DAVIE — In an era were every top high school player is a household name before they set foot on a college campus, true freshmen don't stand much of a chance.
There's too much hype around five-star signees, like Ohio State's Joey Bosa, and that sends expectations through the roof. Fans and coaches want an immediate impact from the new guys, and that's not always possible — even for the bluest of blue-chip prospects.
But that's what makes Bosa's freshman season so impressive. Not only did the St. Thomas Aquinas graduate live up to lofty expectations in his first year at Ohio State — he exceeded them.
"I thought he'd be good," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said of Bosa Tuesday. "He's better than anyone envisioned as a freshman defensive lineman."
Meyer might have been selling Bosa short. At 18 years old, the defensive end has been, at times, dominating this season.
Bosa started nine games for the Buckeyes as a true freshman, registering 6.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss and a team-leading 6 quarterback hurries, earning him a bevy of Freshman All-American honors.
Bosa will start his 10th game of the season Friday night in the 80th Orange Bowl, back home in South Florida.
"It's crazy," Bosa said Wednesday after Ohio State practiced at Nova Southeast University. "I honestly never thought I'd be starting my freshman year…It's been an awesome ride."
It was a ride that started with a few bumps. Bosa, the son of former Dolphins defensive lineman John Bosa, made playing defensive end look easy at St. Thomas Aquinas high school. He found out quickly that doing the same things wouldn't be so easy when he arrived Columbus, Ohio for the pre-season practices.
"I didn't really know what to expect," Bosa said. "I went in, and my attitude wasn't the best, and coach [Mike] Vrabel got me straight pretty quick."
Vrabel, the former Ohio State All-American and three-time Super Bowl Champion with the New England Patriots, gave Bosa a simple proposition — give everything you have on in every play, in practice or in game, or you won't be on the field.
"I learned how to work hard," Bosa said. "That was the biggest thing I had to do — go as hard as I can. The most important thing around here for the coaches is to give great effort, and once you get that, you can focus on other things — that's the big one though."
He took to the lesson quickly, and in Week Six, against Northwestern, he had his breakout game in front of a national television audience. Bosa had five tackles, two sacks and a hurry against the Wildcats, but the biggest thing he gained was self-confidence and the trust of the Ohio State coaching staff.
"That's when I got comfortable and coaches had more faith in me, and what I can do," Bosa said.
Since that point, he's continued to improve, and despite being around him all year, teammates and coaches marvel at how a freshman like Bosa can make such a large impact on the field.
There are theories that go around the Ohio State locker room on how Bosa became so good. Most players and coaches attribute Bosa's ability to his genes — Bosa's father and uncle, Eric Kumerow, were both NFL players.
But defensive coordinator Luke Fickell might have the most interesting theory about Bosa, who isn't much of a talker on or off the field.
"He's so under control for a young guy, it's like he doesn't get real emotion," Fickell said Monday. "He'll get a sack, and probably the heart rate goes up to about 95 beats per minute, where a similar guy gets a sack, and probably his heart rate goes up to about 180. [It] allows him to continue to be under control."
Anyone still surprised by Bosa's play should talk to NFL Hall of Famer Cris Carter — he can help explain what's going on. The Ohio State great coached Bosa at St. Thomas Aquinas and he said Wednesday that anyone who knew Bosa knew a freshman season like this was going to happen.
"I've been knowing Joey and his family since Joey was in middle school," Carter said. "Joey Bosa is going to be a pro. Am I shocked [he's played so well this season]? No. By no stretch of the imagination."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun