Joey Bosa is sitting in the back of a school bus, legs stretched out across the seat, eyes focused on his phone. His wild hair has been tamed in the past few weeks; it now sits short and tight atop his head, combed neatly to one side. He told his friends he was looking to do something different, so they sent him headshots of various celebrities from which to choose a new “do.” Bosa picked Ryan Reynolds. On his feet—a pair of black adidas Tubulars. A platinum watch clings to his left wrist. Though he is no longer a student at Ohio State, Bosa is dressed like it’s the first day of school, and in a way, it is. In less than 24 hours, he’ll be in a new place being told to do things by new people, a freshman all over again.
It’s the morning of the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, the day Bosa has been anticipating for months, and the prolific Ohio State defensive end is at peace. He knows he’ll probably be drafted in the top 10. He doesn’t seem to care much who selects him. Inside the bus, the one with his likeness plastered across the side next to the word “MET-Rx,” the nutrition company for which he’s recently become a spokesman, Bosa talks like someone has set him in slow motion, his thick, methodical drawl inching its way through the air before it reaches your ears. He’s insulated here, much like he has been throughout the entire draft process.
“I never have ESPN on unless my mom wants to watch it,” Bosa says. “It’s not that it’s awkward, it’s just most of the time it’s a bunch of people who don’t know what they’re talking about. I just try to understand that it’s all noise most of the time and stay positive and stay away from the negativity.”
Presumably, Bosa is referencing the amount of attention paid to his sack total at Ohio State, and how it fell from 13.5 in 2014 to five last season. He’s been called a “poor man’s J.J. Watt,” and accused of not having the explosiveness needed to fly off the line of scrimmage and devour the quarterback like he did at Ohio State. It’s what NFL scouts and analysts do with the months they have to obsess over prospects, pulling on a spool of thread until it unravels and nothing good is left.
The increased attention is nothing new to Bosa. After his monster 2014 campaign, teams started double-teaming him on almost every down. The University of Illinois infamously triple-teamed him (see above). So yeah, of course his sack total dropped, much like what happened to Jadeveon Clowney after his huge 2013 season. Bosa accepted his fate, refusing to let it affect his mindset on the field.
“If you’re getting double-teamed, it obviously means someone’s getting that one-on-one on the other side,” Bosa said. “I struggled when it first started happening, but you can always make a play, even if you’re doubled or tripled. A play could fall into your lap. It’s never time to give up or feel sorry for yourself.”
Instead of letting the frustration creep in, Bosa chose to hone two of the skills that make him so dangerous: his hand speed and footwork. His 10-1/4-inch mitts are his primary weapon, shredding through offensive linemen like a five-pronged jackhammer. He rips through the blockades set in front of him, swims around them or simply shoves them to the ground, all while maintaining control of his body by keeping his feet one step ahead of his opponent’s.
“Every single drill, we’re using our hands and flipping our hips,” Bosa says. “That’s what [OSU defensive line coach] Larry Johnson’s brought, he taught us how to get our hips around, he taught us how to use our hands, and that’s what I pride myself on, always using a move and using my hands.”
Like a beast that never tires of the hunt, Bosa gushes over pass-rushing, as if he’s miserable every single second he isn’t chasing a quarterback. His favorite move is called the “side scissor,” which he describes as “swiping your two hands to the side, flipping your hips and getting around the corner.” When it works, euphoria sweeps over him like a shot of dopamine.
“You feel it when you hit it clean,” Bosa says. “It’s like landing a trick on a skateboard. It’s smooth when you land it. It’s a good feeling. “
So consumed is Bosa with sharpening his craft that time spent training his body for anything but football feels like a waste. Take his NFL Combine training, for instance. Bosa hated every minute of it, running the 40-Yard Dash over and over again as if he were at track practice. He knew he had to do it. A poor performance at the Combine could have derailed his NFL dreams. But that doesn’t mean he was happy about it.
“You’re going there and you’re doing very light work and running a few sprints because you can’t kill your legs,” Bosa says. “I just couldn’t wait for it to be over and get back to training for football. All the coaches agree, all the teams I visited agree that training for the Combine is terrible for these kids coming out. They’re not getting in shape, they’re training to be track stars. They’re trying to go into camp being in the best shape they possibly can and all they’re in shape for is to run a 40.”
Bosa won’t have to worry about training for something other than football ever again. Later that night, he was selected third overall by the San Diego Chargers, where he will be the face of the defense alongside linebacker Melvin Ingram. He can once again reignite his love affair with rushing the quarterback, flattening to the grass underneath the never-ending California sun.
“It’s fun to me,” Bosa says. “I love pass rushing. It’s just easy to go every day and keep working on your craft when you really enjoy what you do, and that’s pass rushing.”