COSTA MESA, California — Picture Joey Bosa as a Dothraki warrior—shirtless, hair pulled back in a tight bun, leather wraps around his forearms, straps around his chest. Visualize him swinging an arakh in the shadow of dragons, charging toward an army of White Walkers and wights.
It could happen.
Bosa, the Chargers defensive end and reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, loves him some Game of Thrones. He has watched the entire series in sequence twice and has seen many of the episodes more times than that. He currently is reading the first volume of A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series that Game of Thrones is based on.
Of course, being famous and connected and right around the corner from Hollywood, Bosa could take his interest beyond observation. His agency also represents the wildly popular HBO show. So he and his agent, Brian Ayrault of Creative Artists Agency, have talked about having Bosa make a cameo appearance on Thrones, as fellow CAA client and Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard has.
At 6'5", 280 pounds, with a warrior's nose and chin, Bosa has the look of a character conjured from a glorious imagination. It is as easy to envision him on a battlefield outside King's Landing as it is on a battlefield in the StubHub Center.
"Having an opportunity to meet the actors and be a part of my favorite show would be awesome," he says.
Just don't give him any lines.
"Maybe one day. But as of now, no chance. I'm just not good at [acting]," he says. "I'll either start laughing at myself if I'm trying to be serious, or I think I look super corny and won't take myself seriously. I've tried all the time when we do video shoots. When they tell me to show some personality, I never like doing any of that. I'm awkward out there."
Bosa may have star written all over him, but you wouldn't know to hear him tell it. He is a little shy and most comfortable around his family.
He may be living and playing in the shadows of Hollywood now, but he is a football player, and really, except for a cameo, that's all he wants to be.
His best friend is his brother, Nick Bosa, the Ohio State sophomore defensive end who is likely to be a high first-round pick in the 2019 draft. Joey and Nick play the same position as their father, John, who also was a first-round pick. Joey went third overall last year; John went 16th overall to the Dolphins in 1987.
Mom Cheryl passed along football genes too. Her brother Eric Kumerow also was a first-round defensive end—the Dolphins chose him 16th overall in 1988. Cheryl's biological father was Palmer Pyle, a sixth-round pick of the Baltimore Colts in 1959 who played guard.
So Joey was born for this.
Legend has it that in the 1920s three mobsters ran afoul of Al Capone's gang. As street justice would have it, they came across a man with a baseball bat, and they paid for their indiscretions with their lives. The man wielding the bat allegedly was Tony Accardo, aka "Joe Batters."
Accardo, who rose to become boss of the Chicago mafia in the 1940s and '50s, is Bosa's great-grandfather on his mom's side.
You think Bosa is tough? "You block him once, it won't happen again," says Larry Johnson, Bosa's position coach at Ohio State. "He will come twice as hard. That's the kind of guy he is, a fierce competitor."
Johnson says when Bosa is finished playing, his name will be among the best pass-rushers ever. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has seen 62 of his players drafted and once told The Audible podcast that Bosa may be the best player he's ever coached. Chargers coach Anthony Lynn told John Clayton that Bosa wants to be the best to ever play the game, and he has a chance to be.
Since Bosa's first game in Week 5 of last season, the only player in the NFL with more sacks is Vic Beasley of the Falcons. Bosa and Calais Campbell of the Jaguars each have 12.5, while Beasley has 16.5. By Pro Football Focus' numbers:
Pro Football Focus @PFF
No defender has racked up more pressures in their first 14 games since we began grading in 2006 https://t.co/4WpsaxmF2W2017-9-21 15:47:15
Bosa is the Chargers' hope for the future. If they are going to claim a city that is ambivalent to them and if they are going to reverse the standings in the AFC West, Bosa almost certainly will have to lead the charge.
But he won't be doing it on Hollywood Boulevard. He lives on a quiet street in a suburb populated mostly by families, and he's in his element there.
Mom taught him how to cook, so now a typical night may include grocery shopping and cooking skirt steak, pasta and broccoli for one while watching Food Network or South Park. Bosa has not met a single celeb since moving to the City of Angels. And that's cool with him.
His focus is on being the best player he can be and making his team the best it can be.
"We are trying to win football games and win the division," Bosa says. "Along with that, we'll win fans and win the city of L.A."
He knows he can't take seven kingdoms at once, however. It's one battle at a time for Bosa.
There have been comparisons to the great J.J. Watt.
Derek Watt, Bosa's teammate, will tell you Bosa reminds him a little of his brother. "Both are dominant players," the fullback says. "They both use their hands very well. They both are relentless and do whatever they can to get to the quarterback."
Bosa also has been compared to Jeff Spicoli, the stoner surfer played by Sean Penn in the 1982 movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Prior to the 2016 draft, Bruce Feldman of Foxsports.com quoted an unnamed scout who said Bosa reminded him of Spicoli.
Bosa talks in a deep-pitched, slow-cadenced, singsongy, surfer-dude kind of way.
"I don't see the [facial] resemblance, but I get the resemblance in the voice," Bosa says. "I'll take it. People have been called worse."
And then, as if on cue, Chargers safety Jahleel Addae walks by. He is one of Bosa's many friends who does a Bosa imitation.
Addae (with Spicolian inflection): "What's up, Joe?"
Bosa (more Spicoli-ish than usual), imitating the imitators: "Hey, Joey."
Bosa, who also has been called "Joey Bro-sa," is in on the joke.
"He's a meathead, but he's a football meathead," the scout told Feldman.
But really, he is no meathead at all. Unless, that is, meatheads score 37 on the Wonderlic (the average is 20). Of course, Bosa had taken a practice test before taking the Wonderlic at the combine, as any well prepared prospect would. On the practice test, he scored a 39.
At Ohio State, Bosa majored in business finance and had a 3.0 grade-point average.
Like Spicoli, Bosa enjoys the beach. But he's not a surfer dude. Bosa would rather lie on the sand than ride a wave.
He does not have Spicoli's stoner eyes. However, his eyes are very interesting. The right is blue; the left is green—a benign genetic condition called heterochromia.
The longer you look into those eyes, the more you see.
Backflips have come easy to Bosa since he was in high school. He started doing them in the ocean at the point where the water drops and then on a trampoline. He hasn't tried one in a while but is certain he could nail it.
His offseason mission was to become even more athletic. Bosa hired former Chargers assistant Todd Rice to be his full-time trainer. Rice focuses on pliability and has helped Bosa improve his flexibility, speed, explosiveness and lean muscle mass. In the process, Bosa also has eliminated what had become chronic back and knee pain.
He often works out with his trainer in the gym in his garage, about a 15-minute drive from the Chargers' Costa Mesa training facility. His gym is done up right, with dumbbells up to 120 pounds, a half rack with weights, a squat trainer, a back extension machine, a bench-press bench, a lat pulldown apparatus and a seated row machine.
"It was an investment," he says.
While his teammates were sweating and learning and bonding during the first five weeks of OTAs and minicamp under their new coaching staff, Bosa was in Florida working with his trainer.
"Let's just say the guy I'm working with, I like being able to do my work with him," he says. "When it's not mandatory, I'd like to continue doing what I know is working really well."
Most young players wouldn't be so bold. Bosa, however, has shown he is not timid about standing apart if he feels it's best.
After Bosa and three teammates were suspended for the first game of the 2015 season at Ohio State for a rules violation, Bosa moved out of the apartment he shared with running back Ezekiel Elliott to live by himself. Elliott had been his roommate since he walked on campus, but Bosa needed to be away from noise, away from temptation.
When he and his agent didn't like the contract the Chargers were offering (it included a partial deferment of his signing bonus), Bosa sat out minicamp, training camp and the preseason.
Bosa will be his own man.
"I think first of all, it has to do with the great support I've always had from my family in anything I do," he says. "Then I think it has to do with me having confidence in what I'm doing so I can feel comfortable standing up for what I am doing and who I am."
But when Bosa is with his teammates, he is all-in. A few of Bosa's teammates, including linebacker Kyle Emanuel, often follow him in his stretching routines.
"A really good teammate" is what Chargers defensive tackle Brandon Mebane calls him.
Every week, Johnson gathers his defensive linemen in a meeting room in Columbus and shows them tape of how Bosa performed for the Chargers the previous weekend. This, he tells them, is how to do it.
"It reminds them you have a tool box, and if you can use all your tools and be consistent with them, you can have success," Johnson says.
Of all the things that make Bosa special, his technique and hand use are the most significant. It was Johnson who flipped the switch for Bosa. The 21-year college coaching veteran taught Bosa the same techniques he taught Courtney Brown, Jimmy Kennedy, Tamba Hali and many others.
When Johnson became the Buckeyes defensive line coach after Bosa's freshman year in 2013, the two of them watched about 750 plays of Bosa from the previous season. Then Johnson told Bosa he needed a narrower stance, more hip flexibility and greater hand speed. He taught Bosa drills to achieve the goals, and Bosa worked them over and over and over.
He still does.
During one practice in camp this summer, Bosa watched Mebane's rush from the sideline. He thought he saw a way for him to be more effective.
"He told me to swing my hips more," Mebane says.
It speaks to Bosa's self-assuredness that he is giving a tip to Mebane, a 32-year-old and 11-year veteran. And it also speaks to his understanding.
"I have not seen anyone with his feel for the game at such a young age," Mebane says. "It was almost like he had some kind of advanced placement classes for football."
His go-to moves are a power rush, an inside counter and swipes on the outside. And then he has an array of hand moves and reactions with those pass rushes. He is a stickler about being able to rush the same way from the left or right, which is important because new Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley is deploying Bosa in multiple positions.
"Not only does he have a variety of pass-rush moves, but he's good at them," Bradley says. "You usually see guys with just speed. He can use speed to power, jump cut and come inside. He has a good, instinctive feel for it."
Instinct and dedication are a powerful combination.
Bradley says Bosa is "24 hours" in his approach and that he works as if every day is Sunday.
"He's very regimented," he says. "Everything is a routine. If something works for him, he doesn't want to get away from it."
Doing the same thing over and over is the essence of Bosa. It's why he was able to have a two-sack performance in his NFL debut after missing so much time. It's why he didn't have any performance valleys last season. And it's why he is the last player anyone suspects will have a sophomore slump.
"From a mental aspect, he's really good at not letting outside factors affect him," Emanuel says. "That was evident last year with the contract thing, coming in late and what he was able to do throughout the season. It was really impressive."
Bosa shares personality traits with a number of the characters on Game of Thrones. The focus and honor of Jon Snow is evident in Bosa. You can see Davos Seaworth, loyal and wise, in him. He could even be compared to the cunning and ruthless Tywin Lannister.
But he not exactly like any of them. "Really, I'd like to think I don't relate to any of these crazy characters," Bosa says. "It's hard to put one personality on one of them because it changes so rapidly on the show. You love somebody, and then the next episode, you despise them."
The character he relates most to, he says, is Gregor Clegane, The Mountain. The massive Clegane is an intimidating, domineering force for which foes have no answer.
The Mountain doesn't have much to say. It's just the type of role Bosa might want on the show.
And just the type of force he is becoming in the NFL.
Dan Pompei covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @danpompei.