”I didn’t really know what to expect. I say that a lot,” Bosa said. ”That’s the biggest thing I had to do was work as hard as I can. The most important thing around here for the coaches is for us to give great effort and once you get that you can focus on other things. That’s the big one.”
After opening the season’s first two games as a sub, Bosa started the following week against California and recorded five tackles (two for a loss).
By the sixth game at Northwestern — a 40-30 victory for the Buckeyes — he tallied five tackles, the first two sacks of his career and recovered a fumble for a touchdown.
Bosa calls that Oct. 5 matchup between unbeaten teams, which earned him Big Ten Conference Freshman Player of the Week honors, his turning point.
”I got comfortable and coaches had more faith in me and what I could do,” Bosa said. ”That’s where it all started, I feel like.”
The 6-foot-6, 275-pounder finished the regular season with nine starts in 13 games. He has 39 tackles and ranks third on the team in both sacks (6.5) and tackles for a loss (12.5). The sack total is good for sixth in the conference.
Over the final four games he notched at least half a sack, including a career-high 2.5 against Illinois before exiting with an injury. For his performance, several outlets named him a freshman All-American.
Bosa will conclude his freshman campaign in the Discover Orange Bowl as his seventh-ranked Buckeyes (12-1) face No. 12 Clemson (10-2). Sun Life Stadium is just 14 miles south of his high school.
His success doesn’t surprise former Ohio State wide receiver and NFL Hall of Famer Cris Carter, who is an assistant coach at Aquinas.
Carter has known Bosa’s family since middle school and has watched the budding talent develop over time.
”That’s the only reason why you leave Florida — you don’t really leave for any other reason unless you can make an impact on a big program like Ohio State,” Carter said. ”You don’t leave Miami, Florida State. You just don’t do that.
”We’re used to having a lot of pros (at Aquinas). Joey Bosa will be a pro. Am I shocked? By no stretch of the imagination.”
The Raiders had eight players in the NFL during the 2012 season, the most of any high school in the country.
Aquinas head coach Rocco Casullo proudly visited Tuesday’s practice at Nova Southeastern University with Bosa’s younger brother and father. He said the program schematically does things that are similar to what Ohio State calls, something that might’ve helped his transition.
Casullo also noted how Bosa’s jump from his sophomore to junior season upped his game a level.
St. Thomas Aquinas had just won the national championship and its sixth state title in 2010. Bosa would finish his final two years with 51 tackles for a loss and 19 sacks.
”He was on varsity and he was in the mix, but after that year that was the biggest adjustment he made,” Casullo said. ”He became very dedicated in the weight room and the game of football. That year was the year.”
While the Aquinas family believed Bosa would make an immediate impact, count Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell as one of those pleasantly surprised.
Though Bosa comes from a football pedigree — his father was the Miami Dolphins’ first-round pick in 1987 and his uncle played linebacker for the Buckeyes in the 1980s — rarely do true freshmen come in and significantly contribute to big-time programs.
Fickell called it ”very unusual” to see this type of production from a big guy, going on to list Will Smith and Cameron Heyward as two others to do so.
”Outside of all the strengths and how strong he is, all those different things, and being around the game of football,” Fickell said, ”but the ability to control himself emotionally, control his body, is something you don’t see from a lot of young guys.”
Even Bosa, who expects a nice turnout from family and friends on Friday, has been surprised by the ride he’s been on.
”I honestly never thought I’d be starting my freshman year behind Adolphus (Washington), but the way things worked out he got hurt and I got my chance,” Bosa said. ”I’m really happy to see him move down to three so he could be there with me. I really didn’t have this high of expectations.”