A natural talent

Thor Jozwiak is enjoying his new role with USF as a sideline reporter after playing for the Bulls for five seasons. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/JACKIE BENITEZ

Since he was a little kid, Thor Jozwiak has been enamored by the allure of professional wrestling. From the larger-than-life characters to the hyped-up entertainment, he’s wholeheartedly embodied everything he loves about the sport.

Growing up idolizing the likes of the Rock, the Undertaker, Triple H, Hulk Hogan and his favorite wrestler, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Jozwiak modeled his gregarious personality after what he witnessed in the ring. 

“I just respected the fact that they were truly entertaining.” Jozwiak said. “If you look at the promos they were doing, it wasn’t fake. Someone wasn’t telling them what to say. They truly believed — they became their character.”

Now, Jozwiak’s path as a football player has given him his own chance to entertain the masses since becoming the sideline reporter for USF’s broadcasting team for the 2016 season. 

“One of the reasons we turned and offered him the opportunity was the experiences we’ve had talking with him and interviewing him when he was a player,” USF broadcaster Jim Louk said. “You can see a natural gift there.”

Rather than duking it out in the ring, Jozwiak followed in the footsteps of his father, Brian, who was an All-American offensive lineman at West Virginia and later drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs with the seventh overall pick in the 1986 NFL Draft. 

Jozwiak, an offensive lineman for the Bulls from 2011-15, used what he learned from the performances of the heroes of his childhood to become one of the Bulls’ unquestioned leaders.

“My Dad had a Mohawk back when he played, but my Mohawk was like my alter ego,” Jozwiak said. “The game of football is very brutal and very punishing and especially to be an O-lineman, you have to be a little off to play that position. On game day, I’d make sure my Mohawk was straight, I’d always have my wife shave the sides the day before. 

“You just got into that persona — that character — and you use that to fuel your performance on the field.”

After graduating from USF in December 2015 for the second time — he has a bachelor’s degree in both communications and psychology — Jozwiak was unsure of what life without football would be like. 

He earned an invitation to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers mini camp after his pro day at USF in the spring but was told he wasn’t a fit for the team. 

“At first, with the football dream going away, that’s something I had worked toward for 13 years,” he said. “I always wanted to make it and when I realized that wasn’t going to happen, it really hit hard and I had to sit back and take a couple of weeks to re-evaluate what was going on, what I was going to do.”

Shortly after Jozwiak accepted the end of his playing career, USF was searching for someone to fill the vacancy left by former sideline reporter Jenna Laine, who was hired by ESPN after working with USF for one season. 

Louk, who has been the voice of USF football for each of its 20 seasons, remembered Jozwiak’s magnetic personality from interviews, so he floated the idea by the former lineman. 

“We’ve had a lot (of sideline reporters) over the years, we’ve had broadcasters, we’ve had former players,” Louk said. “Kawika Mitchell did it for us a couple years ago and he did a great job, but his schedule didn’t allow him to continue after one season. You want someone who understands the game. 

“I tell Thor what I ask from him is to bring knowledge as a player that I’m not going to know because I never played on this level. You know, I’ve done a million games and I see stuff and understand stuff, but not on the level of a guy who has played.”

With no immediate plans for the future and a passion for the spotlight, Jozwiak jumped at the opportunity. 

“I’ve always been a fan of the microphone and reaching an audience somehow, so I was thinking this could be fun, this could be a good experience and it keeps me around the guys and it keeps me involved with the program,” Jozwiak said. “At the same time, I get to do something I really like, which is talk and bring entertainment to people.

“The past 13 years of my life have been devoted to football, so I’m just now in the stage of figuring out which avenue to go.”

Louk worked with Jozwiak over the summer on mock broadcasts using tape from the 2015 season and despite some inevitable hiccups, the 20-year veteran of the broadcast booth said he’s been impressed with USF’s new sideline reporter through the first half of 2016. 

Even with a knack for the microphone and five years of playing college football, Jozwiak said there’s still some times he gets wrapped up in the excitement of it all. 

With just over 52,000 in attendance for USF’s game against Florida State on Sept. 24, Jozwiak had a momentary lapse in keeping his school pride in check. 

“The energy was unreal, especially after that first touchdown pass, first play of the game,” Jozwiak said. “It’s funny because I’m on the sideline jumping up and down losing my mind. My microphone is live, but we have a tech up in the booth who turns my microphone on when they throw it to me. But the whole time, Jim and Mark (Robinson) can hear what I’m saying. 

“So I’m jumping up and down screaming and hollering because I told some people that the first play was going to be a touchdown and they didn’t believe me. So I’m yelling and yelling and then I get to the other side of the field and I’m screaming and hollering and they went right to commercial after they kicked the extra point. And Mark and Jim throw it to me on the sideline and I had lost my voice from the emotion, so I was like, ‘OK, I can’t react like that, I have a job to do. Compose yourself, get some water, get your voice back. Ah, man it was unreal. But that atmosphere was outstanding, you live for that as a player.” 

Jozwiak said he’s enjoying his time helping USF Athletics any way he can, which includes speaking to students about Athletics at school events and promoting the football team around campus. 

As far as future plans go, he said he hasn’t made up his mind just yet on what he’d like to do, but he could see himself continuing on in this line of work or even giving wrestling a try. 

“You never know,” Jozwiak said. “I’ve always considered just going to a wrestling school and be like, ‘Hey man, I can rock the microphone, I’ve got some tape of that.’ So, we’ll see. 

“It’s never out of the cards until I’m 50 or whatever, but you still see guys who are 50 throwing down in the ring, so I don’t know. I’ve always been a huge fan and still am to this day.”