It is with eyes very wide open that Matt Kuzenko looks to take the next step in his football career.
The fullback/linebacker heart of the St. Charles College Cardinals lineup the past few years is heading to the University of Toronto Blues next month, after capturing Team MVP honours in his one and only year with the Sudbury Varsity Gladiators in 2013.
Though it seems difficult now to picture him as anything but a football player, Kuzenko recalls that it wasn't always this way.
"I started playing Joe Mac football in Grade 7 — my mom forced me to play," Kuzenko said with a laugh.
"She kept telling me that I was going to like it. I was scared."
Blessed with an athletic build — Kuzenko jumps back and forth between the use of "thick" and "fat" while recalling his early time in sports — the 18-year-old initially looked to lacrosse and basketball, hoping to make a name.
It was as a member of the Team North basketball crew when reality hit home with Kuzenko.
"There were guys 6-5, 6-6, with long arms and washboard abs," he said. "I was 6-2" and 220 pounds, and nowhere near fast enough to be a guard."
By this time, thankfully, the light had started to shine on the gridiron possibilities. "I started to feel natural when I moved from quarterback, once I switched to fullback," said Kuzenko.
"I wasn't fast enough to 'juke' guys, so I wouldn't run around guys, I would just run through them."
In the midst of the Joe MacDonald Youth Football League environment, this approach could work. Not so much once he started with the Gladiators.
"My first game against Burlington, I ran up the middle," noted Kuzenko. "Their middle linebacker wasn't big, but you could tell that he had experience, scars on his arms and stuff like that.
"He picked me up and slammed me on the ground. I've never been so scared to run back up the middle."
More importantly, Kuzenko knew where he had to get to in order to follow his dreams.
Moving towards a square rock-solid frame, Kuzenko shifted to the defence.
"With the Glads, they threw me at linebacker, and I ended up making five or six tackles. It's always a bit nicer being the hitter and not the hittee."
In high school ball, his forté was certainly at linebacker, though he moved seamlessly on both sides of the ball. His recruitment to U of T, however, finds Kuzenko shifting back.
"If your fullback gets involved carrying the ball, catching the ball in the flats, like the U of T offence, then it's fun to play fullback," he added. "But if you're on a team where the fullback blocks 99 per cent of the time, then I prefer inside linebacker."
Studying sociology with an eye on moving to criminology in senior years, Kuzenko will join local talents Owynn Lahnalampi (played in all eight regular season games in 2013) and sophomore linebacker Brett MacDonald on the Blues' roster.
With an ever-increasing number of local players now frequenting CIS football camps across the country, first-year expectations become more tempered.
"A fullback is a special teams player at heart," said Kuzenko.
"In my first year, I expect to come in when we're winning big, play a few downs at fullback. But 90 per cent of my use will be on special teams."
It's a role where he expects to open some eyes other than his own.