As the Dallas Cowboys were on the clock in the first round of April’s NFL draft, Sam Cosmi picked up the phone and held it to his ear. Those packed in the suburban Houston home for the Texas tackle’s draft party suddenly stopped. His high school offensive line coach, Todd Moses, sprung up from the chair beside Cosmi. The 22-year-old’s mother also got excited as she heard her son speaking.
Then, Moses noticed a small smirk spreading across Cosmi’s face. Was his fun-loving former player pulling a prank?
“His mom started slapping his arm and told him not to do that,” Moses said. “She really thought he was talking to Jerry Jones.”
Instead of going fo Dallas, the former Longhorn ended up with the Cowboys’ biggest rival when he was taken by Washington in the second round — a far cry from “JerryWorld,” yes, but a destination greeted nonetheless with an eruption of joy from family and friends when Cosmi told them, “I’m coming to Washington, you guys!” while on the phone with coach Ron Rivera.
On Thursday, Cosmi made his preseason debut against the New England Patriots as the team’s starting right tackle. The moment was a reflection of not only the hard work that Cosmi put in to get to this point, but those who helped him prepare.
Cosmi’s camp has seen the young player tested daily by star pass-rushers Montez Sweat and Chase Young. Young, for example, said the best thing he could do for Cosmi is to focus on “destroying” him every day. That type of daily grind can overwhelm some rookies.
Cosmi, though, has grown from the experience.
In fact, it was in Cosmi’s small hometown of Humble — an old oil town north of Houston with a population of 15,000 — that shaped the man Washington is trusting to replace long-time starter Morgan Moses, the durable tackle who was released earlier this offseason after seven years.
There were Cosmi’s parents — Cornel and Rodica — who immigrated from a communist regime in Romania who instilled a never-stop work ethic in the offensive lineman. There were coaches and teammates who taught Cosmi the ins and outs of football, supporting him as he rose from an undersized, under-recruited athlete to the University of Texas’ starting left tackle.
“I didn’t have a lot of expectations,” Cosmi told The Washington Times. “I had to work hard in order to earn the position and where I wanted to be at and all that. So, I just knew in my head that there’s this spot I have to earn and had to work hard toward whatever position I’m going to be playing.”
At 6-foot-7, 309 pounds, Cosmi shouldn’t be hard to miss. But there was a time in high school when he was significantly lighter and hardly considered a college prospect. It wasn’t until the spring of Cosmi’s junior year when a handful of college coaches were on hand to watch linemen Kenyon Green — Atascocita High’s prized recruit who’d go on to commit to Texas A&M — that Cosmi started to receive attention.
That day, Atascocita was running the Oklahoma drill — a classic one-on-one matchup — when Cosmi “just obliterates” the defensive line he was matched up against, Moses said. As it happened, Oklahoma State’s offensive line coach leaned over to Moses and wondered who in the world was No. 52, Cosmi’s number.
“He goes, ‘We don’t have him on our list (of potential recruits),’” Moses said.
They did after that. Cosmi initially committed to Houston, but when Texas — Cosmi’s dream school — made an offer, he switched. “I couldn’t really turn it down,” Cosmi said. It helped that Tom Herman had also made the switch, leaving Houston for Texas that same year (hence the offer from the Longhorns). Cosmi went on to start 34 of 35 games for Texas, protecting quarterback Sam Ellinger’s blindside.
Cosmi looks back at the situation now and doesn’t seem to mind how it unfolded. That praise that went to others like Green? Cosmi was only motivated to work harder, he said.
After all, Cosmi grew up understanding the extremes that people have to go through just in order to get a job done. His father was a car mechanic for Mercedes Benz — but the shop was two hours away in Sugar Land. Cosmi remembers his dad making the drive every workday leaving home at 6 a.m. and not returning until 7 or 8 p.m.
“That just shows you you’ve got to put in the work for your family and provide for them,” Cosmi said.
Months before he was drafted, Cosmi, like his father, committed to making a long drive — only this was to Irvine, California to work with former All-Pro tackle Joe Staley. The two were connected because they share an agent. For three months, Cosmi and Staley worked together: Staley helped Cosmi alter his technique, changing the tackle’s stance Cosmi uses to line up before the play snaps. Cosmi said when he arrived to Washington, offensive line coach John Matsko suggested further changes.
The willingness to adapt helps explain why Cosmi has been able to catch on so quickly and impress those around him. Earlier in the offseason, All-Pro Brandon Scherff recalled being in the weight room and remarking, “Holy [crap], where did he come from?” Rivera, too, praised Cosmi for recently turning a corner.
“I like the fact that he’s not backing down from anybody,” Rivera said.
Cosmi doesn’t know any other way.