St. Thomas Aquinas freshman Nick Bosa arrived for summer workouts with big shoes to fill and a familiar surname: His older brother, Joey, is one of the nation’s top defensive linemen who has committed to Ohio State. His father, John, was a first-round pick of the Dolphins.
Every weekday, Nick woke up at 6 a.m. to prove himself alongside guys who already had taken high school classes. Before the workouts, he spent time with a personal trainer who has helped NFL players.
It paid off when Nick became the seventh freshman — joining Giovanni Bernard, Anthony Moten, Corey Holmes, Tony Sands, Keith Wilkerson and Slip Watkins — to play for Aquinas.
“When he came in nobody thought he was going to be varsity starting,” Joey said. “He just exceeded everybody’s expectations of what he could do. It’s awesome getting one year to play with him before I go away.”
“Little Bosa” has been an instrumental piece this season for the Raiders (12-2), who seek their seventh state championship Friday night against Tallahassee Lincoln in the Class 7A final.
Though his boyish face flashes braces when he smiles, coaches marveled at 14-year-old Nick’s size — he already is 6-2 and 210 pounds — his athleticism in the weight room and football instincts.
During the offseason, Aquinas coaches were uncertain as to what the front seven would look like. Coach Rocco Casullo and defensive line coach Garin Patrick knew they had returners in Joey, Moten and senior Edward Curry, but seniors Matthew Brewer and Corbin Robson didn’t have as much experience.
“We needed an extra guy, and [Nick] really did a great job,” Casullo said. “He was there every day, every workout. He’s really been a joy to coach. He’s very humble, very mature for his age and keeps to himself. He’s a good student in the classroom. He’s a product of what St. Thomas Aquinas is about.”
Said Joey: “He’s just way ahead of all the freshmen and younger kids and even kids who aren’t so young. I think it might be me ahead of him and my dad, of course. The way he plays, doesn’t seem like a freshman.”
As the season has progressed, brotherly competition has picked up the play of both Bosas. After the seventh game, Joey’s and Nick’s stats were almost identical, which led to some ribbing from teammates.
In 11 games, Joey is third on the team with 41 total tackles, first with 16 1/2 tackles for a loss and 7 1/2 sacks. He also has three pass breakups, three passes defended and a fumble recovery. Nick has 30 total tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, two sacks, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble.
“What it’s done is helped Joey step up his game,” Casullo said. “They’re having fun. How many siblings get to do this, playing in the state championship with your brother who is one of the top recruits?”
Not even Joey, who missed the regional final against Boyd Anderson because of a late flagrant personal foul penalty the week before, played on varsity his freshman year. He joined the team the following season and saw time in the 2010 state final.
Last week in the state semifinal victory over top-ranked Bradenton Manatee, Nick took over at nose guard as the defense controlled the line of scrimmage. An offense averaging more than 50 points and 414 yards per game produced just 18 points and 278 yards.
According to Casullo, Nick’s ability to play all three positions on the defensive line will help him develop during the next three years.
His willingness to study the game and watch film set him apart, just like Joey.
“The kid’s going to be the best in the country by the time he’s a senior,” Casullo said.
Nick admits the speed of the game is faster than that of Optimist and middle school. Now, an emphasis lies more in assignment football. Everyone must be held accountable and do his job in order for the unit to succeed.
“I’m used to the fact that they’re older socially, but playing against them you just have to play tough, and they’ll respect you,” Nick said. “You have to just not get driven back, stay in your gaps and cover the middle of the field, and that’s your job. Before every play, I know that I can beat the person in front of me. I say that to myself.”
With one game remaining for the team’s 45 seniors, Nick wants to send them off with a ring. Last year, Aquinas lost to Dwyer 6-3 in the regional final, which is considered a premature exit for a program that captured the national championship the season before.
“Whenever I play, I tell them it’s for the seniors because I have three more years of being here, and if it doesn’t happen this year, I have another chance next year and the next year and the next,” Nick said. “But they have one more chance, and a lot of them don’t have a ring. I just do it for them so they can remember their high school career.
“Hopefully, when it’s my turn there will be that freshman who plays for me.”