While they looked for a station, Cosmi explained that letting a car get below a quarter of a tank was bad for the fuel pump. Gas keeps the pump cold, so when the tank gets low, the car runs on fumes, which overheats the pump and shortens its life. It was easy for Tollner to see why Cosmi’s parents and coaches often describe him as detail-oriented.
“If I’m trying to research a couch for my apartment, I want to know every fricking thing about that couch — how it is, reviews, everything,” Cosmi said, adding that some family friends had recently laughed at him for spending two hours on the computer comparing vacuums.
“I can go in my browser right now, and the amount of tabs ...” He shook his head. “It’s like do-do-do-do-do across the screen. There’s a ton of tabs. It’s unbelievable.” He shrugged. “I want to get the best stuff for the best price.”
Cosmi’s interest in how things work is key to understanding the Washington Football Team’s confidence in him. The team has indicated that it believes the second-round pick could start at right tackle sooner than later, and he will have the opportunity to compete when training camp opens next week in Richmond. Cosmi appears intent on proving that not only does he have elite physical ability but he’s also a fast learner capable of shoring up the inconsistent technique some scouts knocked him for before the draft.
In training camp, Cosmi will compete with veteran Cornelius Lucas, and the potential Cosmi flashed during offseason workouts was one of the reasons the team released stalwart right tackle Morgan Moses, who had started 96 consecutive games. Cosmi understands the position he’s in, and he has spent the offseason preparing to seize the opportunity by refining his punch, a key skill, according to offensive line coach John Matsko.
“I’m a young buck, and I know my place,” Cosmi said of potentially replacing Moses. “I know there’s a role there that people expect me to fill. There’s pressure with that, but the only thing I can do is to work my a-- off and really put my all into it. If I do that, I know that I’ll make a lot of people happy.”
Cosmi’s self-deterministic mind-set comes from his parents, Cornel and Rodica, whose families fled a communist regime in Romania in the early 1980s. Cornel recalled a grueling journey to the United States — the police occasionally beat up his father as the family awaited passports, he said, and they spent months in refugee camps in Italy and Yugoslavia — but he, his eight siblings and their parents made it to Texas, where two uncles lived.
“[We had] nothing,” Cornel said. “No money, just whatever clothes we had in our little luggage, and pretty much that was it. We had to start from scratch and work hard to just be able to make it.”
In Humble, an old oil boomtown north of Houston, Cornel’s father bought an acre of land. Within three years, the family built a new house. Cornel became a mechanic and married Rodica; in 1999, the couple had a son. From an early age, Sam was big like his father and competitive like his mother. He showed a knack for picking things up quickly, such as trumpet and soccer, with the same inquisitive nature Cornel had as a kid when fixing his bicycle.
In middle school, football hooked Cosmi. He joined a select team that beat a squad coached by Hall of Famer Deion Sanders at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. He became a three-star recruit under offensive line coach Todd Moses at Atascocita High, and he committed to Texas, the school his parents had adopted in their new country. Cosmi, undersized, redshirted as a freshman, but by the time he left school three years later, he was 6-foot-7 and 309 pounds and had started 34 games.
In December, Cosmi moved from Austin to Southern California to prepare for the draft with Joe Staley, who had played left tackle for the San Francisco 49ers for nearly two-thirds of Cosmi’s life. Staley taught him some of the nuances of tackle that Cosmi had not practiced much in the Longhorns’ system, including how to play in zone schemes and how to create angles off the line of scrimmage. Staley saw Cosmi as a competitive person who loved the game, and he stressed the 22-year-old needed to be more consistent with his technique.
“If you told him, ‘How about this way?’ he would really try and try and try it,” Staley said. “It was exciting to see out of a young kid, especially in that process, because so much before the draft is about how to maximize how you look. You might not want to try something new. But he just wanted to get better.”
Before the draft, Cosmi received first-round buzz. By Relative Athletic Score, which combines all pro-day testing into a single number, Cosmi graded 9.99 out of 10, the second-best number for an offensive tackle since 1987. Washington Coach Ron Rivera said he didn’t expect Cosmi to be there in the second round (No. 51 overall), but when he was, he made the call.
“I’m going to Washington, you guys!” Cosmi yelled, tearing up at his family’s draft party.
During rookie minicamp, Cosmi noticed Matsko, the line coach, was teaching linemen to two-hand punch as opposed to the individual hand fighting his position coach preferred at Texas. This put more emphasis on Cosmi understanding his range because, while a well-timed punch can shock a defensive end, a bad one can miss or leave the lineman off balance.
“I think a good punch starts from your feet,” Cosmi said, explaining that a solid base allows power to transfer from the ground to his lats to his hands. He described good form as a sound — “that whoosh, you know?” — and added, “A lot of times, if you get a really good punch, then they ricochet off, so you have a little bit more time to do what you want to do, and the ball will be out.”
During organized team activities, Cosmi spent most of his time at second-team right tackle and felt his footwork and his punch were improving. He concentrated on reading the defense presnap and using the right pass set for each look, which helped sync him with the rest of the line. Cosmi’s strength and attitude impressed right guard Brandon Scherff, who broke his subdued news conference persona one day to give his first impression of the rookie: “Holy [expletive], where did you come from?”
And while Cosmi has watched Scherff on some snaps, eager to learn from the all-pro, a smaller detail stuck with him from camp. Wow, Cosmi remembered thinking one practice. This guy, a four-time Pro Bowler, is going out of his way to get the rest of us water.
“It’s a little thing,” he added, “but it’s something that’s very impressive.”
In mid-June, after minicamp ended, Cosmi left Ashburn to train with Hall of Fame offensive lineman Jackie Slater in California and spend time at home. In Humble, Cosmi worked out at Armed Sports Performance and the high school where he became a star, focusing on the footwork key to refining his punch. He went up and down the sled, punching, repeating the drills he learned from Matsko.
By late summer, he felt ready for his first season. He had shipped some stuff ahead to his apartment and loaded up a trailer for the rest. One day at the high school, Cornel wanted to make sure his son was physically set, so he stepped in at defensive end. He thought he would be okay to rush his son — Cornel said he’s 6-foot-1 and 270 pounds — but he quickly felt the progress Sam had made with his punch.
“I flew back like a rag doll,” Cornel said, laughing. “My wife was making fun of me. I mean, I’m not a little guy. ... I asked Sammy, ‘That’s how you guys hit every time?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, Daddy, the game is that violent.’ And he goes: ‘If I don’t do it to them, they’ll do it to me. So, I got to hit hard.’ ”
A few days later, Sam pulled out of Humble in his 2013 Ram 1500. Cornel had changed the oil and put in new spark plugs, a new battery and a new timing belt. He had given his son all he needed, and now it was up to Sam to take care of it.