MIAMI — Six years before he found himself preparing to play in Super Bowl LIV, Nick Bosa was standing off to the side of a practice field at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.
Standing alongside his father, John, Bosa was watching his big brother, Joey, practice for Ohio State as the Buckeyes prepared to face Clemson in the Orange Bowl. After the practice, reporters asked St. Thomas Aquinas assistant coach Cris Carter about the younger Bosa, who had just finished his sophomore season at the school.
“I can’t say it because Joey will get mad,” the Hall of Fame receiver said, “but the little brother might be better than Joey.”
The thought seemed absurd; Joey had just tallied 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss as a true freshman on one of the nation’s most talented teams. But even after Joey established himself as an All-American, No. 3 overall pick and Pro Bowl defensive lineman for the Los Angeles Chargers, Carter’s comment doesn’t just seem plausible — it appears to have been prophetic.
San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa runs with the ball after making an interception against the Carolina Panthers in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
‘Top of my class’
Talk to Nick Bosa in person and you might get the sense he isn’t listening — or at the very least, isn’t interested.
And while depending on the topic, that might be true, the truth is that just like his brother, the 22-year-old possesses a low key, South Florida-raised, demeanor.
“It doesn’t seem like I have that much energy,” Bosa said in Miami earlier this week. “But on the field, I definitely bring a little more energy.”
Anyone who’s ever seen him play knows what he means.
As Super Bowl LIV approaches, Nick is one of the biggest reasons why many believe the San Francisco 49ers defense may be able to slow down the Kansas City Chiefs’ explosive offense. Nick’s potential was apparent from an early age, as less than a year after Carter’s bold proclamation, Bosa emerged as one of the top-ranked players in the 2016 recruiting class.
Touted as the nation’s No. 1 defensive end and a 5-star prospect, Bosa committed to play at Ohio State, where his brother and uncle — former NFL linebacker Eric Kumerow — had starred.
“I always wanted to be at the top of my class,” Bosa said this week. “High school, college, I always wanted to be the No. 1 guy at my position or in my class.”
‘A special player’
With Joey having just been drafted third overall by the Chargers after an All-American career in Columbus, Nick arrived at Ohio State facing no shortage of expectations.
“The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree,” Buckeyes defensive line coach Larry Johnson said of the younger Bosa on National Signing Day in 2016. “He has a chance to be a special player.”
Despite recovering from a torn ACL that brought a premature end to his high school career, Bosa would record a sack in his college debut, but the loaded nature of Ohio State’s defensive line limited his freshman stat line to five sacks and seven tackles for loss. Still, it was apparent that the game came easy to Bosa — as evidenced by him being named the Big Ten’s Defensive Lineman of the Year as a sophomore despite not officially being listed as a starter on the Buckeyes’ depth chart.
Entering his junior season, Bosa once again found himself at the top of his class, as he was projected by many as the top prospect for the 2019 NFL Draft. And although a core muscle injury would bring his college career to an end after just three games — in which he tallied four sacks — in 2018, the Fort Lauderdale native would maintain that status with the 49ers selecting him second overall.
Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa walks the stage after the San Francisco 49ers selected Bosa in the first round at the NFL football draft, Thursday, April 25, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Rookie of the Year
Regardless of whether or not the 49ers beat the Chiefs on Sunday, Bosa will head back to California with some hardware.
On Thursday, Bosa won the NFL’s Pepsi Rookie of the Year award, which is voted on by fans. He is also a heavy favorite to be named the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year at the NFL Honors award show on Saturday.
Should he win as expected, Bosa won’t be on hand to accept the award. Instead, he’ll be preparing to face the Chiefs on football’s biggest stage, inside a stadium just miles away from where he grew up.
“It would be everything to me,” Bosa said. “We put in all this work one year for one goal and we’re here now. I’m excited to be here, I love my team and I’m glad we get to do it down here.”
Truth be told, Bosa’s numbers this season haven’t been eye-popping; he tallied nine sacks, 16 tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one interception in 16 regular-season games. In two playoff games, he’s added three sacks and one pass defense.
Anybody who’s watched Bosa play, however, can see that numbers hardly paint the entire portrait of his impact. And as the 49ers enter the Super Bowl laying claim to the league’s top passing defense, it’s Bosa who serves as the unit’s focal point.
“It’s special,” Chiefs offensive line coach Andy Heck said of Bosa, per NBC Sports. “He plays with great effort and you combine that with strength, speed and talent, but the thing that jumps out at me is his effort. He’s a complete player. They got a good one there and he will be a good one for a long time to come.”
Between his good genetics — the Miami Dolphins selected John Bosa in the first round of the 1987 draft — and the tutelage he received growing up in a football family, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Carter saw greatness in Nick when he was so young. It’s not a coincidence that whatever level he’s played, Nick has been the most noticeable player on the field.
“People ask me that a lot and I don’t think it’s the football part even that I gained from them, it’s more the preparation,” Bosa said. “Just the mental preparation, the physical, the working out, the training — all that stuff. I think that’s the biggest thing I took away from my brother. And then work ethic, in general, is what I got from my dad from an early age.”