Nick Bosa intuitively drawn to sport that shaped his life, NFL draft future


Editor's note: The Choice is a four-part series that dives deep into four of the 2019 NFL Draft's top prospects, detailing how their early lives and decisions prepared them for this moment. First up in the series: Ohio State star Nick Bosa.

She completed a 45-minute drive to a community park 20 miles north of downtown Miami to deliver her two young boys to football practice. With a post-practice trip home awaiting her, she removed a folding chair from the GMC Yukon XL and settled in to observe.

This became Cheryl Bosa’s routine.

She dropped off, waited for practice to conclude, then drove her sons back home. But what she witnessed on this day a decade-and-a-half ago was a little more memorable, a foreshadowing of the journey her youngest son, Nick, would take toward Day 1 of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Nick Bosa, the Ohio State defensive end, was widely considered the top candidate for the No. 1 overall pick for most of the past year. He likely will be a top-two selection, even after sustaining a groin injury early in his junior season, undergoing surgery and withdrawing from school in November to concentrate on his rehabilitation.

There are twists and turns for every prospect along the way toward the draft. Bosa’s play as a dominant player speaks loudly, and his on-field production far outweighs any controversy that might arise from him expressing his personal views. His opinions and beliefs came under additional scrutiny last week when he admitted in an ESPN interview that he began to suppress his political preferences because his conservative views seemingly are in conflict with the democratic-leaning San Francisco Bay Area.

Bosa could end up with the 49ers, the owners of the No. 2 overall pick, and team sources indicate there is nothing about him that gives the organization reason for concern. After all, when contemplating how Bosa might fit into a diverse workplace, all that's required is a little homework into the genesis of his football career and how he bonded with peers and coaches of every background and race at all steps of his amateur career.

Born to play this game

The youngest son of Cheryl and John Bosa, Nick knew exactly what he wanted at 7 years old.

He knew he wanted to play football, and he was successful in not accepting his parents’ decision to delay his enrollment in a youth football league for another year.

Not only did he know he wanted to play the sport, he knew the exact role he was born to play.

On this early day of her son’s football life, Cheryl paid particularly close attention. From her vantage point far across the field, she saw Nick approach one of the coaches.

He walked up to a man in an untucked shirt and got his attention the only way a kid his size knew. Then, young Nick looked straight up and said something. The coach, looking down at a boy half his size, could be seen listening and nodding his head. Then, the coach pointed in a direction that Nick immediately went bounding toward.

“I find out later they’d put Nick with the offense,” Cheryl Bosa recalled. “And he walked up to this guy, totally by himself, tugged on his shirt and said, ‘I don’t want to play offense. I want to play defense.’ ”

The coach granted his young player’s wish and sent him to practice with the defense. Most kids his age dream of scoring touchdowns. Nick Bosa yearned for strip-sacks.

“This is bizarre stuff,” his mother said. “How does he even know?”

Nick Bosa knows football.

He knows football just like his dad, just like his uncle, just like his older brother. Those three were all NFL first-round draft picks. Next week, Nick will join them in that select company.

The kid, now 21, is a refined, sharper, more-advanced version of the time-honored family model. He has everything an NFL team would want in a defensive end: size, strength, quickness, athleticism, balance, tenacity and a pure love of the art of rushing the passer.

“That’s just deep down,” he said. “I think since I was little, just watching it, seeing what my dad did in the NFL. I think that’s just something you have instilled in you. It’s just a work ethic I’ve always had.”

Brotherly shove

His father, John, has Northeast roots. He grew up in Keene, N.H., and thrived as a defensive lineman at Boston College. As a sophomore, he watched from the sideline as teammate Doug Flutie’s miraculous touchdown pass to Gerard Phelan on the final play beat Miami in a regular-season game played in the Orange Bowl.

His next trip to South Florida was as a first-round pick of Don Shula’s Dolphins in 1987. The move to the Miami area was permanent. After an injury-shortened NFL career, he became an owner of gyms. He had the good fortune to open South Beach Gridiron Club just before South Beach became an internationally known hot spot. Bosa was an owner of four gyms that reportedly attracted such stars as Madonna, Elle MacPherson and Mickey Rourke.

One year after Bosa was selected 16th overall, the Dolphins used the same draft slot on Eric Kumerow, a defensive lineman from Ohio State. Kumerow told his sister, Cheryl, there was a guy on the team she would like. He was right.

John and Cheryl were part of a small group that went out after a game. They hit it off and got married. They had two boys, Joey and Nick. And those boys were all boy.

Joey relentlessly picked on Nick. Every game, every activity took on a competitive edge and ended with some altercation. Feelings were hurt and, in many cases, body parts took a pounding, too.

“There was always a bit of tussling,” John Bosa remembered. “Joe was a bit of a bully, and he’d bully his little brother until a certain age.”

When Joey would try to get under Nick’s skin, Nick typically had a quick retort. Joey would call Nick a “momma’s boy.” Nick did not consider that an insult, and would toss it back at his brother.

“Nick would look at him and go, 'Yeah, that’s right. I am. I am a momma’s boy,’ ” Cheryl said. “He owned it.”

The boys loved being physical. The trampoline in the backyard was ground zero to many of the battles, resulting in puffy lips, bloody noses and bruises.

“That’s one thing you never want to do with one of the Bosas is get physical,” said Jawuan Harris, a teammate and friend of Nick’s since their youth football days. He’s currently an outfielder in the San Diego Padres’ minor-league system.

“There was no way I was getting physical with one of them,” Harris added. “When them two got on the trampoline, I would get off.”

Like many young boys, there was some risk-taking involved. The Bosas lived on the Intracoastal Waterway, and the boys would regularly jump off a ledge into the body of water some 20 feet below.

“We’d do it at night to make it a little more scary,” Harris said.

A basketball hoop was placed in the pool. Even this innocuous accessory prompted the Bosas to play rough with each other. The hoop routinely had to be repaired. Every activity seemingly led Nick back to his athletic destiny. It became increasingly clear that non-contact sports were not his style.

“I wanted to push them away from football a little bit and really expose them to a lot of sports,” John Bosa said. “We played tennis. We played golf. They played soccer and baseball and hoops. So I really exposed them to a lot of sports early, trying to keep them a little bit away from football.”

John had not played football until his freshman year of high school, and he saw no reason to expose his children to the sport’s potential risks on an accelerated time frame.

But Nick had other ideas.

“Nick threw temper tantrums,” John said.

When Cheryl was told her husband mentioned Nick acted out in order to get his way, she paused for a moment.

“Did he tell you about the temper tantrum on the kitchen floor?” she asked.

John and Cheryl had decided Nick could not play football. But Nick caused a scene in the family’s kitchen. He hit the floor. His arms and legs flailed in a meltdown of epic proportions. Then, through his hysteria, he wailed those words that Cheryl relays today with a certain sense of amusement.

“If you don’t let me play football, I’m going to die -- I ... will ... die ... if you don’t let me play football!”

Do parents dig in and make a point that a kid can’t get his way if he acts out? Do they show that such behavior will not be tolerated -- or, worse, rewarded? Years later, the decision that followed is easily justified and makes perfect sense.

Said Cheryl: “Oh, we totally gave in. We caved. We totally caved.”

Lessons in togetherness

Joey and Nick were born two years, three months and 12 days apart. They began playing football in North Miami during the same season, but they were on different teams.

John recalls watching his sons head to their respective fields. Something stood out to him about the way they looked, the way they moved, the way they carried themselves.

“At that moment, just seeing how they looked in pads, I was like, ‘Wow. I’m done,’ ” John Bosa said. “They were football players, and they never looked back.

“Football is a tough sport. It’s a grind. People don’t see the winter workouts and practice. You have to love it. You have to have a passion for it, and a drive. No dad is going to push someone to play football. The kids have to love it. And they loved it.”

John Bosa also knew the latent advantages that can come from being on a football team. One of Bosa’s best friends on the Dolphins was Hugh Green, who grew up in Natchez, Miss. Being raised in Fort Lauderdale on the water, the Bosa boys were brought up a certain way. Their father wanted them to experience at a young age the unique bonds and responsibilities that come with being on a football team.

“It’s such an amazing thing, where you’re all brothers,” John Bosa said. “There’s no color. There’s no religion. It’s just all brothers. And I love that.”

In the second year of youth football, the Bosas sought to place their sons in the best possible environment. It led them to Pembroke Pines Optimist (PPO), a park situated at the end of North Perry Airport, where the takeoffs and landings of light aircraft are a constant distraction to young players.

That wasn’t a problem to the Bosa boys, who were singularly focused on football from the moment they were sized for helmets and pads.

“We grew up in North Miami in a big house,” Nick Bosa said. “But going down there and playing with those kids, it opened my eyes to a little bit of a new world and gave me a broader perspective. I take those years, they helped me through my whole life, to accept all people. It’s been really good what football has done for me. Football has done so much for me.”

Nick Bosa (third row down, second from the left) led the PPO Bengals' defense and didn't take perceived failure, such as allowing one touchdown, lightly (Photo courtesy of Greg Bethune)

The PPO Bengals formed a tight unit and piled up victories with Nick often being the youngest player on his teams.

“I have a son that played on that team with Nick, and you couldn’t tell those guys that they weren’t brothers,” said Greg Bethune, the team’s defensive coordinator. “They all came from different backgrounds and different socioeconomic statuses. I’ve been coaching almost 20 years, and to this date, that is the very best team that I’ve ever coached.”

Bethune still fondly recalls how the kids on the team set a standard for themselves. The Bengals went deep into the 2006 season being unbeaten and un-scored upon. The 85-pounders faced one of their rivals, Cooper City, late in the season. But en route to another blowout victory, the team finally surrendered a touchdown.

“Those kids had such a sense of pride, and it may sound stupid to some people, but if you’re a competitor, you understand it,” Bethune said. “Those kids were so upset about giving up those six points that there were actually kids after a 30-6 victory that were in tears. And Nick was one of them. They took so much pride in being dominant. He just had that edge, and he was the leader of our defense. They fed off of him.”

The lessons Bosa learned from his first years of youth football have carried through and have not been forgotten. When Bosa attends the NFL draft next week in Nashville, Bethune will be one of his guests in the green room.

“I definitely believe he got his roots in being a good teammate and a good friend to his brothers at PPO, because we preach that,” Bethune said. “You take care of your teammates, understand where your help is, and if we go somewhere, we go together. We fight together. We win together. We lose together. And that’s the way it went.”

PPO is still going strong, and Bosa remains a memorable part of the park’s legacy.

“There’s a kid in the park right now. They call him Bosa because of his mannerisms and the way he plays,” Bethune said with a laugh. “He’s a big white kid. His nickname is Bosa. That’s right now. And what’s this? Fifteen years later?”

The Buckeye ties that bind

Nick Bosa always was a popular player with his teammates. So it only goes to reason that it wasn’t until he finally played on his older brother’s team that their relationship permanently changed.

Joey Bosa set the standard for Nick. As a 15-year-old, Joey was tempted to immediately commit to Alabama after Nick Saban offered him a scholarship.

But Joey opted to let the entire process play out. He became one of the top defensive linemen in the class of 2013, and ended up choosing Ohio State before his senior year of high school.

That year was significant in another way. He and his brother were teammates for the first time at national powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale. Nick was a freshman who earned his way onto the varsity team and started on the defensive line, along with Joey. The team went on to win the state championship.

“Their relationship was this turning point where they went from Nick being the annoying little brother to being best friends,” Cheryl Bosa said.

“It was night and day, like flipping a switch. John and I were like, ‘Holy cow, what happened here?’ It was awesome. It was a coming of age. Nick was not the pain-in the-butt little brother anymore, and Joey was not the big brother. It was really, really cool. Since then, honestly, I don’t think I’ve seen them get in an argument.”

Joey went off to Columbus, Ohio, and Nick continued to develop his game to become -- like his brother before him -- one of the top high school recruits in America. Unlike his brother, there was little doubt where Nick would choose to attend college. He would play for coach Urban Meyer and defensive line coach Larry Johnson. There never was any doubt.

Joey declared for the NFL draft after his junior season, so he never was enrolled at Ohio State at the same time as his younger brother.

But Nick already had reaped all the benefits of being Joey’s little brother. On his trips to Columbus, Ohio, to visit Joey, Nick would hang out at the maze-like football offices and begin, in essence, his work toward a master’s degree in defensive line play while he still was in high school.

“Nick would spend an hour in the D-line room with Coach Johnson watching tape, watching cut-ups of Joe’s practices, learning technique, talking about technique,” John Bosa said. “So now you have Nick, who’s in high school, learning from the best D-line coach. So he’s going to have a little bit of an advantage, not to mention Joey continually updating him on things they were doing. Nick was getting some really good coaching early.”

The Chargers selected Joey Bosa with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 draft. That fall, Nick Bosa suited up as an Ohio State freshman, wearing No. 97 -- the same number his brother gave up to begin his NFL career. It also was the same number their father wore at Boston College and with the Dolphins.

Dark days and a tough decision

After showing plenty of promise in his first college season, Nick Bosa recorded 8.5 sacks as a sophomore with the Buckeyes. Everything was pointing toward Nick greatly improving on those numbers and riding that momentum toward becoming a high draft pick.

“When you’re chasing greatness, you chase it every day,” Johnson said. “You don’t take a day off. So he worked hard in the weight room. He worked hard in the classroom. He worked hard watching videotape.

“He’d call me and text me, ‘Hey, I didn’t do real well with my hands today.’ Or, ‘My hips didn’t get flipped.’ He was constantly seeking feedback to be a great player. That’s what separates guys.”

Those close to Bosa saw him take his dedication to maniacal levels in the spring and summer before his junior season. He recorded four sacks in his first three games. He blasted around the right edge for a sack-strip that resulted in a first-quarter touchdown Sept. 15 against TCU.

A quarter and a half later, Bosa crumpled to the ground while trying to bend around the edge to get to the quarterback. The diagnosis was a bilateral core muscle tear -- an injury commonly called a “sports hernia.” One week later, he underwent surgery.

What followed was even more agonizing and painful for Nick and the entire Bosa family.

“It was definitely one of the harder things I’ve went through in my life,” Nick Bosa said. “Just getting injured in the year I was getting ready to blow it all out and have a really fun year.”

It was the end of an intimate family connection to Ohio State that began more than three decades earlier.

Nick Bosa's season-ending injury last September led to him leaving Ohio State and chasing his NFL dreams, but it wasn't an easy choice (Photo by USA TODAY Sports Images)

Cheryl Kumerow and her younger brother, Eric, grew up in the Chicago area. She attended University of Illinois as a freshman. He was a highly recruited football player. They agreed to attend the same college. He was prepared to follow her to Illinois, but she told him to pick where he wanted to go, and she would follow.

That is how the Bosa boys were born into Ohio State football. Their uncle played for the Buckeyes, and their mother is an enthusiastic alum.

Cheryl Bosa traveled to Columbus for every home football game during Joey and Nick’s careers. As a family, the Bosas -- along with plenty of consultation -- determined it was best for Nick to withdraw from Ohio State and move to Orange County so he could live with his brother to rehab and prepare for the draft.

“It was really, really rough,” Cheryl Bosa said. “Me being a mom that had been at Ohio State, watching my brother play and then for six years watching my kids play, I don’t mean to sound selfish, but it was absolutely devastating to me on a personal level.”

When the family decided it was time to make the inevitable decision, Nick Bosa stopped by the Ohio State football offices to explain the decision. Johnson was called out of a meeting to visit with his star player.

“We sat down, and he couldn’t say two words without crying,” Johnson said. “It touched him that emotionally. He said, ‘I’m going to miss you, Coach.’ I said, ‘I’m here. You’ll see me again.’ ”

Rarely did a conversation or meeting conclude without Bosa and Johnson saying to each other, “I love you.” The season would go on, of course, but there was a sense of finality during that November meeting that usually doesn’t arrive in college football until after a bowl game.

“When I say you love a kid like he’s your own son, that’s how close we became,” Johnson said. “Nick was one of those guys. We touched each other’s heart. For whatever reason, it happened. It was a special moment, together in that room, the last time he walked out the door. You know what I mean?”

The move to withdraw from school in the middle of the season attracted some national criticism. Some chose to interpret it as Bosa abandoning his teammates. The Bosas believed Nick would have been a distraction to the rest of the team had he continued to be around the program. He might have been able to play late in the season, but his rehab would have been rushed, he might have been ineffective, and he could have subjected himself to unnecessary risk.

His Ohio State teammates, unanimously, had the final word on what they thought of Nick Bosa.

As the Buckeyes prepared for the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Bosa made the trip to visit his teammates. There he was on the sideline to see his guys. And one by one, the entire team spotted him and formed a reception line with handshakes, hugs and laughs.

“It was the first time we’d seen him,” Johnson said. “I think every guy on the team hugged him. Every coach hugged him. That tells you the kind of impact he had on everybody.”

Said Nick: “I love all my guys at Ohio State, and they all understood what I had to do for myself. The players were all on the same page.”

Wide receiver Terry McLaurin, a two-time Ohio State captain, said few outside the program understood the severity of Bosa’s injury. He said he and his teammates fully supported the decision.

“He’s a great teammate,” McLaurin said. “He’s always pushing the younger guys. He’s a very high competitor. Sometimes our coaches had to pull him back because of how hard he goes.”

The Nick that his friends, family, teammates know

In interviews, Bosa speaks in a monotone and doesn't show much of his personality. The public sees what could be interpreted as a disinterest in letting strangers into his world. The exception was his since-deleted tweets that probably endeared him to roughly half of the country and annoyed the other half.

But those who know Nick Bosa say he's personable, funny and empathetic. He likes electronic and alternative music. He’s actually the verbose one of the Bosa brothers.

“Nick is not like a crab or something. He doesn’t hide in his shell,” Ohio State defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones said. “He’s very outgoing with me. He’s talkative. He’s very silly. He jokes all the time about everything.”

Bosa was not shy about riling up people who do not share his political views. He did not just stick to sports on social media. He drew scrutiny from some in the politically charged corners of the Internet for his ardent support of Donald Trump and labeling Colin Kaepernick as “a clown.” He also offered controversial pop-culture critiques, blasting Beyoncé’s music as “trash” and calling Black Panther the “worst” Marvel movie.

Those views live on, despite Bosa's decision to delete them and focus his recent Twitter activity almost entirely on football-related matters. There is nothing in Bosa’s past -- even when he was freely expressing his beliefs -- that would suggest his openness ever created any issues with teammates. All indications are that Bosa has been one of the most popular teammates at every step along his journey.

When speaking to people who know him best, nothing at all is polarizing about Nick Bosa -- the person, the teammate, the friend.

“We grew up together. I’ve always been around Nick, his parents and Joey,” Harris said. “They’re the nicest guys off the field. Funny, quiet, humble guys. On the field, they’re just animals.”

From Pembroke Pines Optimist, to St. Thomas Aquinas High, to Ohio State University, Bosa always has fit in perfectly on and off the field.

“I think that’s the reason he can cross over any gender, any race, because he’s dealt with all that at such a young age,” Johnson said. “You talk about a guy who doesn’t see color, that’s Nick Bosa. He doesn’t see color. He sees people. He sees what’s good in people.”

It’s a quality Bosa attributes to the culture of football around which he grew up. The kid on the kitchen floor, the kid who knew his destiny was as a defensive player, had no idea of the richness he would receive from his participation in the sport he was intuitively drawn toward.

Bosa told NBC Sports Bay Area that one of the things he enjoys most about being on a football team is the brotherhood that is established. He said he believes the example of individuals of every imaginable background coming together for a common purpose is inspiring on levels that transcend the sport.

“If the country could look at what an NFL locker room does, just the relationships that are built in there,” he said, “we would have a much closer country."

On Thursday, in the next installment of "The Choice": Michigan edge rusher Rashan Gary, whose tight bond with his mother always has pushed him to be his best

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