Click here if you’re having trouble viewing the video on your mobile device.
FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. — I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard about Nick Bosa: The sideline by the west endzone of St. Thomas Aquinas high school.
I was covering preps for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, watching his older brother Joey — now one of the best players in the NFL — wreck some poor, comically overmatched offensive lineman. Joey was operating at half speed, if that, and he was absolutely dominating the game. A man amongst boys, he was a clear-cut, no-doubt-about-it five-star player — the best defensive prospect in South Florida, one of the best players in the nation.
And the second-best prospect in his family.
The don of South Florida recruiting coverage, Larry Blustein, laughs when he recalls the comment he made to me from that corner of the field in 2012:
Yeah, Joey is really good, but his brother Nick is even better.
The conceit of the statement wasn’t that the younger Bosa would be better than Joey — it’s that he already was. Nick Bosa was in eighth grade at the time.
A bit of hyperbole? Perhaps.
Then again, Nick Bosa’s football career — starting with the Pembroke Pines Optimist Club at age 7, with stops at Aquinas and Ohio State, and now peaking this Sunday at the Super Bowl — has proven to be immune to overstatement.
You could say that you couldn’t script a story like this — it’s too clean, it’d come across as fake, but Bosa is the best player on the NFL’s best defense and his team is going to play for a championship five miles south of the field where he first played full-pad football.
But it’s Bosa, so it’s believable.
And I couldn’t find anyone in South Florida who is surprised by any of it.
“A lot of times, when you’re labeled a five-star, there are a lot of expectations,” Andrew Ivins, who covers South Florida recruiting for 247 Sports, says. “People try to nitpick and overly scrutinize it — find the weaknesses. He stood up to every test.”
“He’s the only guy I ever said that as a high school senior, he could have started at Ohio State,” Blustein, who has covered Florida recruiting for 50 years, says. “And when he gets to college, he could start in the NFL. He was just so advanced.”
So often we hear the tragic stories of big-time prospects that didn’t make it. And everyone loves to talk about the out-of-nowhere, under-the-radar star.
But Bosa is the rarest kind of player — the phenomenon who lived up to the promise in every possible way.
Sunday, the 49ers will face perhaps the greatest quarterback who has ever lived. Patrick Mahomes is a 24-year-old supernova talent who won the MVP in his first full year as a starter.
But Mahomes will have to reckon with a talent every bit his equal in Bosa.
And unlike Mahomes — a three-star prospect who came into the league with plenty of now-forgotten skepticism surrounding him — at every step of his career, Bosa has been hyped.
And every time, he’s exceeded even the loftiest of expectations.
“He’s unbelievable. He’s going to be… when everything is said and done… the best,” George Smith, St. Thomas Aquinas’ legendary coach and now athletic director says of Bosa and his place in the school’s history.
And what a history it is.
We’re in the Aquinas locker room — a larger and nicer set-up than most college football teams have — and Smith is pointing to the giant vinyl photos of the program’s great players plastered all over the walls. Aquinas has 14 alumni currently playing in the NFL. The Bay Area’s prep superpower, De La Salle, has put 14 players in the NFL in its history.
There’s a big picture Geno Atkins and LaMarcus Joyner. James White and Phillip Dorsett are over there. Oh, hey, that’s a big photo of Bengals running back Gio Bernard. Michael Irvin is an alum of the school. And on this particular day, a dozen Division-1 college coaches have shown up to the football office by noon.
This high school is the epicenter of talent in the most talent-rich region in the country. Almost five percent of the NFL is from South Florida, the region comprised of Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties.
And again, Smith — the man responsible for all of this success — thinks that Bosa is going to go down as the best of them all.
Blustein thinks that Bosa will. go down as the greatest South Florida-bred player of all time. Dee Ford told me mid-season that he thinks Bosa could be one of the greatest pass rushers in NFL history.
More lofty expectations. Perhaps it’s reached the point of being too much for a 22-year-old to handle now that he’s reached the big leagues.
How has Bosa dealt with all of them?
Wait, what expectations?
“Oh. Yeah. Well, it started when I was a little kid,” Bosa says. “It’s just never really fazed me. I never really got too stressed out about living up to Joey’s success, and I’ve done well in my own right. So that’s also helped.”
Done well? Now that’s an understatement — as per usual for the soft-spoken Bosa.
Yet he’s always been a man amongst boys. In the defensive end’s first training camp practice with the 49ers, he made offensive tackle Joe Staley wonder if he was over the hill and should retire.
“I just kept my head down and did my thing,” Bosa says.
Bosa doesn’t seem fazed by much of anything. He gives off a spacey vibe. Always has. Going through the Aquinas yearbook of his senior year, you won’t find his class photo. He missed it.
He’s no dolt, though — he had a near-4.0 GPA at Aquinas and was named to the Big Ten All-Academic team at Ohio State. He’s just quiet, perhaps even introverted, and he is generally unaffected but happy.
“It was evident that he was going to be special even as a sixth-grader,” Harriott says. “Nick obviously stacks up amongst the best I’ve coached. [But] his reputation is of legendary status — not only as a player but also as a person. During his time at STA, he was loved with respect and admiration.”
And that lack of pretension or nerves might be this secret weapon. It’s certainly an outstanding disposition to have for Sunday’s game.
“He’s a big man, but he’s a little kid, you know what I’m saying?” Blustein says.
“You sit and talk to him, and you’d never know — you’d be like ‘what do you do, drive a truck?’” says Smith. “Unassuming. He’s just a guy.”
That’s why his Aquinas, Ohio State, and now 49ers teammates have embraced him.
And all that political stuff — remember how scandalous that was around the time he was drafted? Well, it hasn’t come up since he joined the Niners. Again, you will find nothing but rave reviews of Bosa in the 49ers’ locker room — though truth be told, many admit they can’t seem to get a full read on the guy.
(Get this — while Bosa is neither outspoken or much of a politico, if he did proudly identify as a Republican, he would hardly be the only one in the 49ers locker room or the Bay Area.)
Bosa is, simply, someone who loves football, video games, and being around a team.
But boil it all down, as he is keen to do, and he’s into hitting the snot out of quarterbacks.
It is, after all, what he was put on this planet to do.