COLUMBUS — John Bosa tried to keep his older son, Joey, away from the family business, nudging him toward baseball and basketball.
Bosa knew well the toll of a football life, the injuries that cut short the promising careers of him and his brother-in-law — both first-round picks by the Miami Dolphins — still fresh.
“You know, I’m a nervous dad,” he said.
By the time Joey was in fifth grade, though, John relented to his son’s appeals. The result was unnerving but exciting. John knew then Joey and his younger son, Nick, would follow in his outsized steps.
“My sons are football players,” John said. “That’s just what they are. From the minute in youth league when they put the pads on, I was just was like, ‘Good Lord.’ Wow.”
Years later, the brothers from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., continue to inspire similar reactions. Joey is starting — and occasionally dominating — as a true freshman defensive end at fourth-ranked Ohio State while Nick is one of the top sophomore prospects in the country, already holding a scholarship offer from the Buckeyes.
They have a five-star lineage with deep OSU ties. John, an All-American defensive end at Boston College, and the boys’ uncle, Eric Kumerow, a 6-foot-7 star linebacker at Ohio State, were top-20 picks by the Dolphins in 1987 and 1988. It was also in Miami where John met and married Kumerow’s sister, Cheryl, an OSU alum.
Yet neither Joey nor Nick have rested on their pedigree. Joey did not become one of the top recruits in the country without possessing what his father described as a searing enthusiasm for the game.
In high school, he crashed the weight room the day after helping lead St. Thomas Aquinas to a state title, never pressed snooze on 5 a.m. wake-up calls for winter football workouts, and benched more than 400 pounds by his junior year.
Check YouTube if you’ve ever wanted to see a 6-foot-6, 275-pound lineman do a backflip. “You can’t see skill position guys do that,” St. Thomas Aquinas coach Rocco Casullo said.
Casullo called Bosa the most dominant defensive player he has coached at the Fort Lauderdale national powerhouse — a span of 12 years that includes All-Pro Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins. He described his former star as an “unblockable” blend of power and speed capable of succeeding at tackle or end.
“If he stays healthy,” Casullo said, “he’ll be in the NFL after his junior year. No question about it.”
Kumerow, who now lives in his native Illinois, said, “He’s something else, isn’t he?”
At OSU, coach Urban Meyer recently called Bosa’s potential “silly.” Bosa joined the defensive line rotation immediately and has started the past two games as Adolphus Washington recovers from a groin strain.
In the Buckeyes’ rout at California, Bosa knifed through the line on the first play from scrimmage to slam down Cal running back Brendan Bigelow for a two-yard loss, and he finished with 5½ tackles — including two for a loss. Three months after enrolling at OSU, he was named the team’s defensive player of the week.
Bosa will be a key piece in slowing No. 23 Wisconsin’s downhill offense Saturday night. Meyer listed Washington as "probable," though in any case, Bosa is pegged for significant time.
“His development was much faster than I think a lot of people thought it would be,” defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said. “Certainly he’s a much smarter football player as a freshman than I had ever envisioned. Physically, we thought he could come in here and play at this level, play at Ohio State, play against the type of opponents that we are going to play against. But it was his mental approach and how quick he picked it up that surprised me.”
As for the Bosas becoming the first family of OSU football, the odds are favorable.
Joey went into the recruiting process with no favorite and was once thought to be headed to Alabama, only to commit to OSU after a campus visit the spring of his junior year. Nick, though, has always eyed his uncle’s alma mater and was offered by the Buckeyes after his freshman year at St. Thomas Aquinas.
“I know he was a big fan of Ohio State growing up,” Kumerow said. “That’s where he said he wanted to play when he was young. So the fact that Joey wound up going there was kind of a surprise, but a bonus.”
Joey has said it is his brother’s decision, though he is working on him.
“There’s a long way to go,” said John Bosa, who owns a gym in the Miami area. “He thinks his brother will follow his footsteps, but there’s a whole long process that Nick needs to go through. Coach Meyer extending the offer as early as he did certainly means a lot to Nick, and we’ll see where the process takes him. ... Joey is certainly thrilled with his own decision.”