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Everyone has an opinion about the NFL draft's most polarizing player, but UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen has his own story, and he's sticking to it

By Michael Silver | Published April 23, 2018

SANTA ANA, Calif. -- Josh Rosen reclines in his metal chair on a semi-crowded Starbucks patio, tugging on the strings of his hooded Billabong sweatshirt as he talks about his problem.

"Everyone hates me," Rosen declares, offering half a smile, but making it clear he isn't playing for laughs.

Rosen, the former UCLA quarterback who is one of the top prospects in the 2018 draft, knows he carries a stigma that has followed him from social media posts to draft meetings in NFL facilities across America -- but that, in and of itself, isn't necessarily an insidious issue. The hyper-confident 21-year-old can live with being cast as a brash and cocky kid with a privileged background and sharp mind that sometimes veers beyond the confines of the football field. He's cool with the critics who crush him for expressing unpopular opinions or drawing attention to himself in ways that athletes, especially in his chosen sport, are strongly encouraged not to. He's got an edge, and it pisses some people off. He gets it. That is not the problem.

Rather, it's the people who cast him as an aloof, cold-hearted jerk that make his head want to explode -- and who, on this overcast Orange County afternoon in late February, occupy his thoughts as he confesses to caring about his infected image, or at least one element of it.

"I don't know, everyone kind of likes to be liked," Rosen says. "I don't really care as much about the media stuff, but what hurts me on the inside is when people will meet me, and I'll talk to them, and they'll be like, 'God. You aren't a dick!' Or, 'From what I understood, you're kind of an a-hole, but ...' I'm like, 'I don't know what to say to that.'

"I try to be as good of a person as I can be. I try to be a generally kind person. I mean, if I was running for the presidency, I'd probably run a campaign on, 'Be kind.' It just kind of sucks -- my friends having to defend me to their friends. I mean, you can go around the UCLA campus and ask someone, 'What do you think of Josh Rosen?' and you can put your money on the fact that you're gonna get a bad response. That kind of stinks. I mean, it sucks."

The premise boggles the mind, given college kids typically tend to treat the star quarterback like, you know, the Big Man on Campus, or at least as a source of school pride. Rosen may not have lived up to the "Chosen" label bestowed upon him when, after a stellar high school career at nearby St. John Bosco, the prized recruit arrived in Westwood and almost immediately shot to the top of the depth chart, becoming the first true freshman quarterback in school history to start the season opener. He was unable to achieve his own lofty goals, which included guiding the Bruins to a national championship or Rose Bowl, or even a victory over crosstown rival USC. That said, he played at a flagrantly high level during the 2 1/2 collegiate seasons for which he was healthy, setting school records with 17 career 300-yard passing games and, as junior in 2017, a season-long average of 341.5 passing yards per game, the latter figure putting him atop a conference that also featured the Trojans' Sam Darnold, another strong candidate to be drafted first overall. And Rosen began his junior season in legendary fashion, bringing the Bruins back from a 34-point second-half deficit to stun Texas A&M.

Simply put, the 6-foot-4, 218-pound Rosen can spin it -- and, on paper, has everything NFL teams seek in a franchise quarterback, at least until they get down and dirty with the psychoanalysis.

"His natural mechanics as a pure passer are arguably the best in this class," says a general manager of an NFC team. "He's a talented player who's incredibly smart and will need to be challenged in every aspect."

Adds a personnel executive for an AFC team who has scouted Rosen extensively: "He's really a special passer. He makes all the throws from the pocket. He makes you go 'wow' at least two to three times a game. He has pinpoint accuracy and can adapt to any system you want. And he'll stand in there and throw it and take a shot right under the chin if he has to -- that's hard to find. Of all these quarterbacks coming out, he's the most ready. You don't really have to do anything except teach him the system."

One AFC coach says Rosen's "football IQ is off the charts," while an NFC coach says, "I'm just not sold on the fact that he truly loves the game."

A personnel executive for another NFC team adds: "If you're just evaluating them as passers, he's clearly the best, and it's not close. The way he gets the ball out, the way he spins it, the accuracy ... he's the guy. So, if people aren't putting him at the top, there's obviously something else going on, which makes you wonder."

And amid the noisy and nosy walkup to the draft, there's a whole lot of wondering going on -- publicly and privately -- about Rosen's perceived flaws, with some of the concerns relatively mundane (escapability, durability) and others full of conjecture and intrigue (likability, undivided allegiance to football).

For those reasons, the projections about Rosen range from No. 1 overall, with the Cleveland Browns poised to select a quarterback of the future, to an Aaron Rodgers-style slide into the latter half of the first round.

"It will be interesting to see if he slides," one AFC personnel executive says. "He's a really impressive kid -- really, really intelligent and did a really good job in interviews. I love his arm, his accuracy and his football IQ. But he's not everybody's cup of tea."

To some skeptics, Rosen's striking ability to spin it could also extend to his reputation-rehabilitation efforts as he subjects himself to the scrutiny of numerous NFL teams. Yet it's more accurate to say Rosen, rather than attempting to burnish his image, is intent on projecting the real him, with a goal of finding an employer whose powerbrokers are down with the program.

"I'm not gonna be someone I'm not," Rosen says, "because I don't want them to draft someone who's not me, and then I have to try and fill that role. I'm gonna be me, and hopefully a team falls in love with me."

Says UCLA tight end Caleb Wilson: "He's not gonna be fake or pretend to be someone he's not. I think people talk bad about him because he doesn't conform to what the public wants, to what everybody's supposed to say. If he believes something, he's gonna speak his mind, and there's substance behind it. He's not just gonna say the right things and conform, just to meet somebody's standards. That's one of the things that earned my respect."

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Bryce Treggs, a former Cal star who has known Rosen since elementary school, grew close to the quarterback when they were teammates at St. John Bosco, and also vouches for his authenticity.

"He's not gonna change for anybody," Treggs said. "But that's good -- you want your quarterback to have a personality, and that's something his (future) teammates are gonna respect, that he's gonna show his true colors and not conform to what some people think a quarterback should be."

If Rosen seems acutely aware of the scrutiny, well, he's used to it.

"The watching and observing of him -- and his abilities, his passion, his competitiveness and his ambition -- started a really long time ago," says Rosen's mother, Liz Lippincott. "He's always felt watched; literally, since he was on the tennis court when he was 5 years old. He didn't realize how different his drive, competitiveness and ambition were at a youthfully inappropriate age.

"Most 5-year-olds don't want to go out there and wipe somebody off the court, and people noticed and were taken aback. I think maybe that affected him in terms of how he relates to people. Ever since elementary school, he always cared about how to make friends, and how to have friends. It's just a process of self-awareness through the years that is still evolving."

Growing up in Manhattan Beach, an idyllic and reasonably low-key surf town about five miles southwest of Los Angeles International Airport, Rosen had a propensity for attracting attention.

"He used to get in trouble in elementary school a lot," Lippincott says. "He was the biggest kid in the class, and certainly the most athletic and physical, and he was always trying to do fun and funny things with his friends. And he was always the one to do those things with the most gusto. So, guess who would get noticed by the teacher on the playground? In the classroom, he'd be eagerly waving his hand and could hardly sit still, and he'd get himself in trouble for blurting out a question, when he was basically trying to learn.

"So, he did feel singled out. He's a big personality that takes up a lot of space, and he had to grow into himself."

As a kid, Rosen says, "My friends and I used to run around Manhattan Beach, before it became all bougie, living a chill life and doing stupid kid things."

One infamous example: "I broke my left arm when I was 8, at a friend's house, when we were jumping off a balcony and throwing down dunks."

The episode forced Rosen, already a highly successful player in the junior tennis ranks, to develop a one-handed, slice backhand. Growing up in a household that included another standout tennis player -- older sister Beatrice, who would go on to become a two-time All-American and win a pair of Division III national team titles at Emory University -- he was constantly competing for sibling supremacy. (Rosen's younger sister, Lydia, is an accomplished rower as a high school junior.)

Josh's competitive fire on the court was palpable, but it made for some awkward interactions outside the white lines.

"Your friends are your enemies, and your enemies are your friends," Rosen says. "Even your doubles partner, you're on the same team, but you might have to play each other in the singles draw. And it's just weird. Because you're supposed to turn on this killer instinct, go into Black Mamba mode, but you don't want to disrespect your friends. I didn't really like that part of it. You're playing this other dude and you're getting into it, and then your parents are on the sidelines having fun (with the opposing player's parents) and you're like, 'Are we going to lunch together after this?' And in the end, you only get to celebrate with your parents."

Says Lippincott: "He wanted to beat every person 6-0, 6-0. But his difficulty was, he wanted to be friends with those people. It wasn't that it was hard to go out and beat his friends; it's that it was hard to make friends with the people he'd go out and beat."

And Rosen wasn't merely beating slouches: One conquest, around the time he was 12, came at the expense of a fellow Southern Californian named Taylor Fritz, who is currently the world's 65th-ranked player.

"I remember playing him at the SoCal Sectionals, and he absolutely destroyed me in the second round," Fritz recalls. "He was a really big kid compared to all the other guys at that age, with huge shoulders, and he had a massive serve, and he just killed me. I remember my mom asking his mom, 'How is he so big?' I think he was drinking Muscle Milk at the time, and I was like, 'S---, I guess I'll have to start doing that.' He was a nice guy -- very fair, a good sport -- and I wish he'd stuck around longer."

Rosen, however, began gravitating toward an endeavor that touts itself as "the ultimate team sport."

"I think (wanting to be on a team) was a large part of it," recalls Rosen's father, Chuck. "But I also think he likes the idea of a lot of moving parts, and all the things that are going on simultaneously on the football field, because it challenges him. When it became evident that he'd rather go to football practice than a big national tournament, it was obvious that it was time to quit tennis."

At St. John Bosco, Rosen -- whose father is a surgeon and whose mother is a journalist -- was exposed to a cross-section of kids from the greater L.A. area, many of whom came from far more modest backgrounds.

"A lot of his teammates were in single-parent households, or might have been living with a cousin and sleeping on the couch," Chuck Rosen says. "It was important he see the other side of things. He may have grown up being well off, but he's not some spoiled rich kid. He thinks about other people who are less fortunate than him, and the way he acts toward them is not arrogant or off-putting."

When Rosen was 15, he met a fellow Manhattan Beach resident named Lillia Mora, whose father, Jim, had just become UCLA's head football coach.

"She said, 'Hey, I met this kid, Josh, and I hear he's a really good quarterback,'" Jim Mora recalls. "I was obviously new to recruiting, and my 15-year-old daughter's talking about a kid being a great quarterback, and I don't know if she knows anything, but I'm gonna go check it out. She asked me about it later and I go, 'Yeah, he's a good quarterback. Matter of fact, he might be the best quarterback in the country by the time he's a junior or senior in high school.'"

As a junior, Rosen led the Braves to the California State Championship, where they shocked Northern California power De La Salle, earning the mythical MaxPreps national championship in the process.

"One thing I can say about Josh is, he's a competitor," says Treggs, who had graduated from John Bosco two years earlier. "What I saw him do at Bosco, bringing that program from the dumps to beating De La Salle, I knew right then he had 'it.' When he went to Bosco, it's mostly minorities, and every person he encountered would say he's anything but entitled or spoiled. He's not that kind of person. Jaleel Wadood (who went from Bosco to UCLA the year before Rosen and became an All-Pac-12 safety) is from Compton, and he loves Josh to death. And when Josh went to college, he was hanging out with walk-ons. That should tell you something right there."

This brings us to another image-related front on which Rosen feels a need to set the record straight: Call it the Bo Callahan Stigma. Callahan, a character in the 2014 film "Draft Day", is the hotshot passer who is ultimately passed over by the team with the No. 1 overall pick (the Browns, naturally) after the general manager learns none of the quarterback's collegiate teammates had attended his 21st birthday party.

For the record: Rosen, who celebrated his 21st birthday in February, is no Bo Callahan.

"He invited me to his birthday dinner in Hollywood, and I was excited just to tag along," says UCLA's Wilson, a former walk-on. "He's nothing but a good friend, teammate and brother to me. I was at USC my true freshman year, and I heard all the negative things: 'Josh Rosen, he's cocky, he's this and that.' Then I transferred, and my first day on (UCLA's) campus, I didn't think he'd even know who I was, and he's like, 'Wassup, Caleb.' He knew I went to Serra (High School), that I'd played quarterback and that I'd walked on at USC. I was like, 'Damn, I didn't even know Josh even knew my name. That's tight.'"

Says Mora: "He is an empathetic and humble guy who I think at times has been tremendously misunderstood. He and my daughter are still very good friends, and she describes him first and foremost as a good and caring person, and that means a lot to me."

As to Rosen's assertion you could walk around UCLA's campus asking about him and almost automatically get a "bad response," Mora, who was fired as UCLA's coach last November, replies, "I would hope not, but I know this: There's not one guy on our football team that knew him intimately that would've said (anything negative). Not one player, or one coach, not one trainer, not one person in the weight room, not one person in the film department -- nobody. And he was consistently voted a captain during the week and at the end of the year, not because he was the best player on the team, but because the players sincerely respected his work ethic, toughness, character, competitiveness and the way he treated them."

Rosen admits he's bothered by the suggestion his teammates don't have his back.

"That's the one that upsets me the most," he says. "I want you to go through a list of my teammates and cold call someone and ask him what he thinks about me. I think seven or eight of my teammates have now said (on social media), 'I don't know who is saying this stuff, but he's the most amazing teammate I've ever had.' I would run through a wall for them, and they know that about me."

The issue at hand, however, is not how Rosen's former teammates feel about him; rather, it's how he's perceived by the decision-makers in various draft rooms. And, as quarterback-needy teams assess his merits and flaws relative to those of Darnold, Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield, Wyoming's Josh Allen and other quarterbacks, there is a lot to unpack.

The first time Rosen landed in hot water with Mora, it was over -- well, hot water. Midway through his first season in Westwood, in the wake of a victory over Cal in which he'd thrown for 399 yards (the most by a true freshman in UCLA history), Rosen posted a video on his Instagram account of him holding a plate of food while sitting in an inflatable hot tub in his dorm room.

Recalls Mora: "When I said, 'Hey, Josh, you shouldn't do that,' he answered, 'Well, I read all of the UC regulations and there was nothing in there that said I couldn't have a hot tub in the dorm.' I was like, 'Well, this kid's smart ...' "

Mora was less amused when, the following April, Rosen posted a photo of himself teeing off at the Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes -- while wearing a hat with an obscene message for the proprietor and future President, who was then closing in on the Republican nomination. "The biggest thing I regret from that is using the F word," says Rosen, who has since deleted the Instagram post.

For what it's worth Rosen's parents, who are divorced, come from different political camps: His father, an orthopedic surgeon at UC Irvine who co-founded the Association for Medical Ethics, voted for Trump, while his mother was a staunch Hillary Clinton supporter.

"I actually remember the very first day my dad brought me to vote, in 2004," Josh says. "My mom, I knew, had voted for John Kerry. We went to this local elementary school where they had a voting station set up, and my dad brought me into the booth with him, and I was fully expecting him to punch Kerry ... and then he punched (George W.) Bush. I was like, 'Wait ... what?' And he says, 'Son, I'm a Republican.' "

One conviction Rosen's parents share is a regard for the less fortunate. "My father has fought to protect people from predatory pharmaceutical companies and to make sure drug payments and kickbacks to doctors are disclosed," Rosen says. "It was basically a David vs. Goliath thing these last 15 years, but because he was standing for the good side, he's still standing today. And I think that's where my Me Vs. The World attitude comes from."

In the wake of his anti-Trump post, Rosen made waves on Instagram once more, responding to news of UCLA's impending $280 million shoe and apparel deal with Under Armour by writing, "We're still amateurs though ... Gotta love non-profits #NCAA."

Says Rosen, who deleted that post, too: "For me, it was just hard to see the number $280 million come up, and then have my buddies finish workouts on Friday and be like, 'Well, I'm not eating till Monday.' That was tough for me, but I've also gotta understand the intelligent way to go about it."

He's now far more restrained on Instagram and various other platforms.

"I grew up in the social media age where I thought Total Frat Move was cool, so I wanted to be on their website," Rosen says. "I wanted to be liked, and I kind of lost myself, and I was trying to be someone I wasn't. I've learned valuable lessons: From Trump, not to use the 'F' word. From Under Armour, not to undermine someone else's success, and that it was the wrong time and place. From the hot tub, it was messaging and image. There are lessons to take from all these things, and I think that's what I've learned to do -- cherish the positives, but don't forget about the negatives, grab something from them and use it moving forward."

Before his junior season, in an interview with Bleacher Report, Rosen incited more controversy, saying "football and school don't go together" and questioning what would happen to Alabama's football program if the school raised its SAT requirements for incoming student-athletes. In December, during the lead-up to UCLA's Cactus Bowl clash with Kansas State -- a game Rosen missed in the aftermath of two concussions he'd sustained within a five-week period in the latter part of the regular season -- Rosen defended the recent decisions of some high-profile pro prospects to skip bowl games.

"A lot of people bash them," Rosen told reporters, "but some of them have to realize that some of these guys have families. Some of these guys have kids. Some of these guys really have to support the people around them. Some of them may be put in unfortunate circumstances where they can't afford to be in school another year. I think players are just realizing they have a lot of power and they don't _need _to be exploited when it's to their detriment."

Lippincott, for one, appreciated the sentiment expressed by her son. "He had to be so careful how he said it," she says, "but his heart's in the right place. He truly is a bleeding heart. He wants to help people in need, and that's something we instilled in him."

Rosen says he wants "to be a role model to help get kids thinking about how to look out for other people, not thinking, 'Everyone's out to get me; I need to evade taxes and keep as much as I can for myself.' I want kids to look up to me because I want to build a platform over the rest of my life on social issues and charity and philanthropy, and I want kids to follow the model that I plan on setting up of just being a good person. I want to be the ultimate role model. And the biggest thing is letting kids know that it's OK to make mistakes, because no one is perfect. Not even close. I want to make it cool to be a good person. I don't want to make it cool to be a cooped-up billionaire who sits in a palace and doesn't talk to anyone."

Says Chuck Rosen of his son's future: "I picture him doing great things for other people -- for the less fortunate, for the underdog. He likes the underdog; Bosco and UCLA both fit into that category. He thinks about people who don't have things, and I picture him in the future, with all the money he's gonna get, doing charitable things, with outreach, that improve people's lives."

Statements such as this, of course, do nothing to quell the Rosen Isn't Devoted To Football chorus -- some of which seems to be emanating from NFL facilities, as coaches and talent evaluators pick apart the incoming draft class, with every innuendo and statement magnified.

For example: When Mora, in an appearance last month on NFL Network's Path To The Draft, was asked who the Browns should select with the No. 1 overall pick, the ex-Bruins coach chose Darnold, "because of fit."

"That blew my mind," said one personnel executive for an AFC team seeking a quarterback.

And while Mora later attempted to clarify his statement to MMQB's Peter King, saying Rosen "is the No. 1 quarterback in the draft," the coach's explanation reinforced the view among some skeptics that Rosen won't be fully focused on football. "(Rosen) needs to be challenged intellectually so he doesn't get bored," Mora told King. "He wants to know why ... Josh has a lot of interests in life. If you can hold his concentration level and focus only on football for a few years, he will set the world on fire."

Rosen certainly doesn't disguise his interest in matters beyond football. He calls himself "a full-blown nerd" who is obsessed with fun facts, is constantly Googling and donates $20 a month to Wikipedia. "Really weird things interest me, and I always got made fun of for it," he says. "Like, 'Yo, guys, did you hear Elon Musk just launched Falcon 9?' And they'll be like, 'Josh, what the hell?' "

An economics major who has aspirations in the business world, Rosen is full of ideas, at least one of which pertains to social media: "There should be a Twitter democratic jury that reviews tweets and fines idiots a few dollars. You should have to link to your credit card to be on Twitter, and if you say something that's just stupid or offensive or ridiculous, and the jury rules against you, you should get fined like five bucks."

If that sounds silly, well, so does the notion that football players have to be solely focused on their chosen sport, at least to many outsiders.

"I've noticed that people think that," Chuck Rosen says. "It's as if people have only one single-minded pursuit, and room for no more. It's the sort of idiocy that you can only do one thing at a time, and if you think about other things you aren't devoted to football."

In Treggs' eyes, this particular stigma may hurt Rosen in some draft rooms.

"I think there are gonna be some teams that do use that against him," the Eagles wideout says. "And I think those teams are gonna be foolish, because I know that when Josh steps in that building, he's gonna be 100 percent focused on football. Trust me, Josh loves football. There's nothing Josh loves more than throwing a touchdown pass on the big stage. He may have other interests, but when he comes to work, he's all business.

"The guy is good. If he's on your team, you love him. If not, you probably don't. But the bottom line is, he's that good, where people have to say something bad about him."

After nearly two hours of answering questions into an iPhone voice-memo recorder at Starbucks, Rosen walks back to Proactive Sports Performance, a training facility on the rooftop of a Santa Ana apartment complex where he and other members of the draft class represented by Athletes First are holing up as they prepare to launch their pro careers. As he arrives at the small turf field where players conduct some of their drills, Rosen gets a warm greeting from another NFL quarterback who's visiting the facility: Rams Pro Bowl passer Jared Goff, the former Cal star who went first overall in the 2016 draft.

After Goff offers some tips for the combine ("Try to sneak in a nap when you can" ... "Show up early in the morning for the medical stuff so you don't have to wait forever"), the two quarterbacks begin discussing some of their respective collegiate disappointments, with Rosen returning to a subject -- UCLA's 28-23 defeat to USC last November -- that he'd addressed during the just-concluded interview.

"That was the most frustrating," Rosen had said. "I broke the record for most (passing yards by a UCLA player, 421) in the history of the rivalry -- and lost. We lost by five, and they had a special teams touchdown. Are you (kidding) me? A punt-return touchdown? That only happened to me two times in my entire career -- the two times I played SC. Unbelievable."

For someone who says he is obsessed with winning ("I want to win Super Bowls ... that's the singular thing I care about"), Rosen had to deal with plenty of disappointment during his college career. The Bruins went 8-5 in his freshman season, which ended with a Foster Farms Bowl defeat to Nebraska. As a sophomore, he suffered what proved to be a season-ending injury to his throwing shoulder in UCLA's early October defeat to Arizona State that dropped the Bruins to 3-3; they finished 4-8.

Rosen's junior season began with the epic victory over Texas A&M. He completed 35 of 59 passes for 491 yards and four touchdowns, and completed the second-largest comeback in NCAA history with a gorgeous end-zone fade to receiver Jordan Lasley on a fake spike.

"It was unbelievable," Rosen says of UCLA's comeback, which featured 35 consecutive points. "We had a lot higher hopes for the season than it actually went, so in our eyes we were saving our undefeated season that was about to happen."

Uh, not quite: The Bruins went 6-7, with Rosen missing two starts (both defeats) because of lingering concussion effects, causing some to question his durability.

Says an AFC general manager: "He's not real mobile, but he's tough enough that he will stay in the pocket and face the blitz, so that worries you a little."

Rosen prides himself on his mental toughness, something that dates back to his sometimes spirited days on the junior tennis circuit.

"Tennis taught me a lot," he says. "I cracked a few racquets. I learned a lot about how to compete, how to get over things, how to deal with adversity. It's because you just have conversations with yourself in your head for hours on end, while you're on the court. It's illegal for your coach or parent to coach you during a match, so you just have to have a bunch of self-talk. I think that's valuable as a quarterback, when the whole world is picking at you, and you have to learn how to deal with your emotions, and put a play behind you and move forward."

When it comes to trash talk in his current sport, Rosen has proven to be an easy target. "I get a lot of Jewish things," Rosen says. "My nose, particularly. I get, like, 'Stay the f--- down, you Jewish bastard … I'm gonna break your f---- nose, you Jew.' "

Rosen's reaction? Keep it coming.

"I really like when people try to get in my head," he says. "I like away games more than home games. I like silencing crowds; that's a big thing. One of my best games was at Arizona my freshman year. It was College GameDay and they had a ton of banners; they had my face on the queen from 'Frozen'. They had, 'Josh Rosen's Bar Mitzvah Wasn't Even Lit.' When people really get into me, it gets my competitive juices flowing. I love seeing heartbroken fans. Some stadiums, the fans are really close to you, and they'll call you names: 'Rosen, go back to your hot tub.' And when you beat them and get to turn around and wave? It's the best."

Bizarre as it may seem, the cocksure quarterback being stereotyped by some cynics as spoiled and privileged is driven by a drastically divergent inner monologue.

"I've always kind of been the No. 2 guy," Rosen insists. "That kind of sounds victimizing, I know. But I'll never forget, Austin Kafentzis from Utah was the Gatorade (National) Freshman of the Year in high school, and then we went to Utah and beat him; I threw the game-winner, actually. And then Ricky Town was like the big thing. And then Blake Barnett won the Elite 11; I was No. 11. And now Sam's like 'the guy,' and Josh Allen's got the 'it factor,' and Baker's got the 'it factor.' ... But I'm very confident I will persevere."

That confidence -- and a desire to compete against the most highly regarded of his peers -- drove Rosen to declare a year early for the draft.

"I came really close to going back to school," he says. "I had some great conversations with (new UCLA coach) Chip Kelly, and I had some unfinished business, and I really liked college. But in the end, I was like, 'Sam and Baker and Josh are all coming out, and I could wait until next year and come out when it's supposed to be a down year for quarterbacks, or I could leave now and kick some ass and show that I'm the best? Screw that. I'm gonna compete."

For Rosen's critics in NFL personnel circles -- one member of an AFC team's front office compared him to Jeff George, the talented but polarizing quarterback who was the first overall pick of the 1990 draft, but whose record as a starter in 12 NFL seasons was 46-78 -- admissions like this will do nothing to quell the cynicism. Many executives and coaches, however, embrace the idea of a franchise quarterback with an extremely healthy sense of self.

"I think he's getting pummeled for no reason," the AFC GM says. "Personality-wise, he may rub some people the wrong way, but I don't have a problem with my quarterback having opinions, convictions, and a little bit of an edge. And I don't mind that he wants to know 'why?' "

Wilson, for one, believes his former UCLA teammate will be even better-suited to an NFL environment.

"If you get a guy like Josh and let him focus on nothing but football," Wilson says, "that's a big problem for the NFL teams that don't draft him."

In the meantime, Rosen knows he must confront the problem -- his problem -- that will follow him to Dallas, where he'll join Darnold, Allen, ex-Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson and 18 other players for the draft festivities this week. For starters, he says, "I just don't want my (future) teammates to have a preconceived notion of who I am. I want them to take me for what I am."

And it's not just teammates Rosen hopes to win over. "My goal with an interview," he says, "is to have that person walking away when we're done and being like, 'Hell yeah! I like that guy."

His gridiron goals are a bit loftier.

"The NFL is a childhood dream," he says. "It's a unique experience, and it's too big of an opportunity to pass up. I want to find out if this thing was a fluke the last three years. I want to find out how good I really am. I want to put all my time into it. I loved school, but I didn't get to put the amount of time I wanted into that, either, and right now I want all of my time put into football.

"Most of all, I want to see if I'm really that good. I want to compete with the best. I want to see if I can stand on the same field as Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers and not embarrass myself."

Rosen stops and takes a long sip of water, then places the plastic cup back onto the metal table rather emphatically.

The follow-up question is more like a statement: You don't think you will embarrass yourself?

"Correct," Rosen says, squinting into the afternoon sun, which has peeked through the quickly dissipating cloud cover. "I don't think I will."

He smiles, and it's all perfectly clear: This is Rosen's story, and he's sticking to it -- like it or not.

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