Cards’ Rosen grow­ing on and off field

The Arizona Republic - - Sports - Kather­ine Fitzger­ald

Josh Rosen has ques­tions. A lot of them. That no longer sur­prises his team­mates or coaches, who at this point are used to the rookie quar­ter­back’s in­quis­i­tive na­ture.

But on a Wed­nes­day, back in Septem­ber, Rosen caught vet­eran safety An­toine Bethea off guard.

“I was ac­tu­ally walk­ing through those dou­ble doors right there – I was walk­ing in, and he was walk­ing out, and he stopped me,” Bethea said, ges­tur­ing to­ward the door that leads into the locker room at the Car­di­nals train­ing fa­cil­ity.

“He ap­proaches me, and says ‘Hey! Y’all met with the gov­er­nor?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, we were talk­ing about some crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form.’ He was like, ‘Man, the next time – I’m in­ter­ested. I’m try­ing to do some stuff with that as well.’ ”

It was three days after the Car­di­nals’ sea­son opener. Rosen, the 10th over­all pick in the NFL draft out of UCLA, was still watch­ing games from the bench, back­ing up Sam Brad­ford. He was soak­ing in ev­ery­thing he could foot­ball-wise as he waited his turn. So

he jumped in some­where else.

Josh Rosen is now half­way through his rookie sea­son. His team is 2-6, 2-3 since he be­gan start­ing.

He’s com­pleted 55.6 per­cent of passes for 1,072 yards. He’s sit­ting at five touch­downs, six in­ter­cep­tions and one late-game come­back.

Eight games in, Rosen is still adapt­ing and learn­ing. He’s grow­ing off the field, too.

On a Tues­day in mid-Oc­to­ber, Rosen takes his off-day to stop by South Moun­tain High School in Phoenix. He’s thereto in­tro­duce the Con­nect 2 STEM pro­gram, a part­ner­ship be­tween the Car­di­nals and Cox Com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

The in­ter­ac­tive com­puter pro­gram helps stu­dents find ca­reers in science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics fields that align with their in­ter­ests. Rosen, who loved math grow­ing up, tells stu­dents how an­a­lyt­i­cal think­ing helps him now.

“Even in my po­si­tion, as a quar­ter­back for the Car­di­nals, ev­ery day, I have to have skills that taught me how to learn al­ge­bra to help me learn how to read a de­fense,” Rosen says. “So a lot of school isn’t about what you learn, it’s about learn­ing how to learn.”

Wear­ing a Car­di­nals jer­sey and flipflops, he mills around the li­brary where stu­dents are get­ting their first look at the pro­gram. He watches as they de­sign Nike shoes.

The stu­dents fil­ing into the au­di­to­rium are all fresh­men, and at 6-4, Rosen tow­ers over most of them. One whips out his phone to Snapchat the mo­ment he shakes Rosen’s hands. His eyes stay fo­cused on the phone, meet­ing Rosen’s face only when he fol­lows his phone up.

Rosen en­gages nat­u­rally with the kids. One is also named Josh and ad­just­ing to a new high school. One calls him “Sir.” Rosen doesn’t cor­rect him or seem per­turbed, but it’s cer­tainly more for­mal than he’s used to.

“For the kids to have the op­por­tu­nity to hear some­one like Josh who they are fa­mil­iar with as be­ing a ‘su­per­star’ ba­si­cally, re­ally talk on level with them about ed­u­ca­tion and the im­por­tance of it, and his love for math and all of that, I think hear­ing that from some­one like him speaks vol­umes to them,” said An­gelee Bil­bao, a fresh­man teacher who helped bring the pro­gram to South Moun­tain.

The day is some­thing the stu­dents will al­ways re­mem­ber. Plus, any time they open the pro­gram, they’ll see Rosen in an in­tro video on the com­puter screen.

Less than 24 hours later, Rosen is back to foot­ball.

The next day, he takes the podium for his nor­mal Wed­nes­day me­dia avail­abil­ity on a day that’s any­thing but nor­mal.

By­ron Leftwich is five days into his new role as of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor. Mike McCoy is out. Pa­trick Peter­son is ad­dress­ing trade de­mands. Rosen is un­fazed.

He breezily talks about ev­ery­thing from an in­jured toe to his five of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor in four years.

A day later, in Leftwich’s first press con­fer­ence as of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, he refers to Rosen as “the kid” or “this kid” no less than 25 times. Don’t take that to mean Rosen shows his age – Leftwich also says, “This kid is re­ally like 21 go­ing on 36.”

Rosen is the youngest player in the Car­di­nals’ locker room, but oth­ers agree that it doesn’t feel that way. Even be­fore he was com­mand­ing the hud­dle, he was es­tab­lish­ing him­self.

He has forged strong re­la­tion­ships with other rook­ies. Out of every­one in the locker room, Rosen thinks prac­ticesquad quar­ter­back Charles Kanoff knows him best.

The friend­ship came nat­u­rally. They’re both rook­ies, both quar­ter­backs, both from Los An­ge­les. Kanoff used to car­pool to school with one of Rosen’s best friends. The two never played each other in high school, but when Kanoff went off to col­lege at Prince­ton, where Rosen’s mom played lacrosse and field hockey in the 1980s, the pool of mu­tual friends grew deeper. They fi­nally met in Cal­i­for­nia ahead of join­ing the team and have had plenty of time to get to know each other since.

“At the end of the week, if I’ve spent like 60 per­cent of my time with any­body, it’s with him,” Kanoff said.

The two talk about ev­ery­thing. They talk about pod­casts; Kanoff is lis­ten­ing to “Freaka­nomics.” They talk about the uni­verse; Rosen is a big fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson. Some­times, Leftwich has no idea what they’re talk­ing about.

“You’d be amazed at some of the con­ver­sa­tions that we have,” Leftwich said about the quar­ter­back room. “I’m telling you man, I’ve got some smart kids in my room, and these kids are in­formed. … The fact that I’m 38, and he’s 21, a lot of (con­ver­sa­tions) are weird, when they get out­side of foot­ball. But just to me, cause I’m older.

“But to hear these guys’ per­spec­tive on stuff – and they’re dead on, with a lot of this stuff, I’m be­ing hon­est with you, they’re dead on, and it keeps me young.”

Rosen’s in­ter­ests out­side of foot­ball were first scru­ti­nized and then crit­i­cized dur­ing the draft process. He was out­spo­ken about pay­ing col­lege ath­letes. He didn’t shy away from voic­ing po­lit­i­cal opin­ions. Some thought this would dis­tract him at the next level.

Nearly seven months later, they haven’t posed any prob­lems in the locker room. In­stead, the team­mates who spend ev­ery day with him love that.

“That’s what I love about him the most. He loves ball, he’s com­pletely en­gaged and into it, but he’s got greater as­pi­ra­tions than just be­ing a great quar­ter­back,” wide re­ceiver Larry Fitzger­ald said.

“He’s extremely well-rounded and thought­ful. He can talk about any­thing, from re­li­gion to pol­i­tics to fi­nance, what­ever – he’s well-versed.”

Fitzger­ald says Rosen does a lot of read­ing, and he’ll want to make sure he’s brush­ing up on fi­nance.

When Rosen took to so­cial me­dia to an­nounce he would be en­ter­ing the NFL draft after his ju­nior sea­son, he wrote about how much he had cher­ished his three years at UCLA. It came with an im­por­tant postscript: “P.S. Mom – I prom­ise I will come back and fin­ish my de­gree.”

Mom will get her wish. Rosen will start work­ing to­ward that this off­sea­son. Once again, he took to In­sta­gram to make it of­fi­cially of­fi­cial, adding “UCLA ‘19” to his bio.

In re­al­ity, it will take a lit­tle bit longer than that – Rosen an­tic­i­pates an­other two years to fin­ish up his un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree in eco­nom­ics. UCLA is on a quar­ter sys­tem, which makes the off­sea­son start date a lit­tle more flex­i­ble. He’s not rac­ing to fin­ish the de­gree just to check that box, though.

“It’s not as im­por­tant to me to fin­ish as it is to get back and start learn­ing again,” he said. “With­out foot­ball in the way, I can re­ally dive in – go early, stay a lit­tle late, and ac­tu­ally re­ally study the ma­te­rial, and not just learn and pass tests and stay el­i­gi­ble.”

He has other plans for the off­sea­son, too. Rosen, who cel­e­brates with a move called the “He­brew Ham­mer,” wants to travel to Is­rael this sum­mer. He’s never been.

He’s one of a few prom­i­nent Jewish ath­letes in the coun­try. He was struck by the mass shoot­ing at the Tree of Life Syn­a­gogue and what it meant in the grand scheme for the coun­try. He didn’t pub­licly post about it, say­ing he’s try­ing to walk the fine line of weigh­ing in on a tragedy with­out feel­ing like he made it about him­self.

Rosen still thinks the chance to be a role model in the Jewish com­mu­nity is im­por­tant.

“It’s awe­some,” he said. “It’s nice to be one for any com­mu­nity. I mean it’s up to other peo­ple how they want to iden­tify with me, so I’m go­ing to try to be the best role model I can, so any­one who wants to sort of fol­low can.”

There are plenty of ways peo­ple can iden­tify with Rosen. It’s not that Rosen has lost in­ter­ests.

“I’ve sort of min­i­mized the off-field as­pects of my life to sort of fo­cus on foot­ball and make sure ev­ery­thing’s sort of in or­der,” he told The Repub­lic last month.

That echoed what he said in Septem­ber, when asked di­rectly if he planned on be­ing more out­spo­ken once he was named the Car­di­nals’ start­ing quar­ter­back.

“I’m just busy, back to the whole prepa­ra­tion thing,” Rosen said.

Coach Steve Wilks has said they’re let­ting “Josh be Josh.” Rosen has a new chance to de­fine him­self at the NFL level.

He’s de­lib­er­ate in his word choices. And at 2-6, the Car­di­nals are sub­ject to far less na­tional at­ten­tion.

A lot of the work has hap­pened be­hind the scenes. There are par­al­lels be­tween the way he ap­proaches game film and so­cial is­sues. He wants to learn and ask ques­tions be­fore he puts a plan into ac­tion.

That all stood out to Bethea, when Rosen voiced that he wanted to get in­volved in crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form. Bethea is a 13-year NFL vet­eran who stud­ied crim­i­nal jus­tice at Howard. Rosen brings a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive.

“For him to be the youngest per­son in the locker room, and then for him to be a Cau­casian male, to work on that, it speaks vol­umes on the type of per­son that he is,” Bethea said. “And I think it would help the cause if we had more Cau­casian males to speak up about it and to talk about it.”

Bethea ad­mits he was caught off guard by Rosen want­ing to get in­volved, but look­ing back, it wasn’t un­char­ac­ter­is­tic.

And it will con­tinue. Rosen wants to keep get­ting in­volved in the com­mu­nity, say­ing a lot of that will re­volve around crim­i­nal jus­tice and ed­u­ca­tion.

He cares about the en­vi­ron­ment, too. He’s sported blue and white cleats in aware­ness of pro­tect­ing the ocean, though he al­ways changes to Rain­bow flip-flops as soon as he can.

ROB SCHU­MACHER/REPUB­LIC

Car­di­nals quar­ter­back Josh Rosen lines up vs. the 49ers on Oct. 28 at State Farm Sta­dium.

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