission he was doing in Afghanistan was he always thought about his own kids,” Bownas said. “He wanted the kids in Afghanistan to have a better life, like the ones his daughters have here.
“One quote I really like is, ‘A truesoldier doesn’t fight because he hates what is in front of him. He fights because he loves what is behind him.’ That was really what Nick was all about as a father and serviceman.”
Deployed in 2004 to Kosovo, as well as Kuwait and Iraq in 2007, Rozanski passed away on April 4, 2012 because of combat injuries sustained during his third tour of duty in Afghanistan.
A late night call from his uncle, Rozanski’s father, notified Bownas of his cousin’s passing. A call he now wishes he had never received.
“My uncle told me the officers had shown up to let him know Nick had been killed,” Bownas said. “It is exactly how it looks in the movies. When they get out of the car they are only there to tell you one thing.
“It’s just shocking. I think back all the time, if he just wouldn’t have called me then it would never have happened. It wouldn’t be true right now if I hadn’t heard him say those words.”
Those words were one the family, although aware of the possible dangers, never thought would actually come.
Always nervous when he was deployed for duty, the family felt a slight sense of calm this time knowing Rozanski had survived his first two trips overseas, Bownas said.
“Unfortunately, we kind of thought this tour would be the safest of the three because he was an officer,” Bownas said. “We thought he would be spending more time behind a desk than he would out in the field.”
There were even plans in place for Rozanski to experience one of his favorite past times upon his return to Columbus. He and his wife, Jennifer, purchased Ohio State season tickets for the first time. Rozanski was hoping to attend every home game his schedule would permit.
“All we were talking about before he left was, honest to God, how many home football games he would be able to make this fall,” Bownas said. “We looked forward to Nick coming home, knowing we would be spending every Saturday in the Horseshoe. That is really all we talked about.”
The tour to Afghanistan, however, did not go as the family had planned. Instead of looking forward to experiencing football Saturdays with Rozanski by their side, the family is left mourning the loss of their loved one.
“I was blessed I was tight with him my whole life,” Bownas said. “I have stories from his whole life to share with his daughters at literally every point of their own lives.”
Another way Bownas and his family will continue to honor Rozanski’s memory is through the Nick Rozanski Memorial Foundation. Through donations, the foundation will award scholarships to six students each year – three from Dublin, Ohio, and three for children of Ohio National Guardsmen.
The scholarships will ultimately give students the opportunity to continue their education and have an experience similar to the time Rozanski had at Ohio State.
“I don’t think anyone would ever describe Nick and I as honor students, so getting our degrees from Ohio State was very important.” Bownas said. “There are a lot of people who only get to be fans of Ohio State football, but for him to be able to be an alumnus of the school meant a lot. He wasn’t just cheering for a football team, he was cheering for his school.”
Since his cousin’s death, Bownas has made it his mission to raise funds for the foundation by running in the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon on Oct. 21. Although Rozanski completed three full marathons during his lifetime, the race will be a first for Bownas.
“It was kind of on my bucket list at some point to run a full marathon,” Bownas said. “I wasn’t planning on doing it this year, but as soon as Nick died I decided it is now or never.”
Bownas has set a $10,000 goal. He recognizes the goal may be a bit lofty, but wants everyone to know even a little bit toward the cause counts. For example, if everyone seated in “B” Deck of the stadium donated $1, Bownas would reach his goal.
For more information visit www.rozanskimemorial.com.
By: Ashley Albertson, Athletics Communications