Bryce Cosby: Path To The NFL Draft
By Simon Carroll
Football is a complex game. Often described as a ‘violent chess match’, twenty-two players line up and execute one of hundreds of pre-determined plays, making split-second decisions in real time as they comprehend the scheme and formation their opponent brings to each snap. In terms of the mental aspect alone, the ability to adjust and counter is critical to the success of a team – and that’s before we even get to the levels of athleticism and physicality it takes to ensure you’re competitive on gameday.
Yet, when it comes down to it, it’s quite simple; you’re either good enough, or you’re not. And despite what the measurables say, Bryce Cosby has proven he belongs on a football field. As he gets ready to take that next step and prove another host of people wrong, we sit down and discuss his path to the NFL Draft:
Family and football are one and the same for Bryce Cosby. Born in Louisville, his father Don played defensive back for the hometown Cardinals. Yet it was Bryce’s mother Carla who passed on her love of sports to her son. Showing him encouragement from an early age, Carla had him on the field as soon as he could fit into a set of pads, and there has been no bigger champion of his career so far to date. Just the mere mention of his mother elicits a beaming smile from Cosby who acknowledges he was somewhat destined for football thanks to the gifts of his parents:
“She has been so influential in my life. Both my parents, but mainly my mom. They divorced early, and me and my brother lived with my mom, and she’s been really supportive of us both, in anything we have tried to pursue. I always say “my brother got my mother’s brains”, he went to college, got a computer science degree, my mom supported him, taking him to seminars and making contacts. But she loves football, knows everything about the game, a real competitive person, and my dad obviously played ball and was insturmental in putting a ball in my hand. So I knew it was what I wanted to do, truly believe it was my calling, and that was where it all kind of started – with both my parents.”
His brother may have got his mother’s brains, but it’s only Bryce’s humility that stops him from acknowledging there was more than enough to go round for the pair of them. Every question brings about a considered, eloquent response that immediately tells you he isn’t your classic draft prospect that comes coached with ready-made answers. His ability to learn, to take direction and education, and to see the bigger picture allowed him to find a mentor at a young age that would help him set the foundations for his football life:
“Coach Chris Peters started off as my seventh grade maths teacher. Just having a young, African-American in that position is not very common in the school system, and it was cool having that positive role model in my life. His brother Corey still plays defensive tackle in the NFL for The Arizona Cardinals, been there for over a decade now, so he knew what he was talking about. I think he saw the potential in me, and when he became coach at the middle school perusaded me to come play for him. We just bonded immediately. He took me to practice, had me doing stuff after practice, and once 8th grade ended he started training me. Had me running this big hill by his house. He was always hard on me, repeated all the knocks on me like ‘you’re too small, they think you’re not good enough, no Power 5 teams want you’ – all the things of that nature. He fueled the fire inside me; I’m forever grateful for him – we still speak to each other on a weekly basis”
At DuPont Manual High School in Louisville, Bryce Cosby shone on the football field. A team captain, setting school records, being named all-state; his dedication was beginning to bear fruit. But the tragic loss of teammate Jalen Jacob to suicide became a pivotal moment of adversity to Cosby, who decided to honour his friend in the best way he could; as inspriation for his own career:
“We grew up a couple of blocks away from each other, rode the same bus. It was tough, never having really experienced anything like that at that age, how to grasp it. He had opportunities to play college ball – something he was trying to do. And to see that be no more, I used that as an inspriation to carry it on my back and make it my responsibility that I wouldn’t take my opportunity for granted. He was obviously battling things I wasn’t really aware of, which bothered me, but I used it as motivation to represent my friend as best I could, to keep pushing forward.”
Despite his prowess on the football field, Bryce was deemed just a two-star recruit coming out of high school. The Power 5 offers that he and his mother hoped for never materialised, a consequence of him being two inches too short and fifteen pounds too light for what previous generations had deemed the benchmark measurables for a college football defensive back. Virginia flirted with offering a scholarshp but ultimately declined to do so, and his hometown Louisville – the program that his dad once represented – were also not forthcoming. Yet whilst he wanted that offer from the Cardinals, it wasn’t particularly because of the family ties:
“I wouldn’t say it was where I wanted to go. I won’t lie, it would have been tempting if I had got the offer. But if Louisville offers you, it always makes you wonder what other doors it would have opened; one Power 5 team pulls the trigger you don’t know who else might. I would say it was probably fifty-fifty, but I WANTED that offer. Bad. Who doesn’t want an offer from their hometown team? A city with no professional team, Louisville was everything to me. I grew up watching Brian Brohm, Teddy Bridgewater, Lamar Jackson – I wanted that offer. It definitely hurt, but you know like everything else I just kind of added that to the chip on my shoulder.”
The pragmatic, almost business-like thought process with which Cosby talks about his recruiting was even more evident in Plan B that he and his mother came up with; if they weren’t going to get a Power 5 offer, then they were going to find Bryce a home at a Group of Five school that would allow him the quickest opportunity to make a name for himself. It just so happened that that opportunity was only a three hour drive away, ironically at another Cardinals program – Ball State University:
“The proximity to home was important, but also my dad’s side of the family was from Indiana, I have family scattered nearby, an aunt in Indianapolis, so if the worst came to the worst I had that. But also Chevis Jackson, former National Championship winner with LSU, he was really instrumental in my recruitment. He told me ‘if you come in and do everything you are supposed to do, I can’t promise you you’re going to start, but you will get every opportunity to play’. For me, that was all I needed to hear; I knew my work ethic, I knew what I was capable of. I knew I could start. I went up there a couple more times in the summer, spent time around the program with the coaches, and I decided I wanted to go somewhere where they genuinely wanted me, where I was a priority, and where my NFL goals were still attainable.”
Bryce Cosby took that coveted opportunity, ran with it, and never looked back. He locked down the free safety spot as a freshman, maing his debut in the first game of the 2017 season at Illinois. Against one of the sixty-five Power 5 teams to have snubbed him, Cosby made an instant impact, diving to intercept a tipped pass. A sense of modest satisfaction befalls him as he recounts his memories of that day:
“I can remember being on the bus going to the game. I’m not gonna lie – it was emotional. Any Power 5 team we played, I made it personal; they had everything I wanted, the big program, the great facilities. I took a rich versus poor approach to the games. I put everything on my back that game – repping for my family, my city, all my friends back home watching. I didn’t wanna disappoint any of them.
I didn’t have a freshman mentality going into that game. I had no fear, I was eager, had an aggressive mindset – and I kept that attitude the rest of my freshman year.”
That interception was the first but by no means the last big play of Bryce Cosby’s collegiate career. He leaves Muncie with a reputation as something of a playmaker, racking up ten picks in total, along with two forced fumbles and five sacks in his time at Ball State. Cosby credits the trust his coaches had in him to go out there and ‘play free’, particularly as he learned the finer points of the position in his first two seasons:
“In my freshman and sophomore seasons I can honestly say I made more mistakes than I did big plays. But going into my junior year I kinda settled in to everything that came with college football. And then we got a new defensive coordinator in the 2020 season who kinda changed the whole outlook of how the team wanted to play me and his vision for me. Prior to Coach Stockton getting there I played predominantly free safety, a lot of quarters, the last line of the defense. But as my game evolved I became more of a nickel, a lot more run fits, guarding the slot, blitzing; the whole dynamic for me changed”.
A Season To Remember
Officially, Ball State University’s football program has won eleven conference championships, six of which have come as part of their affiliation with the Mid-American Conference (MAC). But in truth, five of those came prior to expansion in 1997; ever since the MAC had an official Championship Game, The Cardinals were a mere footnote in the annals of their conference’s history. That was, of course, until 2020…
Bryce Cosby had the privilege of playing all five years of his collegiate career under one head coach. Part of Mike Neu’s first official recruiting class, Cosby was on the journey that saw this program build from 2-10 in 2017, to 4-8 in 2018, to 5-7 in 2019. Whilst COVID chaos reigned supreme off the field in 2020, for Cosby and The Cardinals it was a season to remember on it.
After dropping their opening game of the season, Ball State never lost again, sweeping their way to the MAC title game and defeating Buffalo to be crowned conference champions. And more impressively, they won the first bowl game in school history, comprehensively beating San Jose State in the Arizona Bowl. For Cosby, it was an achievement he will never forget:
“The first two and a half, three years, it was tough. Didn’t go how we planned it. But we kept grinding, kept chipping, and in 2020 it all clicked. It meant so much to us to get that first Bowl win in school history, to get a MAC Championship. When I came in you could just tell there was a dark cloud hanging over this program. Nobody really believed in Ball State, that we could achieve anything. What we accomplished will be forever stamped in Ball State history. It propelled the team and it propelled me; I showed myself I could play at the level I always believed I could play at, and other people sat up and took notice too. That 2020 season is one I’ll forever be grateful for”.
"More Of The Hammer, Less Of The Nail"
Bryce Cosby decided to return to Ball State in 2021 as a super senior, citing the desire to become more of a leader and improve his draft stock. But the appreciation and respect Cosby held for his new defensive coordinator Tyler Stockton was also a major factor:
“Coach Stockton had a vision for me that he put into fruition in 2020 really in a matter of a couple of weeks. We came in, the COVID thing happened, they cancelled our season, then it was back on again, so there was a lot of stuff going on. But in that short amount of time I could see what he could do as a defensive coordinator; some of the schemes at short notice – something new added each week, rolling with the punches. But he always had us in a great position. And when I was talking it through with Coach Neu, he said to me “you’ve seen what he can do for you in a couple of months with COVID. Imagine what he can do with a full offseason”. It was food for thought, and ultimately I agreed with him. 2020 was the season I put myself on the map, but 2021 would be a full season to show the whole world who I was.”
2021 would not see quite the same level of success for Ball State as the year before, but Cosby benefitted from Stockton’s full input in other ways, namely adding some weight and being used in different situations than he had been previously. With four sacks in his final season and added responsibility in the run game, Cosby began dishing out some punishment a little closer to the line of scrimmage than in years past:
“As soon as I told him I was coming back, he let me know it was time to put some weight on. I went up from 181, 182lbs to legitimately close to 190lbs on gameday. Back in my early years, even though I was making tackles & I was producing, I knew I was taking the brunt of the physicality. It would look like a great tackle, but dang I would feel it! As soon as I put on that true weight, I became more of the hammer and less of the nail. I want to play a physical brand of football, and getting my body right allowed me to do that. It’s about longevity.”
All Eyes On The NFL Draft
For Bryce Cosby, the path to the NFL looks remarkably similar to one he’s been down before. Still 5’10”, still under 200lbs, he fights a daily battle to get past the tired stigmas that have plagued talented draft prospects for decades. It’s almost as if a five year collegiate career that consisted of an incredible 57 games and 391 tackles isn’t enough to prove he can survive, even thrive amongst the physicality of football.
Not that you’ll find Cosby looking for sympathy. He called it “high school all over again”, but was grateful to have the opportunity and “something new, something fresh” to achieve. Any questions about his ability at the next level is immediately turned into motivation, and the mentality that he and his family have fostered in him from a young age serves him well for the challenges ahead. His recent invite to the College Gridiron Showcase gained him access to some NFL teams, and with pro days ahead there are still plenty of opportunities for him to show he has what it takes to be a professional football player.
We talk about Nate Hobbs, the Raiders cornerback who has had an amazing rookie season this year. Cosby & Hobbs both hail from Kentucky and are close friends, and if anyone knows the task ahead for Bryce it’s an overlooked prospect who was drafted in the fifth round and should obviously have gone a lot higher. That commonality between companions who talk frequently will serve Cosby well as he works towards a goal that doesn’t always match talent and effort with opportunity. But whenever that opportunity comes, he’ll be ready for it:
“I’m not gonna be someone who comes in with a typical rookie mindset. I’m not saying I’ll have the experience of a veteran, but I’ll bring a veterans approach to every aspect possible. My experience helps me with that, learning from a young age, playing as a freshman, the growth of my game, I feel I’ve got the right mental makeup and i’m battle tested. I’ve lost some games, I’ve won some games. I know the characteristics of both bad and good locker rooms. I’ve become a leader, I’ll get around the right veterans and be a sponge, and take it a day at time. But I’m ready to compete and I’ve got a chip on my shoulder. Football isn’t just a game to me – some people have hobbies, I don’t. It’s all ball with me.”
And for this man for which football IS life, what would it mean to hear his name called on draft weekend?
“I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought what that moment would be like for me and my family. It’s all in God’s plan, and whatever he decides I’ll accept. But as an underdog, continuing to play this game for as long as I can? I don’t know if I could put it into words. It would mean everything.”
PREVIOUSLY THE FOUNDER OF NFL DRAFT UK, SIMON HAS BEEN COVERING COLLEGE FOOTBALL AND THE NFL DRAFT SINCE 2009. BASED IN MANCHESTER, SIMON IS ALSO CO-CREATOR & WEEKLY GUEST OF THE COLLAPSING POCKET PODCAST.
A huge thank you to Bryce for taking the time to talk to us. Everyone at The Touchown wishes him well in his future career.