Nate Ozdemir could have had one more season as a standout linebacker for the FAU Owls, but instead is putting all his effort and focus into his true dream: serving his country.
WINTER GARDEN Football has been a part of Nate Ozdemir’s everyday life for what has felt like forever.
Ozdemir, who turns 22 this month, has had a career packed with highlights spanning his time at West Orange High and Florida Atlantic University. Among them: intercepting Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya last September — his first interception; earning a scholarship after starting his career as an Owl as a walk-on; and a memorable 16-tackle game against Marshall last October.
He has started at middle linebacker for the Owls the past two seasons while also heavily involved on the team’s special teams units. He also was named a nominee for the Burlsworth Trophy — an award given to the most outstanding college football player in the nation who began his career as a walk-on.
Ozdemir has even had his name tossed around as a possible NFL prospect.
But Ozdemir, who graduated from West Orange in 2013 and would be a redshirt senior for FAU this fall, does not appear headed to the NFL. In fact, he announced his decision earlier this spring to forgo his final year of eligibility with the Owls.
Eschewing those gridiron dreams, Ozdemir is ready to pursue his lifelong passion. The Winter Garden native is ready to go all-in on a career serving in the United States military, with hopes of specifically becoming a pilot for the U.S. Marines.
“Ever since I was little, I’ve had a strong sense of patriotism,” Ozdemir said. “That’s something I’ve always wanted to do — I’ve always wanted to serve. I feel like it’s my duty.”
Ozdemir will graduate from FAU in December and plans to enlist in January. Although he technically could play his final season with the Owls this fall, his reasoning for not doing so is to best protect his prospects with the Marines.
Ozdemir has endured his share of injuries during his playing career, and the pilot program he hopes to become a part of has strict admittance standards.
“Every time I would get cleared medically with the Marine Corps, I’d have an injury, and it would set it back six months,” Ozdemir said. “They (his recruiters) pretty much were at the point where they said, ‘Hey, you could possibly get hurt one more time and not even be eligible (to join).’
“Ever since I was little, I’ve had a strong sense of patriotism. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do — I’ve always wanted to serve. I feel like it’s my duty.”
— Nate Ozdemir
“So it was six more months of football or possibly having a very rewarding career, and I just didn’t see the risk being worth it, and I decided to make a big-boy decision,” he said.
With his football career suddenly behind him, Ozdemir reflects fondly of his time with the Owls, even as the program endured some rough seasons.
“I had an awesome time playing at FAU,” Ozdemir said. “They are doing everything their power to get something rolling. … It’s definitely growing and here in the next 10 years, maybe, it’s really going to be something special.”
Wowing as a walk-on
Part of the reason the standout linebacker is so fond of his time at FAU is because of how hard he had to work to get on the field. Ozdemir was awarded a scholarship to Navy out of high school. But after a few weeks of summer drills, he decided to leave the program for personal reasons. He transferred to FAU, where he had to walk on.
“I just knew that I would have to out-work everybody else,” Ozedmir recalls. “I just made it my mission to be on everything possible — every special teams (unit), starting on every special teams (unit), going hard on every single drill.”
After redshirting as a true freshman in the fall of 2013, Ozdemir gradually worked his way up from second-string linebacker to a starter while also being heavily involved on the Owls’ special teams units.
Some of his highlights from his time as a college player led to his name being tossed around as a draft prospect — an accomplishment he never thought possible. Nevertheless, Ozdemir said he still sees the role of football in the bigger picture of his life as preparing him for his next journey.
“Football has been a part of my everyday life for as long as I can remember,” Ozdemir said. “Football, I believe, kind of set me up for a military career.”
Ozdemir, who has his private pilot’s license and is working on his commercial pilot’s license — he also will seek an instructor’s license, afterward — is hopeful that his focus on aviation in the military not only will lead to an exciting career while serving, but also a bridge to a new career once he is finished.
Whatever the road ahead, the former Warrior is buoyed by his deeply held sense of patriotism.
“This country gives so much to us and I think, especially today, a lot of people don’t recognize it,” Ozdemir said. “I’m a strong, motivated person. And to not go help out and do my little part, I feel like it would be wrong of me not to do that.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].