By Jim Gehman, Player Engagement Insider
One might say that Jaguars tight end Ben Koyack was just in the right place at the right time. But he knew where to be. And as a result, Jacksonville beat the visiting Buffalo Bills in the AFC wild card game on January 7, 10-3.
With the game tied in the final minute of the third quarter, the Jaguars faced fourth-and-goal from the 1. Instead of settling for a likely field goal, or giving their rookie running back Leonard Fournette a third consecutive try to cross the goal line, quarterback Blake Bortles put the ball in the air and found Koyack in the end zone for what would turn out to be the game-winning touchdown.
“They were playing a 6-2 defense and I pretty much just blocked like I was blocking for a run, and just ran a route to the middle of the end zone,” Koyack said. “It was at the top of our list of goal line plays for the game, so when we called the other play on third down, I kind of had a good idea that that was going to be called. But nevertheless, it was still somewhat surprising and still kind of nerve-racking.
“I think everyone in the stadium probably expected us to just try and run it again. I think it just worked out perfectly that we had run the ball the play before and we called that right after.”
With five receptions for 38 yards and no touchdowns during the regular season, Koyack didn’t have many plays called for him. More often he was masked among the group of men blocking at the line of scrimmage. However, being the focal point of the network TV cameras following the playoff game-winning catch would put his phone to a test.
“I had like 40 texts on my phone when I came back (to the locker room). I think that’s probably the most I ever had at one time,” Koyack said with a laugh. “My family and friends were all texting me and whatnot, just saying how happy and how proud they were. Even from (teammate and veteran tight end) Marcedes (Lewis), the first thing he said to me was how proud he was. Just to be able to do something to make my family and friends proud, represent them in such a big stage, is very gratifying.”
Being acknowledged for performing well on a big stage – as long as it’s on the field – is fine with Koyack. Away from the game, he prefers to keep things simple.
“You know, it hasn’t really gone to my head in any way. You can’t really let one play dictate everything that you do,” Koyack said. “You still have to go out there (and practice) with a special intensity knowing that the only way you’re going to be successful on Sunday is by being successful during the week. So, it doesn’t really change anything or the way about how I go about my business. I still have to study. I still have to work during the week.
“I like to keep a pretty low profile. I don’t think I’m plainly recognized anyway, so I don’t really get stopped or anything like that. It’s kind of how I like it anyways.”
Not everyone’s a star and even fewer ever play a down in the NFL. What advice would Koyack, who is in his second full season after being drafted in 2015 out of Notre Dame and spending that first year on the practice squad, offer people about how they should just keep plugging, doing what they’re doing, and that something good will come from it?
“I would say just that. Just keep working,” he said. “Sometimes you have to create those opportunities for yourself. You just have to keep working regardless of whatever situation you’re in. If you put the time in, you’ll be rewarded.”
The Jaguars, who beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs on January 14, and will now meet the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, have put in the time and hope to not only reward themselves, but their fans as well. With Jacksonville’s last playoff victory prior to beating Buffalo coming in 2007, when Koyack was a 13-year-old growing up 90 minutes north of Pittsburgh in Oil City, Pennsylvania, it’s been a long spell for the teal-donned faithful
“I think people are in good spirits,” said Koyack, who had 12 of his family and friends at the game against the Steelers. “We’re out there winning games and we gave city hall one of the game balls (from the victory over the Bills) just to show how much we respect the fans and how much we appreciate them and how appreciative we are that they supported us throughout all this. There’s a great feeling in the city knowing that we’re doing well and we’re winning football games.”