MIAMI — Nick Bosa, who has only been a San Francisco 49er for the last 10 months, has turned out to be an unlikely fan favorite.
Walking through the parking lot at Levi’s Stadium before games, No. 97 jerseys are visible throughout the crowd along with countless Joe Montana, Steve Young and even George Kittle jerseys.
In the 49ers locker room, Bosa’s widespread acceptance has become commonplace, and his teammates praise their new defensive end, who was just named NFL Rookie of the Year Thursday.
“Nick has been awesome, man,” 49ers linebacker Kwon Alexander told the Examiner. “He’s family. He’s my brother for life. If anybody has something to say about him, they can come talk to me. I love him to death and I’m happy to have him on my team.”
It wasn’t all that long ago when many surrounding the team were concerned about how Bosa would fit into an ultra diverse locker room such as one in the NFL.
Following a string of social media interactions that included liking posts that included homophobic and racist hashtags and appearing to show his conservative political stances, it was unclear how San Francisco and his teammates would receive the former Ohio State star.
However, Bosa appears to have cleared that hurdle and then some.
“I think in any NFL locker room, there are a lot of different views in whatever it is because people come from all over the place,” 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. “There’s not too much judgement, especially in our locker room … Nick came in and fit in right away.”
Last April after the San Francisco 49ers spent their No. 2 overall pick on Bosa, the then 21-year-old pass rushing extraordinaire sat under the bright lights in the Levi’s Stadium auditorium answering questions that had nothing to do with the game of football.
Members of the local and national media fired questions at him about his social media posts.
On Twitter, Bosa had called former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick a “clown” for kneeling during the National Anthem to call attention to the issues of racial inequality and police brutality. On Instagram, while in high school, he liked several posts that used the “N” word.
Needless to say, those choices didn’t sit well with many in NFL circles as well as residents of the Bay Area — one of the most progressive regions of the country.
“I’m sorry if I hurt anybody,” Bosa said sitting on stage, wearing a brand-new 49ers hat. “I definitely didn’t intend for that to be the case. I think me being here (in San Francisco) is even better for me as a person, because I don’t think there’s anywhere, any city, that you could really be in that would help you grow as much as this one will.”
The thing that stood out about the 49ers locker room when Bosa arrived in Santa Clara was that no one was ready to pass judgments about the rookie before actually talking to him. Rather, many took their time to get to know Bosa before jumping to any conclusions.
“I knew there was going to be some animosity about what he tweeted but personally, I didn’t know him,” 49ers defensive lineman DeForest Buckner said. “Just meeting him for the first time, we sparked up a conversation and I knew he wasn’t the kind of person the media set him out to be.”
“There was no hurdle for him to get over in our locker room,” 49ers starting cornerback Richard Sherman added. “It’s something about a locker room that can see through to the core of a human being … Nick has been an outstanding teammate, an outstanding person.”
What Buckner, Sherman and the rest of the 49ers locker room found in Bosa was a soft-spoken kid who loves playing video games, watching “Game of Thrones,” practicing yoga and most importantly, excelling at the game of football.
Standing at 6-foot-4, weighing 267 pounds and possessing the ability to make just about any offensive lineman look silly trying to block him, Bosa was a problem to handle from the start of training camp — just ask starting tackle Joe Staley, who whiffed on more than one occasion in one-on-one drills.
During the regular season, Bosa had one of the most prolific seasons of any rookie defensive lineman in 49ers history, racking up nine sacks, 47 tackles, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, one interception and two pass breakups.
“I tell him every day how jealous to remind him how jealous I am because I finished the season with no interceptions and he got one and he plays D-end,” 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt said with a smile on his face. “That says a lot about him as an athlete.”
After an equally successful postseason this year, which featured another three sacks and 10 tackles, Bosa now prepares for his first Super Bowl appearance — as a rookie no less.
As one of the most important pieces of the 49ers defense, which ranks first in the NFL in total yards allowed per game (252.5) as well as rushing yards allowed per game (41.5), Bosa knows he has the skills to compete at the NFL’s highest level.
More importantly, though, he has the support of his teammates, who were able to see past his mistakes made as a kid and can see who he is currently as a man.
“If a lot of people were judged by the things they said on social media, we’d live in a completely different world,” 49ers defensive end Dee Ford said. “Bosa is a young, mature guy who’s about his business. We love him as a teammate. You can’t fake that part.”