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Ohio State's Nick Bosa carries on the Buckeyes' family tradition

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After a recent Ohio State practice, Nick Bosa sank into a couch in coach Urban Meyer's office.

From the outside, Bosa would seem to be carrying a unique burden on his shoulders. His father, John, and older brother, Joey, both were first-round NFL draft picks, playing the same position he does, defensive end, and wearing the same number, 97.

His maternal uncle, Eric Kumerow, also was a first-round pick after earning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year honors at Ohio State and helping the Buckeyes to two conference titles. Joey Bosa twice earned All-America honors, as well as the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year award in 2014, when Ohio State won the national title.

The Bosa name and the Buckeyes' lineage, along with the family tradition of hearing your name called in the draft's first hours (or minutes), put 20-year-old Nick Bosa under a rare glare. Throw in new leadership responsibilities with Ohio State's defense and a push to win his first national title in what should be his final college season, and few college football players would appear to have more weighing them down.

But Nick Bosa isn't saddled at all. Off the field, he's outgoing yet relaxed, displaying maturity that Meyer notes is ahead of Joey's at this point in his career. On the field, he's driven, coachable and productive. After earning a small collection of honors, Nick enters his defining season as a Buckeye with a chance to become the most successful Bosa yet.

How does he respond to all of that pressure on his shoulders? In typical Bosa style.

"I'm confident in what I'm doing," Nick said, "so I don't feel that much pressure. Maybe if I wasn't doing well with my career, I might feel pressure, but I think I'm doing fine. I just live my life like a normal person."

As odd as it sounds, normal describes Nick's transition to Ohio State and his college career to date. He has evaded the drama that typically surrounds high-profile players at high-profile schools. Rated as ESPN's top defensive end and No. 3 overall player in the 2016 class, Nick had a solid freshman season before a sophomore spike in tackles for loss (16), sacks (8.5) and quarterback pressures (9). He led Ohio State in all three categories and was named Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year.

His trend line has gradually ascended with no notable dips, whether it's work ethic or performance or grades (he's an Academic All-Big Ten selection).

"He just takes care of himself," Meyer said. "He's very mature. You can have grown-man conversations with Nick, and I've been having those conversations since he was in high school."

"He just takes care of himself. He's very mature. You can have grown-man conversations with Nick, and I've been having those conversations since he was in high school."

Urban Meyer

As Roger Harriott, Nick's coach at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Florida, puts it: "Nick Bosa is a man on an emphatic mission."

Several factors contributed to Nick's smooth path. One was the certainty about where he wanted to play college ball. "Nicky was always a Buckeye, through and through," said his mother, Cheryl, who also attended Ohio State.

Cheryl remembers watching Ohio State beat Miami for the 2002 national championship in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl with 5-year-old Nick at her side. When Nick got braces in middle school, he picked red and gray bands to reflect Ohio State's colors. While Joey likely was headed elsewhere until Ohio State hired Meyer, Nick's destination always seemed clear.

Nick also benefited from Joey's going through similar steps at the same program and at the same position. When Meyer hired defensive line coach Larry Johnson prior to Joey's freshman season, Joey shared the techniques he had learned with Nick, who adjusted quickly when he arrived three years later.

While Joey made his first start in his third career game as a freshman, Nick, who suffered a torn ACL late in his high school senior season, didn't start at all in 2016, a tough lesson in patience. Even though Nick has played in all 27 Buckeye games since his arrival, he has started only seven.

"When you have an older brother who sets the bar very high, he followed those things," Johnson said. "The fact that Joey was here really helped him, but he's not chasing Joey. He's chasing himself. He knows Joey and what he's done, and they're so close, but [Joey's success] has not affected him.

"You just have to be yourself, and that's what he is."

"They're literally best friends," Cheryl said of her sons. "The support they have for each other, it was never competition."

Meyer said Joey "really grew up" at Ohio State, which Nick observed from afar.

"[Joey] was great early, he went through an immaturity issue in the middle," Meyer said, referring to a suspension for the 2015 opener, "and then he was phenomenal."

Meyer added of Nick, "He's not had that bump. Very similar guys, but at this stage, Nick is more mature."

While Joey quickly became an instantly recognizable figure on a Buckeyes team filled with star names, Nick said he doesn't venture out enough to gauge his fame.

"You don't really realize how much people look up to you until you see little kids who come watch practice and they're, like, 'Wow,'" he said. "You think back, you were that kid at one point. It's kind of hard to process in your mind, and I don't think I've really processed it yet. You have to check yourself and make sure that you're acting right and being a good role model, because you've never really been in that situation before."

Nick can shape his own Ohio State legacy this fall. After an athletic lifetime of being the talented young guy playing with the big kids, he's adjusting to a leadership role. He's guiding linemen like Chase Young, Jonathon Cooper and Jashon Cornell in spring practice, which wraps up Saturday. Meyer expects even more leadership from Bosa during the summer months.

While Nick is more extroverted than Joey, vocal leadership doesn't come naturally. Blowing up plays does.

"This guy's different; I don't know how to describe it," said Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who saw Nick for the first time this spring after joining the staff in January. "It just looks different; it feels different. There's some plays in practice where the play's over before it begins. You run the film back a couple hours later, and you realize that physically and speedwise, that combination, he can end a play quick."

Every season, there's a select group of players with NFL-ready bodies and skills who happen to still be at the college level. Asked if Nick is one of them, Grinch said, "If he's not one, I'd like to see one that is.

"When there's physical play going on," Grinch continued, "there's complete lack of respect for the individual that is across the line from him. He's going to find a way to execute his responsibility with speed and violence."

Johnson notes Nick's quick hands, coordination and power, adding that like Joey, he's the rare natural pass-rusher who approaches run defense with the same skill and tenacity. "He just gets better and better as he goes," Meyer said.

"Bosa's an elite pass-rusher," said USC coach Clay Helton, whose team struggled to stop Bosa (1.5 sacks) and the Buckeyes (eight sacks) in a loss at the 2017 Cotton Bowl. "He's one of those guys who you have to find in protection, whether you're chipping with the back, whether you're sliding to him with the offensive line. If he's in a one-on-one matchup, you're going to have a very, very hard day.

"He's going to be playing this game for a long time."

Bosa's best days seem to be ahead. While John Bosa and Kumerow didn't have decorated pro careers, Joey earned NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2016 and made his first Pro Bowl last season with the Los Angeles Chargers.

If Nick elects to go pro in 2019, which just about everyone expects, he'll be part of the draft's featured position group. Houston's Ed Oliver, Alabama's Raekwon Davis, Michigan's Rashan Gary and Clemson's entire defensive line could join him at the top of the boards.

Last month, Oliver declared 2018 to be his final college season, an announcement Nick noticed but has no plans to copy. He looks forward to the draft and where his Ohio State teammates go, just as he did in 2016, when Joey went No. 3 overall. But afterward, his attention will return to the Buckeyes.

"We focus on the now, we don't focus on the future," said Cheryl Bosa, who noted that the draft process should be easier for Nick because Joey went through it. "As a mom, I would love to see Nick win a national championship because his brother got one. I want that for him so bad. It was such an amazing experience for Joey. For Nick to have that, it would be my dream come true."

It would be yet another Bosa box for Nick to check, but in his own way.